Earlier this month, Android Police uncovered details on “Project Fi” in a build of Android not available to the public. There wasn’t a huge amount to go on, but it was presumed based on evidence within the code that you’d be able to get network coverage in the US with both T-Mobile and Sprint as well as being able to spread a data plan across multiple devices without having to purchase another contract.
2 days ago, April 23rd, a video was posted to Google’s verified YouTube account along with a link to a website, officially announcing Project Fi to the public.
While the video doesn’t give a huge amount away in terms of specific information, the Project Fi website fills in all the blanks. The site confirms that this is a new virtual mobile network provider, running off of Sprint and T-Mobile’s pre-existing networks.
What’s interesting about this partnership is that Google has created technology that can use both networks at once: seamlessly switching between whichever is faster at your current location. To further emphasise connectivity, Fiber also enables you to automatically connect to free WiFi hotspots, bypassing the current “Login to network” stuff that exists for data collection.
A running theme of this new service is the ability to seamlessly switch connections without really noticing it. At present, switching from 4G to 3G or data to WiFi usually results in a few seconds or longer of a dropped connection, enough to cause downloads to error out and communications (e.g Hangouts, Skype) to fail.
The technology that is built in Fi is said to communicate with new Qualcomm radios to provide this, which is both a benefit and a drawback. The benefit is that this is true innovation and finally something different in a seemingly already perfect piece of kit, whilst the drawback is that it won’t work in older or cheaper devices.
As a matter of fact, the only phone that this will work with for the time being is the Nexus 6, being the only handset using the Fi-enabled technology (this also tells us that Google have had this tech ready since November and so should be well tested before official launch).
Another thing that the Fi chip allows for is calling and texting over any WiFi network, regardless of mobile signal. From the Fi Experience page on the site: “Talk, text, andcheck voicemail with the screen nearest you. Your phone number now works with more than just your phone. Connect any device that supports Google Hangouts (Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, or Chromebook) to your number. Then, talk and text with anyone—it doesn’t matter what device they’re using.” While there are a lot of apps that allow you to do this, we’re yet to see a fully supported system that’ll work regardless of whether your phone is turned on.
If you’re in the US you can request an invite for when this thing launches in its early access phase here. Sadly for us in the UK there isn’t any news or indication of when anything like Project Fi will be available to us, if ever. The Fi website does state that it’ll work in over 120 countries- England included- but the exact manner and partnered networks are as of yet unknown.
Fi isn’t exactly on the cheapside- even for the US-, either, with the base cost being $20 for unlimited US talk and texts, unlimited international texts, $0.2 per minute international calls and WiFi tethering along with an additional $10 per GB of data. So, for a 2GB data allowance it’d cost $40 a month or roughly £26 ($20 “The Fi Basics” + $20 for data). Fortunately Google allow unused data to roll over into the next month and charge the exact same price ($10 per GB) if you go over your limit. Your plan is also available abroad which is certainly a nice touch.
Still, in spite of its drawbacks, it’s nice to see Google changing up a tried and tested formula and continuing to build user-centric systems and programmes while pushing both innovation and profit (they’re still a business, after all). Hopefully, much like Google Fiber, this will continue to develop and be successful enough for it to head over to Europe.
Mobile network and internet providers in the US are known for their questionable “marketing tactics” and, until recently, they’ve gotten away with it thanks to a lack of competition. Google’s new drive into internet and mobile will surely lead these businesses to reconsider their strategies and start orienting services once again on their users rather than themselves.