Project Fi Goes Live: What To Know About Google’s MVNO
Google’s new wireless service, Project Fi, is now accepting applications from Nexus 6 owners with a hankering for high speeds and low rates. The virtual carrier will work on the backs of T-Mobile, Sprint, and the WiFi from every router to which you connect, making for a truly impressive coverage area at launch. As rumored last week, Fi offers $20 all you can eat domestic calls and texts, with data costing $10/GB on a month-by-month basis. However, you can’t hop on this nascent service just yet; a limited number of invites will go out each week to qualified applicants. Read on for the full scoop on what to expect, then hurry over to the Project Fi sign-up page for your spot in line.
Google’s official coverage map can be found here, and checking how it stacks up against your local zip code is unsurprisingly the first step in Fi’s application. The backing carriers are known for targeting dense population centers rather than springing for broad coverage across the countryside, so the new network does have a few blind spots. Even still, there’s no denying that the map is much greener than either Sprint or T-Mobile can match individually, and WiFi at home and away is like carrying a personal small cell with you wherever you stop. Google’s gamble is that combing the two networks and adding WiFi to the mix will be enough to eat away at Verizon’s coverage-area dominance. Given that Verizon just announced its indifference towards cost-cutting customers due to its impressive coverage map, Project Fi will be a fun one to watch when Big Red’s second quarter filings go live.
Getting down to the details, there’s not much here that we didn’t already know. Phones on Fi will seamlessly switch between Sprint, T-Mobile, and wifi networks without dropping calls thanks to a fancy dual-carrier SIM, and customers will see better coverage in more places as a result. Here’s the Google wording:
Whenever 4G LTE is available, Project Fi will move you to whichever cellular network has the fastest 4G LTE at your location. When 4G LTE isn’t available, we’ll put you on the fastest network type in your area (3G or 2G).
Project Fi connects you to free, open Wi-Fi networks that do not require any action to get connected (such as, enter a password, watch an ad, or check-in). We use a network quality database to help determine which networks are high quality and reliable.
Further, traffic on these unsecured networks will travel through a Google-hosted VPN for privacy. In theory, this should work like a combination of Google Voice, an auto-login WiFi app such as Instabridge, and a VPN tunnel, but in a unified and polished experience. However, the realities on the ground could be a different story, particularly with regards to battery life. From Google’s FAQ:
We like full batteries too. Our software is optimized to not put extra strain on your battery by only moving you between networks when absolutely necessary.
It’s hard to see how only switching “when absolutely necessary” and always choosing the highest quality network in the moment can coexist, but this is a question that will have its place in the spotlight after the invites begin to fly. For right now, it’s at least comforting to know that Google aware of the (potential) concern.
Nexus 6 Exclusive
Yes, the rumors of a device exclusive held true. This will put off many who would otherwise join the bandwagon, but the official statement is that the Nexus 6 has the antenna to support Fi’s carrier-hopping SIM. However, it’s worth noting that Google says the Nexus 6 will be the “first,” not the “only” supported device. As we theorized before, it’s a good bet that the doors will open to other handsets like the Nexus 5 in due time, so stay tuned.
Current Nexus 6 owners have all the hardware they need to join, and a free SIM will shipped out with each device activation. New phones can be purchased through Google Play with pre-installed SIMs (if you don’t mind the blue version), though presumably the SIM-less white is still an option.
Plans & Prices
No contracts, no termination fees, no tethering surcharges, and only the standard state tax of 10-20% – this is the familiar motto of virtual networks, and holds true with Project Fi as well.
Fi Basics – $20/month for unlimited domestic talk & text, unlimited international texts, and cell coverage in 120+ countries. SMS, MMS, short codes and group texting are all included, despite early rumors to the contrary. International rates vary by country, and are found here.
Data – $10/GB, paid up front for the month. Whatever percentage of data goes unused is applied as credit towards the next month’s bill. In other words, you pay up front, but are only charged per megabyte. There are no overage fees, so using extra is simply added per megabyte to the following month.
This is a rather complicated way to phrase a simple idea, and follows in the footsteps of carriers like Ting. However, Ting figured out early on that its customers are smart enough to not pay in advance. Here’s how the pricing really works:
$20/month for all the basics, plus a bit extra for however many megabytes you used the last cycle (charged at $10 per gig).
Google’s FAQ page covers many of the service basics, including a few details about international calling not addressed here. For more information and a sign-up link, here are the web addresses you’ll need:
Once you qualify and register, Google should make contact within 30 days with the next steps. The roll out will occur in weekly batches, so don’t fret if your name isn’t called in the first pass. Also, remember that a Nexus 6 is required (for the time being), so start looking around for the best deal if you’re interested.
We will have more on Google’s Project Fi roll out as it progresses, so look for updates in the weeks to come.
Are you excited for Project Fi? Do you have a Nexus 6 and the ambition to be a guinea pig on the newest virtual network? Let us know in the comments below!