Why I'll Probably Ditch My US Telco For Google's Project Fi

Why I'll Probably Ditch my Carrier For Google's Project Fi

One month ago, we tried Google's experimental cell phone service in New York. It was a disaster. But I guess the second time's a charm. After spending two weeks with Project Fi in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm just about ready to ditch my old carrier.

AU Editor's Note: We don't have Project Fi in Australia. Not yet, at least. But we thought this article was a good look at the technology and the idea behind the service, so you can find out a bit more about what other telcos around the world are doing. -- Cam

What's Project Fi?

To recap, Project Fi is a new way to use a mobile phone. It works like this:

1.) You buy a Nexus 6. Right now, they cost $US350 completely unlocked.

2.) You buy a special Project Fi SIM card from Google. (They're invite-only at the moment.) It arrives in the mail.

3.) You pop it into your new phone, and download the Fi app. Setup takes about five minutes.

4.) You prepay $US20 for unlimited calls and texts, and $US10 per GB of data -- no matter how much or little you use. No overage fees. Any data you don't use gets credited back to your account at $US10/GB -- right down to the dime.

5.) If anything goes wrong (other than an utter lack of service) press a button in the Fi app. A Google tech support person will call you.

6, AKA The Big One) The key difference between Fi and your regular carrier, is that your phone will automatically switch between multiple different cellular networks and wifi to stay constantly connected -- even if you go abroad. In the US, the service is a combination of T-Mobile and Sprint. Abroad, Google says it will work in over 120 different countries. International calls cost $US0.20 a minute, but you can keep using your data at $US10/GB as if you never left home.

I thought you said it was a disaster?

It was -- for Darren, who had some serious issues. But my experience was pretty incredible, with a few important caveats.

Why I'll Probably Ditch my Carrier For Google's Project Fi

So, What Are The Problems With Project Fi?

OK, so you know how Google advertises Project Fi as a service that will always connect you to the fastest network available? They phrased it like this:

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.

That's just not remotely true in my experience.

I watched my phone like a hawk while driving around the SF Bay Area, riding Caltrain between San Francisco and San Jose, and during a 45 minute walk through the heart of downtown SF, and it was patently obvious that Fi isn't intelligent enough to compare networks on the fly and switch to the one that's fastest.

Several times I found that Fi had connected me to a wifi network that was substantially slower than Sprint or T-Mobile LTE at the same exact location. (I tested.) It's cool that it was saving me money, but still.

And I also never, ever saw Fi switch from Sprint to T-Mobile or vice versa when I was dealing with 3G or HSPA connectivity. If the signal went out entirely, sure, it'd try to switch. (Or if I hit the Aeroplane Mode toggle to simulate the same effect.) But not on its own.

Why I'll Probably Ditch my Carrier For Google's Project Fi

Oh, and you can't make a phone call and use cellular data at the same time.

Oh, and occasionally incoming calls would go straight to voicemail without ringing. That's kinda bad.

Oh, and even though Fi's coverage map shows solid, unbroken 4G LTE coverage in every single area I visited (so do T-Mobile and Sprint's own maps, by the way) I definitely saw a decent amount of slower HSPA and even some EV-DO while driving and on Caltrain.

Oh, and sometimes when I'd test my Fi phone on T-Mobile and an actual T-Mobile phone in the same exact location, the Fi phone would get responses back from servers and websites a good bit slower. It'd feel a hair less responsive.

So, If All Of That Sucked, Why Are You Switching?

I don't know about you, but I don't make a lot of calls anymore, and my data usage varies dramatically from month to month. (Sometimes, I spend a lot of time on wifi.) I love the idea of having a cell phone bill that starts at just $US30, and can stretch to whatever I need.

And if I'm being honest, the vast majority of the time I spent using Fi, I had an pretty solid connection. I measured Speedtest.net results on par with my Verizon phone most places I went. (Sometimes that meant crazy speeds of 42Mbps up and 20Mbps down, sometimes more like 12Mbps up and 3Mbps down, and yes, sometimes the needle would barely register.)

The only place where Fi was consistently worse was inside my own home -- where I've got wi-fi anyhow.

The fact is, I'm tired of the bullshit and bloatware and locked-down Android smartphones that come with cellular carriers, and now that they aren't subsidizing my next smartphone purchase, I'd already made up my mind to pay full price for an unlocked handset either way.

If we see some new Nexus phones on September 29th and if they're suitably awesome and if they support Project Fi, I'm pretty sure Google will be my next cellular carrier. I mean, I guess I could switch sooner -- but that Nexus 6 is just too damn big.



    I'm guessing ProjectFi is somewhat similar to Telstra's VoLTE and WiFi calling that is rolling out.

      A little bit similar in a few ways, but very different in others.

      Google Fi is a 'virtual carrier' in that they don't own or operate a cell network. The app on the phone automatically switches between the networks of multiple carriers - T-mobile & Sprint in the US, and various other partner carriers if you're elsewhere in the world. A bit like global roaming, that also works when you're at home. Regardless of which network you use, you get your bill from Google.

      Telstra's recent announcement are all making their networks more resilient and building capacity.
      - WiFi calling takes additional load from the mobile network by diverting customer's mobile calls directly to the internet like VoiP. This reduces traffic congestion on their mobile network, and effectively increases their bandwidth.
      - VoLTE is aimed at increasing mobile network coverage. When it's complete, the newer 4GX network on the 700Mhz will have greater terrestrial coverage than other parts of Telstra's mobile network. This means greater availability of mobile data, but without VoLTE, there would be customers outside 3G coverage who could download data but not make voice calls. That's not a good outcome for users.

    It sounds appealing minus the pre-pay for the data. To get 5GB of data a month you have to upfront $70 total, my Optus phone plan is $80 for 5GB and $10/GB just like Fi (plus I get a Z3). The only advantage I could see it having down here is if you could use either Telstra, Optus or Vodafone to provide the data. Short of that, I like the sentiment but I'll stick with Optus.

      Worst part is that's in American dollars, so you can imagine it would cost a pretty penny if they tried a similar price point in Australia. Although if they were to bring the service to Australia, having a great price point would be the one thing that would really allow the service to take off, considering the service is already limited to an overpriced Nexus device.

        Yeah I just realised that, it's actually quite a rip-off. The only way I could see this being advantageous is if you frequently go a couple of megabytes over your quota. Even then you have to prepay anyway so what's the point? I wanted to he good value but it really isn't.

        Not sure how you qualify a pretty top end phone as being over priced? I just got the Nexus 6P for 549 with 64GB ram, 8 core cpu, 3GB ram, higher than HD screen, large sensor camera, etc. Of course I would prefer a cheaper price, but its quite a bit cheaper than the Samsung S6 edge I currently use.. broken glass repair is 375 alone and I believe the phone was almost $1000 to buy outright. The Nexus 6 can be had for $350 right now, and that is nearly as feature packed. Now, if you are comparing them to laptops, then yes they are expensive, but they are tiny powerful computers that you take with you and do just about everything you need.

          I just got the Nexus 6P for 549 with 64GB ram
          Holy crap did you get that phone from the future?

          The Nexus 6 was overpriced when it was first released especially when you considered the competition at the time that offered better specs, camera, expandable storage and a host of other features fort the same price or less (Galaxy Note 4).

      You don't have to put that much up front. You could just prepay for 1GB and then any overages will be charged at the same rate based on how much you used. If you did prepay and used less then you will be refunded the difference. This info is plainly available on the Fi website.

    "Oh, and you can’t make a phone call and use cellular data at the same time."

    You can on TMo network (GSM) but you cannot on Sprint network (CDMA) but you can on wifi.

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