Google is about to unleash a new service that may seriously cut into the carrier pie across the United States. The service is called Project Fi, and it could possibly challenge the way we pay for and use mobile data. Project Fi approaches mobile data in a unique way: Fi will switch between available carrier signals (currently only T-Mobile and Sprint) and Wi-Fi (public and authorized) to give the user a seamless connection at what should be a drastically reduced cost.
How reduced, you ask? Check this out. Fi comes with a single, universal plan. The rates are as follows:
- $20 (USD) per month for unlimited talk and text
- $10 (USD) per month per GB of cellular data
Let's compare that to my current plan. Sans cost of devices, I pay $150.00 for a family plan that includes 10 GB of data. On Google's Project Fi, that would run me (for three users) a total of $60 per month for talk/text and $100.00 for 10 GB of data. That's a total of $160.00 dollars, which is more costly than my current plan (assuming all 10 GB of data are used). Remember, Fi automatically switches between carrier signals and Wi-Fi. When the device is using Wi-Fi, data usage doesn't count against your plan. So, say on that 10 GB plan, you manage to only use 5 GB of data per month... that cuts the data rate to $50. But you've signed up for 10 GB, right? On every carrier, from border to border, you pay for data, used or not. With Project Fi, Google will actually refund you the difference for data not used. That's unheard of.
Thanks to Wi-Fi, it would be feasible to drastically cut down on your wireless bill. This, of course, assumes you have plenty of public and/or authorized wireless networks available. A side-benefit of the unique nature of Fi is that you'll always be connected to the best possible signal available. If the nearest T-Mobile signal isn't as strong as a nearby Sprint signal, Fi will seamlessly make the switch. If there's a Wi-Fi signal within range, Fi will seamlessly hop off the carrier network and join the wireless (with the added benefit of saving you money). Best of all, the end user won't have to do anything to ensure the switch happens. It just does.
Ultimately, however, what's truly unique about Fi (and what users will really care about) is the "pay only for what you use" model that Google has adopted. Imagine if you spend most of your days and nights near a Wi-Fi signal? You'll use very little data on your plan and enjoy the benefit of a refund for said unused data. You won't find that on any of the current crop of carriers.
There is a catch (or two). The only devices that Fi will currently work with are the Nexus 6 mobile phones. The second gotcha is if you happen to live in a section of the country where T-Mobile or Sprint coverage is not up to par, you'll have more trouble than Fi is worth. The good news is that Project Fi is still in the "project" phase. This means that things could change for the better. Google could strike a deal with other carriers (though doubtful, because this is the kind of competition most mainstream carriers don't want to deal with) or even figure a way to use its Google Fiber network that it's been rolling out. Google could also add devices to the lineup.
At the moment, Project Fi is still in its infancy, and it's an invite-only service. You can sign up for an invite here. Remember, you'll need a Nexus 6 to join (you can order one from Project Fi when you sign up), and you'll only want to join if your area has a strong T-Mobile and Sprint presence.
Project Fi looks to radically change the way we use and pay for mobile data. If this project becomes widespread, a lot of users could wind up saving a lot of money. On top of that, you'd be using one of the most powerful smartphones on the planet on one of the smartest networks in the country. That is a win-win all around.
Will you be requesting an invite to Project Fi? Do you think it's worth leaving your current carrier? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.