No consumer in their right mind is turned off by the promise of a cheaper, more flexible and more convenient service, and Google’s new wireless service promises just that. However, there are only certain cases in which you should consider leaving your existing provider in order to join Google’s revolution.
Nexus 6 only compatible handset
Those of you that refuse to use any other handset than an iPhone may as well stop reading this story right now, because Project Fi is only available to users of a Nexus 6 handset. The Nexus 6 is an Android smartphone developed by Google in conjunction with Motorola Mobility, which means that fans of iOS will not be able to join the service, for now at least.
However that still leave around 46.7% of smartphone users for Google to attract to its service. Existing Android users will only have to change handset in order to join Project Fi.
For the minute Google may have a hard time selling prospective customers on the Nexus 6. Although it’s a powerful device which runs the latest version of Android, the handset is part of a technological species known as a “phablet,” thanks to dimensions which make it a cross between a phone and a tablet. Until new handsets join the Project Fi party, those who like to carry their device in their pants pocket may be forced to pass.
Although the monthly cost of service is relatively low, up-front costs are rather high compared to other carriers. If you do not already own a Nexus 6, you’ll have to cough up $649 for a new one. Those who own a Nexus 6 connected to another carrier will most likely have to pay penalties, fees and other charges in order to leave their current plan.
Google Fi: Data plans a mixed bag
Perhaps Project Fi’s strongest suit is data usage. The baseline rate of $10 per gigabyte is around the same as other carriers, but Google has an ace up its sleeve. Customers will be refunded for any data that they do not use, and the difference taken off next month’s bill, potentially leading to significant savings.
Project Fi offers customers great flexibility, but it is best suited to those who are not planning on sharing their data. A family of three could share a 10 GB AT&T Mobile Share Value plan, with off-contract phones, for $145 per month. That same family would have to pay Google $20 per line and $100 for 10 GB of data, making a total of $160 per month. These figures do not take into account the added expense of buying three new Nexus 6 phones.
Those calculations may seem oversimplified when you take into account that the family would receive a refund if they didn’t use all of their data. However at the moment this is pure speculation because there are currently no family plans offered by Project Fi, meaning that the three members would have to sign up for separate plans.
WiFi use a boon or a burden, depending on location
Project Fi’s most important feature is that it uses WiFi as much as possible, including for making phone calls. If you find yourself out of WiFi range, calls will be routed through T-Mobile and Sprint’s networks. For users in some parts of the country this could be a concern due to patchy coverage from the two providers.
Sprint received a poor rating from Consumer Reports last year, and the same publication claimed that T-Mobile had improved its service. Despite the less-than-encouraging reviews, these rankings must be considered depending on the areas in which prospective users live, work and spend their leisure time. Consistent WiFi access means that the networks will not be used very often, but those who will rely more on Sprint and T-Mobile might want to wait before signing up for Project Fi.
Industry analysis thus far
T-Mobile CEO John Legere is understandably excited about Project Fi’s prospects. He wrote a blog post in which he claimed that the “carriers have dug in their heels and held U.S. wireless back for too long. This industry needs all the fresh blood and fresh thinking it can get.”
Analyst Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at The NPD Group, claims that Project Fi is currently more of an experiment than a business venture, due to the fact that only a tiny number of Americans currently carry a Nexus 6. “It’s a really small impact,” he said. “It’s a demonstration of what people can do, what the technology can do, as opposed to a new business that’s going to undercut the carriers.”
Until Google brings new handsets to the table, it seems unlikely that Project Fi will change the mobile landscape. If and when certain changes are made, however, there is potential for the industry to see lasting improvements.