Rumors of a Google sponsored cell phone service have been around since the launch of the HTC Dream in 2008. These rumors were accelerated with Google purchasing the VoIP provider Grand Central less then a year later (later re-branded to Google Voice). Google Voice had an amazing launch but later became a barren wasteland which failed to receive the attention it deserved, many felt their dreams of a Google phone service slowly die a painful death. Google Voice eventually became integrated with Google Hangouts which helped to jumpstart its use. Finally, on April 22nd of 2015, Google was ready to show off Project Fi, the first Google MVNO. Here are my thoughts.
Much like many of the other “Beta” services from Google, an invite is needed to use the service. I have gone through this several times with GMail, Google Wallet, Inbox, Google Voice, Google Plus and Google Glass. While the invite process is a bit of a pain, I understand that this is a way to control the flood gates and limit the service to users who have a genuine interest in the service. My only problem with the invite system is that there are always scalpers who abuse the invite systems for financial gain, GMail invites were being auctioned on GMail for anywhere between $10-$50 and Google Glass invites peaked at $500.00.
Aside from the invite, you need to live in a coverage area. Fortunately, this is almost all of the United States as long as you are near a Sprint or T-Mobile cell phone tower.
Finally, you need to have a Nexus 6. Sorry but the service will not work with any other phone aside from a Nexus 6. I will assume that you will also need to be running the stock build of Android rather then things like Cyanogenmod however this has not been confirmed. You do not need to buy the Nexus 6 from T-Mobile, Google or Sprint, any one will do. It is best to purchase the phone off-contract to avoid any ETF fees or other hassles that some providers may cause. You can get the Unlocked 64 GB version of the Nexus 6 on Amazon for around $850.00. The Nexus 6 is a great phone so you will not have any regrets.
It goes without saying, since Project Fi uses both T-Mobile and Sprint’s network, you should get coverage throughout most of the United States. Furthermore, Google has setup over a million WiFi access points that Project Fi users will have access to in many major metropolitan areas.
To add greater value to those users who travel, Project Fi is able to take advantage of the international calling features that T-Mobile and Sprint announced over the past year. Project Fi users can use data and SMS in over 120 countries without additional charges. Data speeds are limited to 3G speeds (up to 256 kbps). International data costs can normally be north of $25.00 per 100 MB.
Google’s Project Fi has a simplified pricing structure that ensures customers are charged a fair price without overpaying. Much like many other providers, Google has chosen to commodize on Data Buckets and give all customers unlimited talk and text for the base price of $20.00. Data is priced at a flat $10.00 per GB. A plan with unlimited talk, text and 2 GB of Data will run you $40.00 per month which is not a bad deal. This is also a pre-paid service so there are no credit checks, contracts or other hoops to jump through unless you wish to finance the cost of the Nexus 6.
Unlike T-Mobile, your data speeds are not throttled once you hit your data cap, you are automatically charged a flat $10.00 per GB of data. What sets project Fi apart from other providers is that you are actually credited for unused data. If you have 2 GB of data and only use 1.5 GB of data, you will be credited $5.00 on your next bill.
International calling is the only thing that can cause your bill to add up. When traveling abroad, calls made over a carrier network are a flat 20 cents per minute in 120 countries, this cost can be avoided by jumping on WiFi for WiFi calling. Calls to other countries vary and follow the same exact pricing structure as international calls in Google Voice/Hangouts – https://www.google.com/voice/b/0/rates?hl=en&p=hangout
There are no additional charges for things such as tethering, it simply goes against your data cap.
If you are not upset about being forced to use a Nexus 6, there are not really too many downsides to this service. There are a few limitations that you do need to be aware of, mainly that Project Fi lacks any form of a family plan.
If you use more then 6 GB of data per month, T-Mobile is still the best value as additional automated top-ups can get very expensive. There are no
While T-Mobile and Sprint have little to worry about as the Project Fi plans offer little incentive for most users to switch, Verizon and AT&T may have reason to be a bit scared as the pricing model may make it less expensive then the newer AT&T and Verizon Plans. I created the table below to show cost breakdowns*.
|1 GB||2 GB||5 GB||10 GB||Unlimited||Overage||International Data Rate|
|Project Fi||$30||$40||$70||$120||N/A||$10.00 per GB||$0|
|AT&T||$50||$65||$95||$115||N/A||$10.00 per GB||$120.00 for 800 MB (+$0.15 per MB overage)|
|Verizon||$70||$80||N/A||$120.00||N/A||$15.00 per GB||$25.00 per 100 MB|
*For simplicity, all plans are single line plans with Unlimited Talk and Text. Taxes are not included.
Price wise, Sprint has the lowest cost but T-Mobile’s network and the fact that they include tethering does warrant the extra $20 per month. Sprint’s single user plan is unlimited and there are no other options for 1GB, 2GB, etc.
For me personally, Project Fi is a bit underwhelming as I was truly hoping that it would blow away all other mobile phone providers on the market and liberate us from the high rates and slow data speeds that plague the industry. Project Fi would also be VERY expensive for me as I often use around 30 GB of data per month. I pay $80.00 at T-Mobile and a similar plan would run me over $320 per month on Project Fi.