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Project Fi

Google’s Low-cost Cell Service Option

Conner Newbold | Photos courtesy of Google's Project Fi Jul 9, 2018

Driverless cars. Google Fiber. Home automation. Artificially intelligent personal assistants. Google has an impressive knack for creating successful, disruptive startups. And just three years after launch, Project Fi is well on its way to attaining the same success as some of Google’s other plucky experiments — this time, disrupting the world of cell phone service providers.

Project Fi is a new take on an old idea.

MVNO service providers — carriers that borrow service from larger companies, essentially renting their cell towers or satellites — have been around for decades. Project Fi uses the same model, aggregating the power of T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular into a single network.

So, how’s it different from other MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators)? It’s all in the switching. Project Fi technology allows devices to seamlessly switch between service providers and one million preapproved Wi-Fi hotspots, providing users the speed and reliability of Wi-Fi combined with extensive cell coverage.

There's only one plan.

It’s $20 per month for unlimited talk and text, then $10 more for every gigabyte of data used. Fi knocks $5 off the base $20 charge for every additional phone on the plan. Unlike most providers, you only pay for the data you use. For those who use just one or two gigs of data per month, Fi may be the most economical cell service provider around. Alternatively, data-hungry users might find six-plus GB at $10 apiece fairly steep — at that rate, it may be less expensive to find an unlimited data plan from another provider.

Signup takes about three minutes.

It doesn’t require a trip to a brick and mortar store (there aren’t any). There are no contracts, forms or leases to sign. Just enter your information into the Fi website, and the company ships you an eligible phone (or a Project Fi SIM card for your current phone).

Service and billing are peculiarly simple.

There are no paper statements or packets of fine print. Just the Project Fi app, and it contains only three tabs: account, billing and service. If you’re switching from one of the big three carriers, it might feel suspiciously simple.

The “account” tab logs how much data your device uses daily, days left in the billing cycle, and breaks down data usage by app, so you can see exactly how much data you wasted mindlessly thumbing through Instagram.

The “service” tab is a direct line to customer support, with wait times listed for each contact method (call, chat and email). It also includes a link to support forums for DIY and developer types.

“Billing” is exactly that, with clean, simple statements designed for mobile view.

Only a handful of phones can access Project Fi.

And iPhones aren’t on the list. Only the purest of Android smartphones make the cut — the Pixel, Pixel 2 and Nexus lines, with one or two others. Speculation says this is because both Project Fi and Android grew out of Google, as did the Pixel and Nexus.

Fi subscribers use Google hardware powered by Google software, connected to Google as a service provider. Altogether, this makes for seamless service and added convenience — but with the potential downside of a lot less data privacy, because Google stores a massive amount of your personal information.

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