Google is going live with its first mobile network, called Project Fi, which could transform how wireless networks, mobile devices and network operators will work in the future.
At Mobile World Congress in March, Google’s head of products Sundar Pichai said that a Google-branded mobile network launch was imminent. However, he downplayed the scale of the initiative and suggested it would be limited.
However, last night it was clear that Project Fi – a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in collaboration with T-Mobile and Sprint – will be a much wider affair.
Google says the plan is all about ensuring seamless connectivity. If you read the words carefully enough, Google is describing its tenets for 5G mobile, which is all about resilience, not just speed.
“Similar to our Nexus hardware program, Project Fi enables us to work in close partnership with leading carriers, hardware makers, and all of you to push the boundaries of what’s possible,” said Nick Fox, VP of Communications Products at Google.
“By designing across hardware, software and connectivity, we can more fully explore new ways for people to connect and communicate.”
1. Can I get Project Fi?
Project Fi is invite-only in the US but you can request an invite for it at fi.google.com to get started.
2. Project Fi is all about getting the best connection at all times
Working with Sprint and T-Mobile, Project Fi aims to ensure you get the best network connectivity wherever you go. “As you move around, the best network for you might be a Wi-Fi hotspot or a specific 4G LTE network. We developed new technology that gives you better coverage by intelligently connecting you to the fastest available network at your location whether it’s Wi-Fi or one of our two partner LTE networks,” Fox explained.
3. It could maximise 4G LTE coverage
Project Fi is, in effect, a network of networks. So rather than being tied to one carrier that has 4G in some places but not all, Project Fi moves between whichever partner networks deliver the fastest speed so you get 4G LTE in more places.
4. Project Fi is secure
One you’ve connected to Project Fi, Google will secure your calls and data usage through encryption.
5. Your phone number lives in the cloud
Project Fi ensures that you are connected no matter what. “Wherever you’re connected to Wi-Fi—whether that’s at home, your favourite coffee shop or your Batcave—you can talk and text like you normally do. If you leave an area of Wi-Fi coverage, your call will seamlessly transition from Wi-Fi to cell networks so your conversation doesn’t skip a beat,” Fox said.
6. How much will it cost?
Google says it is taking a fresh approach with Project Fi to call costs. It offers a single price plan where, for US$20 a month, you get all the basics (talk, text, Wi-Fi tethering, and international coverage in 120+ countries), and then it’s a flat $10 per GB for cellular data while in the US and abroad. 1GB is US$10/month, 2GB is $20/month, 3GB is $30/month, and so on. Since it’s hard to predict your data usage, you’ll get credit for the full value of your unused data. Let’s say you go with 3GB for $30 and only use 1.4GB one month. You’ll get US$16 back, so you only pay for what you use.
7. Great! So what’s the bad news?
It is only available on the Nexus 6, which Google developed with Motorola, and it is so far the only smartphone that supports the hardware and software to work with Project Fi.
8. Is Google competing with other operators with Project Fi?
No. As a mobile virtual network operator Google is leasing network access from operators like Sprint and T-Mobile and if anything it is blazing a trail in terms of how we will use mobile services in the coming decade. Rather than threatening mobile operators with rival services, it could be Google’s olive branch by setting a direct course from 4G (where speed matters) to 5G (where resilience and consistency will matter).
9. What’s the coverage of Project Fi like?
Google has created a coverage map for potential users in the US so you can see if you can get Project Fi where you live.
10. Will Project Fi come to Europe?
We think the fact that Pichai chose to reveal Google’s MVNO plans at Mobile World Congress was pretty telling. However, unlike the US, Europe is a patchwork of various network operators focused on the 28 different member states of the EU so it could take some time. But it would be a worthy endeavour as the EU is razor focused on getting best value for consumers and reducing roaming charges.