Google’s Project Fi: All You Need to Know

by Sandra Henshaw - , Last Updated on May 15, 2015, Industry News

Google really do seem to be everywhere, and you might have heard the name of their latest project bandied around: Google Project Fi. We’re taking a look at all you need to know about this new project, what it is and what it could potentially mean for you as a phone user. Know the name but not what it really is? The read on to find out all the info we currently have about Google’s new project…

So, What IS Project Fi?

Okay, so Project Fi is an MVNO, which stands for a Mobile Virtual Network Operator. Don’t get put off by the name, the idea is not a new one and is pretty simple. In basic terms Google wanted to become a mobile operator, but didn’t want to build a whole new infrastructure of cell phone towers to be one. Instead, the company uses the network of an existing mobile operator. Google will essentially buy service from other networks at wholesale prices and then sell them to customers at a mark up. All you really need to know is that as far as the customer is concerned, Google is now a mobile operator more or less like any other company.

Where is it Available?

Project Fi has just started rolling out in the US, which means that all the info we can give you is about the American service. However, given Google’s history of quickly spreading to the European market it seems reasonable that Project Fi will soon be coming to the UK, and presumably will be offering more or less the same services as it does in the US. In the States, Google is using the existing phone networks of American operators Sprint and T-Mobile. Currently, you can only use Project Fi for your mobile needs if you own a Nexus 6 phone, though we’re assuming this is going to change soon.

What Makes Project Fi Special?

There are a few things that make Project Fi unlike any other mobile service. The first is to do with how you’re getting phone service. Project Fi uses only data service (either 3G or 4G, depending on what’s available). Even phone calls will be made using WiFi hotspots belonging to the relevant mobile operators. As a customer this shouldn’t make a whole lot of difference to you, but there are a couple of neat things about it.

By doing things this way, Google are promising first of all that you’ll always have good service, since phones using Google’s network will switch back and forth between carriers (in the case of the US between Sprint and T-Mobile) depending on which carrier has the best service in a given area. Basically that should mean good reception no matter where you are, since if one company gives you poor reception you’ll just switch to the other company’s network. Secondly, Google are promising to integrate services. Their idea is that you should be able to get the same service, store the same information, no matter whether you’re on your phone or your computer or tablet. Send a text from your phone? Then you should be able to see it on your computer too.

Not all of these integration features have been released yet, but that’s the theoretical idea. Your gadgets should all be connected, and given that Google already run Google Fiber (home broadband), Google Chrome (the web browser), and Android that seems like a real possibility.

Then There’s the Pricing Issue

One other way in which Project Fi is unique is the way that it’s going to be priced. We can only give you US pricing info, but the basics should be similar once Project Fi expands to other countries. Google are selling one flat plan. That plan contains calling, texting, WiFi tethering (using your phone to get an internet signal on your computer or tablet), and international coverage in 120 or so countries. It costs $20 a month in the US (about £13).

What about data though? That’s where things get interesting. You can add data onto your account 1 GB at a time, at a cost of $10 (around £6) per GB. You decide how much you want. Even better though, if you don’t use all the data that you buy, Google are giving back some of the money that you spent. You don’t get the full $10 per GB back, but you get a significant portion of it. Which means no more paying for services that you don’t use…

The Mysterious App…

There is one thing that nobody is really clear about yet. Google have released a Project Fi app in the Google Play store and said that it’s a required download if you want to use the network. Why? Nobody really knows, though most probably it will be to do with that whole integration issue. Running the same app on your phone and computer should help integrate the services better…

What Does All This Really Mean?

There are really two possible consequences of Project Fi. One is the integration. Sharing information between all your gadgets is pretty convenient, and allowing tethering, or letting your computer hop on to your mobile internet connection, is convenient too. Being able to store and access information no matter where you are is undoubtedly the way of the future, and Google are simply hopping on that bandwagon a little early.

The other issue here is competition. Okay, Google need to use other company’s networks to get service. However, given Google’s excellent customer service record, there’s a solid chance that customers will be happier using Google than a regular mobile operator. Prices right now with Project Fi are fairly average for the US market, though they will probably fall as more customers join the network. All of this could mean that mobile operator prices fall across the board, and that mobile services improve.

Right now Project Fi is invitation only, so we’re going to need to wait a few months as the service unfolds and more features become known. But Project Fi does sound pretty exciting, and if nothing else will give us a new mobile service to choose from…