As rumored, Google on Wednesday took the wraps off its new wireless service, called Project Fi, and it offers a new take on how users pay for data.
Project Fi is invite-only for now, and it offers just one type of plan that costs a $20 a month, plus $10 for every gigabyte (GB) of data, Google revealed in a blog post. The big innovation: Google will refund, in the form of a credit, any money spent on data you didn’t use. That’s a significant change from the major carriers, whose revenues depend on charging a flat monthly fee for big buckets of data.
Recently, some carriers — T-Mobile and AT&T in particular — have begun offering data rollover, but pay-as-you-go takes data fees into new territory, and could be desirable to subscribers who rarely, if ever, go above their monthly data limits.
Google is able to offer wireless service by being a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) — similar to Virgin Mobile and Republic Wireless — which means it leases network resources from other providers, in this case Sprint and T-Mobile. That lets Google switch from network to network to ensure its subscribers get the best signal. Project Fi will also incorporate Wi-Fi to ease the data burden, switching between Wi-Fi and cellular networks on the fly, and giving users automatic connectivity to over a million open, public hotspots. Google says it will encrypt data connections to enhance security.
The Project Fi site shows that Google is offering coverage nationwide, although whether or not you’ll have 4G LTE connectivity varies by region, as it also does with the major carriers.
The bad news? Project Fi is only available on the Nexus 6, the 6-inch smartphone made by Motorola and sold by Google, which debuted last fall. The service will work with existing Nexus 6 phones, but users will need a new SIM card specific to Fi. It’s unclear if other devices will soon be added to the service, Nexus phones or otherwise, although Motorola acknowledged the program by calling itself the “first” hardware partner for Project Fi.
Google also says a phone on Project Fi has a phone number “in the cloud,” which means the owner will be able to make calls, as well as send and receive texts on any device.
T-Mobile CEO wrote a blog post praising Google’s new service and said he expects T-Mobile to host the majority of Project Fi’s data needs since subscribers will be shunted to the network that’s deemed fastest.
The app powering the service was leaked earlier this month, first reported by Android Police, which also revealed the name of the service.
Google first made its ambitions as a wireless carrier known in March, when senior vice-president Sundar Pichai delivered a keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. At the time, Pichai said the program would be “small scale,” and that it shouldn’t be looked at as a direct challenge to existing operators.
“Everything we do, we take an ecosystem approach, we work with partners,” Pichai said at the event. “We don’t intend to be a network operator at scale. Out goal here is to drive a set of innovations which we think the ecosystem should adopt.”