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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Google's Project Fi

In case you never heard of it, Project Fi is Google's attempt to enter the world of cell phone service. What first caught my eye was its price: $20/month for unlimited talk and text.  Data is not unlimited, but even there the terms are better than most other providers: $10/GB.  The great thing about the data plan its that you only pay for what you use.  If you only use 852 MB for the month, you pay $8.52.  This is done by paying for a 1 GB plan for $10 then getting a $1.48 rebate for unused data.  If you go over your data plan, you till only pay the same.  For example, if you set a plan of 1 GB/mo and use 1.53 GB you pay an extra $5.30 for the 5.3 GB you went over.  If you can keep most of your data usage on WiFi, which is free, Your cell phone costs can plummet.

Even better if you to a lot of international travel. Google allows you to travel to over 120 countries where you still pay the same $10/GB for data use.  International texts are always unlimited and included in your base costs.  Calls while abroad are only 20 cents/minute.

There are a few down sides: first, you have to buy an unsubsidized phone.  Also, that phone has to be one of a very few models: the old Nexus 6 or the new Nexus 5x or 6p.  The cheaper 5x will set you back $379.  The 6p starts at $499 for the base model.  Since we are used to paying subsidized charges of $200 for the very best phones, this may seem like sticker shock.  But if doing so reduces your monthly charges from $60 or $70 per month to $30 or $35 per month,  You will see big savings pretty quickly.  You can also pay off the phone cost over a standard 24 months if you prefer.  Given that the Nexus phones are probably the among best Android Phones on the market, you are not compromising quality.

Coverage may not be the best.  Project Fi allows you to use both the Sprint and T-Mobile networks. So you get better coverage than either one of those carriers alone, but most people demanding of coverage everywhere will find this service a cut below the better coverage of Verizon or even AT&T.

Part of the poor cell coverage is ameliorated by the fact that Google Fi is always on the look out to connect to available secure WiFi, which is used not only for data but also voice and text.  

I could see this plan being very useful for people who mostly use the cell phone for talk and text, and you don't use a great deal of mobile data.  It also makes sense if you to a fair amount of international travel.  Even if you mostly use data when you are connected to Wifi, it is a real convenience to have the mobile when you need it, and not pay a huge base cost every month just to have it in case.

I also like the idea of not being locked into a contract.  For people needing a phone for only a few months, they don't have to worry about a two year contract and can sell their relatively new phone when done with it so as not to take a huge hit on that.  For people who are happy using the same phone for three or four years, you will rack up even more savings than you would under the subsidized phone model.

The plan probably doesn't make sense if you are a heavy data user.  In that case, an unlimited plan from Sprint or T-Mobile is probably better.  Similarly, if you have a family plan with shared data, you may be better off financially going that route.  I'm also not convinced that Project Fi will be viable long term.  If it gets too successful, one of the supporting carriers may bail on it.  You can use your Nexus phones on any network, so you don't have to worry about being left with a brick. Even so, a stable carrier experience is preferred.

It would be nice if there was a completely pay as you go plan that gave a reasonable price for talk minutes and texts as well as data.  I know a great many people who use their cell phone very little and simply want it for rare occasions and emergencies.  There are already pay as you go options out there, but Google could be really competitive in that market.

I would like to see where Google is going with this.  I certainly understand why they want to kill Verizon and AT&T's strangle hold on internet mobility and support those efforts.  I hope the competition may force all carriers to cut prices.  All that remains to be seen.

At present, all I can say is the Google's latest foray into mobility is interesting.  This company has already upended several markets to the benefit of the consumer.  I'll be interested to see how Project Fi grows in the coming years.

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