Should You Switch to Project Fi?
It’s been nearly three years since Google introduced Project Fi, a hybrid WiFi/LTE mobile service. While there have not been any game-changing innovations, Project Fi has kept the features that consumers love, improved upon them, and added some others. Will switching your mobile carrier to Fi save you money? Here's the scoop...
Project Fi Update
A hybrid phone switches between WiFi and cellular data automatically in order to minimize cost and maximize signal clarity. Project Fi started out with two cellular carriers, Sprint and T-mobile. Now it has a third, U.S. Cellular. The additional coverage means Fi phones will work better in more places.
The cost of the first Fi line added to a Google account is still just $20 per month for unlimited domestic calling and text; international calling is also unlimited and rates are very low. Even better, you can now add up to five more lines (for a total of six) for just $15 per additional line (plus taxes and fee).
Google calls this feature its “group” plan instead of the traditional “family” plan, recognizing that many people share a phone bill with non-relatives. There are no contracts, and customers can add or subtract lines monthly. The master account can manage and monitor subsidiary accounts for easy accounting and accountability of users.
Data is still a nice, simple, and generous $10 per gigabyte. If you use more, you’re charged a prorated $10/gigabyte, e. g. $1.00 for 100 MB, not the eye-watering punitive overage rates of other firms. Unused data is credited to the next month’s bill. Oh, and there's no annual contract required. So you're not locked in by the threat of an "early termination fee."
Project Fi works only on Android phones manufactured under the Google brand. At first, only one phone was supported, the Nexus 5. Today Fi supports the Pixel and Pixel XL, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, and Nexus 6. That's because the phone must have the special hardware that enables seamless switching between multiple mobile carriers. Curiously, Nexus phones are available only during the Fi signup process; you will find only Pixel phones in the Google Store. Check out the Project Fi ready phones and pricing here.
Upsides and Downsides
Google canceled the Google accounts of buyers it found to be in violation. They could no longer access their Gmail accounts, Google Drive data, YouTube accounts, Google Photo, etc. That’s a “digital death penalty” for many people. Fortunately, Google relented after only two days, and reinstated all of the banned users.
One new development is that existing Fi customers can add data-only devices by purchasing a mini-SIM for each device. Non-Android phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices are supported. All data-only devices share the master device’s data budget. (So yes, you could add a non-Google phone, such as a Samsung Galaxy, to your Fi account. The catch is that you'd be limited to data-only. But Google Hangouts lets you call and test over WiFi, so there are interesting options here.) The original Fi offered only WiFi tethering; now, other devices don’t have to be anywhere near the master device, and cellular data is an option when WiFi is not available.
You might be thinking that Project Fi's hybrid WiFi-cellular network is similar to Republic Wirelesss, a company I’ve covered before. (See my article [BYOP] Republic Wireless Just Got Better) Republic Wireless does have the ability to switch between cellular data and wifi signals, but it only supports carrier. On the flip side, it supports more phones than Project Fi. Whether it’s cheaper than Republic Wireless and other mobile carrier plans depends on how much data you use. If you're a typical user who consumes about 2GB per month, you'll save $35-$40 per month as compared to Verizon or AT&T. With credit for unused data, the savings could go higher.
Here's a down side for some -- Project Fi is not fully compatible with Google Voice. If you sign up for Fi with a Google account that includes Google Voice, you will have the option to port your Google Voice number over to the master Fi phone. (Alternatively, you can use the phone’s native number or port the native number from your Google Voice phone.) Many of Google Voice’s features are built into Project Fi, but users will lose the abilities to use the Google Voice web site to make or receive calls and to send texts. If you cancel Project Fi, you can bring the number you were using back to Google Voice. If you want to keep Google Voice on your existing Voice number, Google offers a couple of options.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 16 Jan 2017
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