Project Fi usage

Should You Care About Google’s New Cell Service?

In Opinion by Dave Dean10 Comments

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Update: 1 March, 2017.

Several aspects of Google Fi have improved since launch day. It now uses U.S. Cellular as well as Sprint and T-Mobile networks in the US, and speed caps have been removed for international data. It’s no longer invite-only, you can now use it in 135+ countries, and it’s available on Google’s Nexus 5x, 6p and Pixel phones as well.

It’s become a viable option for those who regularly travel overseas, and we did a full review of Google Fi for travellers here.

As we mentioned in our newsletter a few days ago, rumours have been flying about Google entering the cellular service market in the US.

Sure enough, the search giant announced the details of “Project Fi” yesterday . While there wasn’t anything wildly different to what most experts had been predicting, there were plenty of interesting features for travellers.

The big question, as always, is: should you care?

What’s the Story?

Google has partnered with two of the smaller cell providers in the US, T-Mobile and Sprint, to offer its service. You’ll automatically get a 4G signal from whichever company’s tower happens to be nearby, or switch over to Wi-Fi if that’s a better option.

In theory, you won’t even notice — you’ll still get your calls, texts and data service regardless. How well it works in practice remains to be seen, but having three different ways of getting service is a novel approach.

Unlike other providers, Google is offering precisely one plan, with one option. The base service will cost $20/month, you’ll get unlimited local calls and texts and cheap international rates while in the US. In 120+ other countries, calls cost 20c/minute to anywhere, and SMS doesn’t cost any extra.

If you want data (and let’s face it, most of us do), you’ll pay an extra ten dollars per gigabyte. That’s also available internationally, at the same price.

Thirty bucks a month for cheap calls, free texts and a gigabyte of data usable around much of the world is the best roaming deal you’ll find, especially since you get a rebate on any unused data. As an example, if you only use 500MB of that gigabyte you paid for, you’ll get five dollars credited towards the next month’s bill.

Some other carriers already let you carry unused data over to the next month, but getting money off your next bill is even better.

Just like Google Voice, your phone number lives in the cloud. This means you can call, text and check voicemail from any iOS or Android device, and anything running a desktop Chrome browser. You can, unsurprisingly, move your existing number across to Google’s service.

What’s the Catch?

Project Fi

As usual, though, there are catches. The biggest one, at least for the moment, is that the vast majority of people aren’t going to be able to use the service. Unless you’re one of the few who’ve bought a Nexus 6 smartphone, you’re out of luck right now — that’s the only device that you can use Google Fi on.

This will change in the future, but until then, most potential customers will be just that: potential customers.

The other major downside, of course, is that this is US-only for now. While you can roam around most of the world, you’ll get nothing out of this announcement if you’re not based within the service’s coverage area. Will that change? Maybe, but there’s no sign of it right now.

Cellular data speeds will also be limited to 256KB while overseas. That’s totally fine for email, maps and social media, but you won’t want to be watching videos with those kind of speeds. Finally, Project Fi is currently open by invitation only. With no word on how many invites are available, you may be waiting a while to get onboard.


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So Should You Care?

Right now, Project Fi is an experiment, not a product that’s ready for prime time. With such limited availability, it isn’t going to be setting the world on fire no matter how cheap it is or how many cool features it has.

At the moment, unless you’re one of the few that fit the criteria for signing up, there’s little reason to care about this announcement at all. Even if you could switch over, there isn’t necessarily enough in Project Fi to make you bother unless you regularly travel internationally.

For me, the interesting part isn’t the specifics of the service right now, it’s what it will look like in a year or two. Truly pay-as-you-go data, no extra cost for roaming and no longer having your phone number tied to a particular device are all features that at least a certain subset of mobile customers really want.

If their current cell provider won’t provide them, Google or another upstart will be more than happy to do so instead. Large cell companies that currently rip off their subscribers for roaming and data should be looking nervously over their shoulders. The mobile landscape is changing, and Project Fi is just the beginning.

Do you care about Project Fi? If it was available to you, would you switch?

Images via Google

About the Author

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.


  1. Sounds like a good service, but locking it to the Nexus 6 is dumb. They are losing out on a GIANT group of potential customers by not making it available to iPhone users. I’ll be interested once they open it up…

    1. Author

      Yep, agreed. I understand why they’re doing it (the multi-carrier thing requires specialised tech that’s not in other smartphones), but it’s a problem regardless. It’ll be interesting to see which phones get supported in the future.

      Here’s the explanation from the FAQ: “The Nexus 6 is the first smartphone that supports our network of networks. It works with the Project Fi SIM card, which supports multiple cellular networks, and a state-of-the-art cellular radio tuned to work across network types.”

  2. I’m loving the concept and, like yourself, will be looking forward to how it plays out in a year or so. The idea of not having to buy foreign SIM cards would be the biggest draw for me outside of the monthly cost savings. I do hope this forces larger carriers to get in step and reduce rates, though that might be a bit optimistic.

    1. Author

      Even though it’s probably still more expensive than local SIM cards in most parts of the world, the convenience factor of just being able to get off the plane and have a working phone that isn’t costing you ten bucks a minute to use is huge. Really hoping to see Google or others offer something similar to those based outside the US in the next couple of years.

  3. This is significant not for the initial offering, but for what it will bring. Having a relationship with a single carrier will be a thing of the past, and ubiquitous communication will be realized. Google’s Project Fi is an early entrant, but you can bet other carriers and tech players are watching closely.

    I just wish the future would hurry up and get here, as I’m sick of swapping out SIM cards and renting a different mobile hotspot when I travel.

  4. I’ve been interested in Project Fi since its inception, and I can update a few points in the article and share my experience.

    * Project Fi now works with the Nexus 5X and 6P as well. In reality, a lot of people say it can work in an unlocked iPhone — you just won’t get the Sprint part of the service, which doesn’t matter for overseas use anyway. I intend to try this out for myself when I travel to Germany next month.

    * I use Verizon for my U.S. cell service because of its coverage (in rural areas). I was excited about Project Fi because I can actually afford to add it on to my monthly bills. The per-month rates when I use minimal data are quite cheap compared to T-Mobile. So I have both services right now, on an iPhone (verizon) and a Nexus 5X (project fi).

    * The international coverage component is the sole reason I got Project Fi. I travel enough to make it worthwhile not to have to purchase a SIM each place I go. However, it is really disappointing that neither T-Mobile or Project Fi cover much of Africa. I spend a lot of time in Nigeria.

    * So far, my Nexus 5X works fine in the U.S. All I’ve ever owned are Apple products, but learning the Android interface was not too difficult.

    * Project Fi now offers data-only SIM’s as an add-on to the service. The SIM’s are free, and by themselves do not incur a monthly charge. I popped one into my iPad and it now has cellular data when needed. Any data used is added to my regular Fi bill, but if I don’t use it for a particular month, it’s free to have. This is in contrast to Verizon, which charges a monthly fee just to attach the device to my account.

    Hope this is helpful!

  5. I’d like the service without the Google phone. They’re too seriously flawed, like the iPhones–no memory card slot [do they have offline satellite GPS like my phone?].

    With my two unlocked world phones, I’ll be happy to try GoogleFi when it’s available to the general public. My current MVNO gives me unlimited text/talk and 3GB data, but it’s not worldwide.

    1. Author

      Unfortunately you’re unlikely to get the full service without a Google phone any time soon, since it needs specific hardware and software to do the switching between different carriers in the US. The international roaming part is apparently possible using other phones, but it can be tricky to get the service activated in the first place if you don’t have a Nexus or Pixel phone.

      As an aside, offline (as in, still works in flight mode) GPS is a pretty common feature on most smartphones these days.

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