Telecommunications

Google takes on US wireless behemoths with Project Fi

Google takes on US wireless be...
Google's Project Fi is the company's new MVNO, and one of the most consumer-centric approaches to wireless that we've seen
Google's Project Fi is the company's new MVNO, and one of the most consumer-centric approaches to wireless that we've seen
View 3 Images
Google's Project Fi is the company's new MVNO, and one of the most consumer-centric approaches to wireless that we've seen
1/3
Google's Project Fi is the company's new MVNO, and one of the most consumer-centric approaches to wireless that we've seen
Wi-Fi calling happens automatically, in the background, through Project Fi
2/3
Wi-Fi calling happens automatically, in the background, through Project Fi
At launch (which is invite-only), the Nexus 6 is the only phone supported (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
3/3
At launch (which is invite-only), the Nexus 6 is the only phone supported (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
View gallery - 3 images

With Google Voice all but dead, it makes sense that the company was busy behind the scenes, cooking up a new angle for taking on the telecom industry. Today we have it, in the form of Project Fi: Google's long-rumored Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) service.

At this stage, it would be difficult for a company even of Google's size to starts its own US carrier from scratch. So instead it's going the MVNO route, leasing airwaves from underdogs T-Mobile and Sprint. But this is more than another MVNO that happens to have Google's name attached, with the company's typical innovative take on solving the problems attached to the industry.

The first big change is that Project Fi subscribers will automatically switch to the network that's best: whether that's Wi-Fi, T-Mobile's LTE or Sprint's LTE. Calls will work seamlessly over Wi-Fi, and switch just as seamlessly to LTE (and vice versa) when that local network signal drops or weakens.

And it isn't limited to Wi-Fi networks that you manually log onto. Google says it's verified more than a million open Wi-Fi hotspots that it will automatically and securely (it's all encrypted) log onto. This will be a much bigger deal for city-dwellers than for people in less sparsely populated areas, but it could help with both speeds and the prices Google pays to lease LTE airwaves from T-Mobile and Sprint.

Wi-Fi calling happens automatically, in the background, through Project Fi
Wi-Fi calling happens automatically, in the background, through Project Fi

The second big unique feature is that your number is now cloud-based (with a hat-tip to the beloved but failed Google Voice). Any device that runs Google Hangouts – be it on Android, iOS, Windows, OS X or Chrome OS – will be able to make and receive calls and texts using that number. No longer is your number tied to a SIM card, a big acknowledgement of the multi-device world we live in.

The last big innovation here is pricing. There's a US$20 per month base rate that covers talk, texts, Wi-Fi tethering (too often an expensive add-on with US carriers) and international calls. Data then costs an extra $10 per GB both inside and outside of the US. And you only pay for what you need: you'll get refunded for any unused portions of data (and it's rounded to each 100 MB, rather than rounding up to the nearest GB to make you pay more).

T-Mobile's US branch has been aggressive in branding itself as the "Un-Carrier," with customer-friendly pricing schemes and promotions, and now Project Fi is taking things a step further with one of the most logical and consumer-centric approaches to wireless that we've seen. Take note, Verizon and AT&T: the tide is turning, one innovation at a time.

At launch (which is invite-only), the Nexus 6 is the only phone supported (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
At launch (which is invite-only), the Nexus 6 is the only phone supported (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

Right now, though, that tide unfortunately only supports one phone. At launch, Project Fi will only support the Nexus 6 (above). That's one of our favorite phones you can buy today, but its enormous size does make it something of a niche offering. As the Project Fi phone selection expands, it will be interesting to see if iPhones are ultimately supported, or if this remains an Android-only affair.

You can sign up for an invite to join Project Fi today at the source link, and find out more in the video below.

Source: Google

Project Fi: Innovating in connectivity and communication

View gallery - 3 images
5 comments
Anne Ominous
I can get all these features already, with a minimal amount of manual effort (except switching from T-Mobile to Sprint): WiFi for data, VOIP, additional phone numbers, etc. Two other negative points: (1) it's Google, with its history of pervasive intrusion, and (2) the price just isn't that great.
Daishi
Some other decent MVNO's not many people know about are Republic Wireless and Ting. Republic Wireless works similarly to Google in that it switches to WiFi when its available and only works with a couple phones (Moto X and Moto G). You can get a plan for as cheap as $5/month that only works with WiFI or one for $25/month that gives you unlimited access to (I think) Sprints 3G network. The problem with Republic is that it (at least used to) drop calls switching between networks and I that is one of the things Google is trying to solve by terminating calls to the cloud. Ting is part of Tucows and also has super cheap pay-what-you-use rates. I doubt those guys are very thrilled about competing with Google now though but the Verizon/AT&T duopoly on wireless needs some more competition. The measure of success will be the day Verizon and AT&T offer cheaper plans that don't include the ~$20/month phone subsidy which is one of the driving factors that forces people into 2 year contracts and allows them to strongarm device makers.
Mzungu_Mkubwa
I agree with Daishi: this is already being done, and done extremely well, by the likes of Republic. I have been using Republic now for over a year and I think it rocks. (Calls are very rarely dropped during handover between wi-fi and cell.) I spend most of my time on the $10 per month plan (cell calling and texts, wi-fi data) and its been ideal for my needs. That's a savings of at least $50 per month over my former carrier, which really adds up quick - giving break-even for the cost of the phone within at most 10 months. When I take a trip, say I need the $25 data plan for maps & such, they let you change your plan up to twice per billing cycle. I'm not going back to the cash-suckers. I also agree, tho, that the competition from a name like Google will do nothing but benefit consumers as the entrenched behemoths get antsy. Shake it up!
Kevin Ritchey
Just how do the third-party lampreys like FreedomPop and others fare in this power struggle? Anyone want to chime in about them?
Dave Weinstein
Can I respectfully disagree with the comments about Republic and Ting? Also, about the "i can already get this" comment referring (presumably) to T-mobile? Republic has a problem. They need a customized ROM to get their WiFi calling to work, so THEY pick the phones you're allowed to have, and they've picked wrong. Ting, has it right on the pricing, but the "SIM only" service only uses T-mobile. What all of you are failing to recognize it the global nature of what Google is offering. We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg here, when you factor in Google Voice functionality and Google Hangouts integration, along with (future) MVNO agreements with Hutchinson (3 network) and other international players, it's clear that Google is building something that's more than the sum of it's parts. Republic can't match that, and they can't even offer a range of phones that their customers have been clamouring about for YEARS.