With Multiple Networks Available at Once, Project Fi Gives Cellular Providers Plenty to Worry About
photo: Carlos Luna – cc
Not a week goes by that my dear mother isn’t complaining to me about overage costs on our family plan or asking when her lousy son is going to pay his share of the phone bill (when I’m good and ready, MOM). It gets me to wondering why carrier companies feel the need to implement data-tier pricing plans in the first place. Google, as it turns out, wonders the same thing. The difference is, they have an answer.
With the recent introduction of “Project Fi,” Google’s experimental cross-network no-contract service, the multinational technology company is looking to redefine what the average consumer expects from their service provider. Though still very much in the testing phase, they’ve garnered a nice bag of tricks to show us (as well as their competition) what the market could be and what it should have been by now.
What’s Different with Fi?
While Project Fi doesn’t yet offer any family plan discount, or any type of plan for that matter, Google has eliminated tier pricing for data and has made it possible to actually get reimbursed for unused gigabytes. For a flat rate of $20 a month, a consumer can get unlimited call and text in the US with data increments of $10 per gigabyte. If, for example, you use 1.6 gigabytes over the course of a month after having paid for 2, your next bill is automatically credited the $4 difference. In addition to this they’ve also done away with cancellation fees and annoying international roaming charges. What’s perhaps most impressive, however, is the actual network itself.
Project Fi Network: A Power Trio?
Project Fi’s Cellular Network enlists the help of a couple friends to get their project off the ground. For the last couple years, T-Mobile’s outspoken CEO John Legere has branded his company as the “uncarrier” service provider, eliminating 2-year contracts as well as going as far as eating the cancellation fees doled out by less accommodating competitors (*cough* AT&T *cough*). It makes sense then that they’d be a good fit for Google’s network infrastructure needs. In addition to them, Google has also enlisted the infrastructure help of veteran service provider Sprint making for an even more impressive trifecta. If having two network providers is confusing, just wait. This is where it gets interesting.
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Google’s created a state-of-the-art cellular radio for devices that’s been tuned to switch between multiple networks depending on which service gets better reception at any given location. It’s also capable of seamlessly switching to wifi to carry calls, texts, and data as needed. This includes home wifi as well as over a million free public wifi hotspots Google claims to have tested and verified as both secure (via encryption) as well as “fast and reliable.” If that wifi part fails to impress, bear in mind that data transferred through these hotspots is completely free.
Not Without Some Drawbacks
While I’ve always favored innovators on the technological front, Project Fi doesn’t come without some pretty big caveats. To begin with, the service is currently only offered through their own Nexus 6 device.
photo: techstage – cc
While a good-looking phone in its own right, it reportedly falls a bit flat on specs and comes no where near the performance of the recently released iPhone 6 and Samsung S6. It must be remembered, though, that Project Fi may be Google’s way of testing the waters before spreading their technology to a more expansive list of devices.
Though the concept of “pay only for what you use” sounds enticing, the discounts of other competitors through family plans or larger data bundles tends to be a better deal when higher data amounts are needed. The amount of data saved through public hotspots, however, may still make Project Fi preferable even with higher data usage depending on the user’s location.
End Goals of Project Fi
While it could certainly pose a threat to carriers if met favorably enough, Project Fi is not intended to topple the major cellular service industry leaders (it needs two of them to even exist). It’s in many ways a proof-of-concept project that not only let’s consumers know what’s possible with today’s technology, but let’s manufacturers know what kind of market there might be for a multi-network carrier. If Apple and Samsung get on board in the future, with regard to device compatibility, Google will benefit by increasing the amount of internet users while consumers benefit from a more competitive carrier market. While I personally don’t plan on buying a Nexus 6 any time soon, the potential for Google’s network is definitely something I’ll be keeping an eye on.