Far from being a simple search engine any more, Google has tried everything these days; from social media (moderately successful) to smart glasses (somewhat unsuccessful) to self-driving cars (slow, but becoming very successful), and with Google Voice and Google Hangouts, they’ve been dipping their toes in the world of interpersonal communications. Google Voice & Hangouts have been somewhat successful as communications tools but with Google’s Project Fi, the new cellular service from the internet giant, they could change the way that people buy and use cell services forever.
The technology behind Project Fi actually started with Apple, which, in a bid to make data easier to come by on the newer iPad models, started developing a SIM card that would be able to hop seamlessly from carrier to carrier, drawing data from whichever carrier had the best service. The front-end financial arrangement would be with Apple, while Apple would handle the technology and finances involved with each carrier participating in the multi-carrier network. The same emerging SIM technology helped Apple start the process of breaking free from limiting contracts with Verizon and offer its phones to anyone on any network, allowing the consumer to buy the phone full-price from Apple and then choose a carrier afterwards without having to change SIMs.
At the same time Apple was developing the SIM that could link a phone to a consumer’s choice of carrier, Google was taking the idea one step further. What if, instead of the consumer choosing any carrier and having to stick to it, the choice was made by the phone itself, changing carrier any time it detected a stronger signal with no outward sign to the phone’s user? That’s the idea behind Project Fi, the new, low-cost cellular service from Google. Using a SIM design that builds on Apple’s multi-carrier data SIM for the iPad, Google offers a service that lets a phone switch between cellular networks and WiFi for data-based calling, texting and browsing, always at the highest speed available.
Along with being flexible, Project Fi is also very affordable; the plan starts at $20 a month for unlimited talk and text, unlimited international texting, the ability to use your phone as a WiFi hotspot, and coverage in 120+ countries. It also only costs $10 per GB of Data and money back for unused Data. This means, if you sign up for 2 GBs (for $20) and only use 1.6 GB, you get $4 back. And the Data pricing is the same all around the world! Thi affordable and honest pricing structure definitely makes Google’s Project Fi a serious contender, but the best part about the service plan is that there are no annual contracts.
As revolutionary as Google’s technology is, it still has a few kinks to work out. As of right now, Project Fi is only available on a few of Google’s Nexus phones, and the only carriers it can switch between at the moment are Sprint and T-mobile. Being early adopters of the more flexible, contract-free pricing, Sprint and T-mobile seems to have evolved from the “monopoly mindset” that still seems to be characteristic of some of the other larger carriers, but they also don’t quite have the coverage; there are still parts of the US where Verizon is the only faint signal available.
For new Project Fi users, the new number looks just like any other mobile number, but users who already have a Google number have to disentangle it from Google Hangouts before using it with Google Fi.
Despite some of the limitations, Google’s Project Fi is the clearest representation we have of what cell service is going to look like in the next few years. Even AT&T and Verizon are realizing that the old model is starting to fall apart, as makers of the most popular devices want to get their devices in the hands of as many customers as possible and customers want the freedom of choice and the reliability of coverage. Without the draw of being the only carrier to offer the iPhone, Verizon has already done away with its semi-restrictive contract model in favour of lower-cost, easy-to-switch plans.
As it stand right now, game-changing advancements in wireless and cellular technologies are being made literally overnight, and they’re happening night after night. Whether it’s advancements like LiFi, or Turn-Key Distributed Antenna Systems, or even WiFi from space, the the wireless technology just keeps advancing, but our cellular service has largely remained the same… until now. The age of single-carrier cellular service is rapidly coming to an end, and if Google’s Project Fi isn’t the network of the future, it’s definitely the one showing us what that future could look like.