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Will Google’s Project Fi Raise the Profile of MVNOs?

Project Fi

I received my invite to join Google’s Project Fi two weeks ago, and I can say that I am definitely considering it. Although I have no complaints with my current carrier and plan, I’ve been curious about Google’s new hybrid cell service. This service offers a simplified billing structure and runs a bloatware-free version of Google’s Android, which receives updates months before the major carriers. I’m fortunate enough to live in an area with excellent cellular and WiFi coverage- so I don’t think I’d be risking much as far as coverage is concerned.

But in case you don’t know much about Project Fi, let me give you a very simplified summary of Google’s WiFi-cellular hybrid program. It uses the model of an MVNO – a mobile virtual network operator. This means that Google does not own all of the equipment and infrastructure from which it runs its services. It essentially “rents” from mobile carriers and other providers to deliver its offering. Google Project Fi offers a simplified base plan for $20 per month with:

  • Unlimited domestic calls
  • Unlimited texts
  • Unlimited international texts
  • Unlimited WiFi tethering
  • $0.20 per minute international calls in over 120 countries.

Now of course, the big question is: how much does cellular data cost? Project Fi charges a flat rate of $10 per GB, which can be used in the US and abroad. Here’s my favorite part: Google provides you with a credit for unused data at the end of the month.  That means that if you have a 4GB plan at $40 a month, but you only use 2GB, you are refunded $20 of from the unused data. It’s essentially a pay-for-what-you-use model. I like this better than rollover plans because I use very little cellular data since I’m rarely far from a reliable WiFi connection.

As of November 2015, Google’s Project Fi uses both Sprint and T-Mobile networks and over a million WiFi hotspots. Initially, I was concerned about the security risks with open WiFi connections, but Project Fi routes your calls and data through Google’s VPN.

The catch that most people find unpleasant is the phone. Project Fi only works with Google’s flagship Nexus phones, so millions of devoted iPhone are excluded – and there’s no guarantee that Google will even accommodate other phones in the future. This means that I would have to sell my current device and make the switch to Nexus. This is the major point causing me to hesitate. Luckily, my invite does not expire so I can take another few weeks or months to decide.

As we all know, Google’s Project Fi is not the only mobile MVNO out there; and from my understanding, its pricing structure and overall offer may not be best suited to people who use large amounts of cellular data every month. Mobility experts would insist that it’s important to compare Project Fi’s offering with TING, Republic Wireless, ROK Mobile, and others—and for the most part, these other alternatives have less restrictions on the device that you bring to the table.

I think that Google’s Project Fi into the mobility sector will most likely increase the awareness of MVNOs and make more people consider a pay-for-what-you-use billing model.

Stay tuned!