We knew it was coming, and now it’s here: Google Fi is the tech giant’s disruptive move into the wireless telecom market. Like many other Google projects before it, from Glass to Loon, it’s both experimental and innovative at the same time.
The idea is simple: Sign up for Project Fi, and wherever you wander with your phone, it will automatically connect you to the fastest possible network. That could be a Google-approved public Wi-Fi spot; or it could be a 4G LTE link from one of its partners (Sprint and T-Mobile are on board to begin with).
It’s a more advanced, more ambitious version of the cellular/Wi-Fi switching we’ve already seen from Sprint and T-Mobile, functionality that lets you seamlessly swap from one to the other. Google’s new service, promises to be more expansive than ever before.
Project Fi goes beyond switching from Wi-Fi to cellular connections and back again, though. It also incorporates a truly cross-platform experience, where you can (for example) forget your phone at home and still make calls and texts from your work computer.
Project Fi illustration (Source: Google)
Google users can already get to their email, documents, photos and much more by logging into a Web browser, and Fi adds calls and texts to that mix, essentially putting the SIM card in the cloud. It’s a more modern version of Google Voice and from Google’s explainer site it looks like Hangouts is going to act as the backbone to it.
From a company invested in ultra-high-speed broadband and connecting developing parts of the world, Project Fi makes a lot of sense: It’s about making sure smartphone users are on the fastest possible speeds, wherever they are, on whatever device.
One number lets you make and receive calls from multiple devices.
That “wherever” part of the equation extends across the world as well. Fi users pay $20 a month for talk, text, Wi-Fi tethering and international coverage in 120+ countries, then it’s $10 per gigabyte of data.
An extra $10 a month gets you 1GB of data, $20 gets you 2GB and so on. Any data you don’t use, you get a refund for—so if you pay for 2GB but only use 1GB, then Google will send you back $10 at the end of the month.
Interested? Google is letting users request an invite from the Project Fi site, but at this stage you’re going to need a Nexus 6 to get involved. That’s partly because some advanced circuitry is required for switching between so many types of network across the world. At the same time, Google won’t want to spook the existing networks too much, and limiting the roll-out achieves that.
Like the Nexus program and Google Fiber, Project Fi aims to set an example for others to follow. It’s one of those Google initiatives that makes a lot of sense for users in terms of convenience and ease-of-use, and now the onus is on the rest of the market to respond.
It’s also concerned with breaking down the distinction between Wi-Fi and cellular data, a distinction we may not even recognize in five or ten years. The SIM card had a good run, but its time is coming to an end.
Lead photo courtesy of Shutterstock; other images courtesy of Google
This article was written by David Nield from ReadWrite and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.