Project Fi 101

Can You Save Money with Google's New Cellphone Service?

Project Fi 101
May 15, 2015

Google is officially entering the cell phone service market with its new Project Fi program, soon to be available in selected areas throughout the nation. Currently the service is invitation-only and limited to use with Google's Motorola Nexus 6 phones. To request an invitation, you can click on the link on this page: https://fi.google.com/about/plan/. You will be notified within thirty days if you qualify for this invitation-only period known as the Early Access Program.

Given these limitations, what makes Project Fi appealing? Some of the factors are listed below.

  • Service – Google has combined with Sprint and T-Mobile and designed a special SIM card to allow the Nexus to switch back and forth between the best connections, along with any of over one million Google-approved Wi-Fi hot spots (assuming you keep the Wi-Fi enabled). In theory, this should allow your phone to get the best available signal and seamlessly switch back and forth, preventing interrupted service.

    One potential concern is battery life. Polling multiple sources should drain the battery more quickly. Google claims this is not an issue; we will see what happens once the service is underway.

  • Cost Structure – The basic cost structure is $20 per month including unlimited talk and text within the U.S., and unlimited international texting (over 120 countries). Data is sold in increments of $10 per GB. The most appealing part of the pricing is that all unused data is credited against the next month's bill, making this a useful plan for those with highly variable data usage.

    You can bring over your old number as well as your old phone (assuming it is a Nexus 6). However, Google will not pay your termination fees with your existing carrier.

    Project Fi does not require long-term contracts; you are able to leave at any time without termination fees. If you bought a Nexus phone and are paying it off in increments along with the bill, the balance of the payments on the phone will be due.

  • Connection Through Other Devices – Through Wi-Fi tethering and the use of your Gmail account, you can use the Google Hangouts function to call and text from your tablet or computer as your phone becomes a Wi-Fi hotspot. In turn, you can forward calls from your Fi number and answer them on those devices via a Hangout account.

    Using your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot will consume data, so be cautious about your overall data usage.

Project Fi may be particularly appealing to those who are not included in any friends or family plans, where rates are more comparable.

Some analysts are speculating that Google is relying on Project Fi to revive flagging sales of the Nexus phone, which has been losing ground to other Android-based systems such as Samsung's Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates was quoted in Bloomberg as flatly saying, "Fi won’t make it if it depends on Nexus alone."

It is hard to see how Google will make significant inroads without providing service options for other phones, but in the meantime, if you are a Nexus user, or have a contract expiring soon and need to upgrade your phone, Project Fi seems like a good choice.

For others under contract, keep your options open until your contract comes up and review the situation then. If Project Fi is taking hold, you may want to consider a switch. At the very least, you can use the threat of switching to Project Fi to negotiate with your current carrier.

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