Mobile, News

Google’s remarkable Project Fi will change the way we use our cell phone service

Behlol Nawaz Written by Behlol Nawaz · 2 min read>
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Project Fi is a unique cell phone service by Google, that uses a combination of high quality Wi-Fi hot spots and cellular networks (currently, T-Mobile and Sprint in the US) to improve the quality, availability and convenience of using wireless services.

Project Fi allows its users to make calls, send text messages and use the internet. The underlying network that is used for any of these actions continuously switches between Wi-Fi and the two cellular operators’ 4G networks depending on availability and quality. This means that there is access to more cell towers, more 4G coverage and a better quality of connectivity can be maintained than simply being on a single network.

As mentioned before, the partner networks for the cellular services are Sprint and T-Mobile in the US. The Wi-Fi hot spots are all of those which are free to connect and don’t require any specific action to connect to. Google maintains a database of such free Wi-Fi hot spots to determine quality and reliability. In order to maintain privacy and security, data communicated through such networks via Project Fi will be encrypted.

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How does moving between networks work? It prioritizes quality in the available networks. So suppose Wi-Fi as well as the two 4G networks are available, Project Fi will connect the user to the one that is fastest in the current location and prioritize Wi-Fi for internet to save data usage. If one operator’s 4G is available while the other’s is not, the 4G connection will be utilized. The same scheme continues down to 3G and 2G connectivity.

Another useful feature is that calls and text messages can be sent or received, via any device that supports Google Hangouts. It may be a PC, a Mac, an Android or iOS device. So you are not necessarily tied to your phone.

The payment scheme is simple. The “Fi basic” plan gives unlimited domestic and international text messages, unlimited domestic calls and limited, low cost international calls. It currently costs 20 USD per month. For data, there is an additional $10 per gigabyte (for usage of cellular networks, not Wi-Fi). The data limit has to be decided in advance and the payment also has to be done before hand. Less usage of data than the limit automatically refunds the amount corresponding to the unused volume of data, as credit to the next month’s bill.

A neat but not very well known feature is the ability to “Pause” the service. The user gets refunded an amount from the $20 monthly fee, for each day the service is paused. So suppose someone is going on a wilderness trip in a location that doesn’t have Project Fi coverage anyway. Why not pause the service for the duration and save a few bucks? This might be a rarely used option, but is something that no one else offers.

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Outside the US, Project Fi gives coverage in more than 120 countries, including Pakistan. Using Project Fi within these countries, the text messages remain unlimited but the calls are charged $0.20/min over cellular networks or vary according to the country over Wi-Fi networks. These charges are in addition to the $20 monthly charges.

“Project Fi” was launched in April and is currently an invite only Early Access program, only available in the US and can only be used with Nexus 6. According to the official site, the Nexus 6 limitation is due to the special SIM card and purpose built radio in the phone that allows communication with a wide variety of networks used worldwide, rather than the few limited types on most regular phones.