What is Google Fi?

January 21, 2019

Almost four years ago, Google announced it was entering cellular communications with a project it hoped would revolutionize the way US customers accessed, used and were charged for voice and data communications.

Then known as Project Fi, it involved tapping into third-party supplier’s cellular networks to access the best available signal strength and speed, while also utilizing Wi-Fi hotspots to transfer data, and make and receive calls.

Now Google Fi is rolling out updates and new features like RCS messaging. But before we dive into the extras available, let’s take a quick recap to explain Google Fi.

Google Fi

Google Fi is the search giant’s mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service that basically allows users to make and receive phone calls and transfer data using Wi-Fi and a combination of cellular networks.

Unlike a traditional cellular phone network, Google doesn’t own the telecommunications infrastructure, but rather accesses the services of existing carriers, while also utilizing its own network of over two million secure Wi-Fi hotspots.

Google Fi (previously known as Project Fi) technically commenced in 2015 when Google Nexus 6 smart phone owners were given access by invitation only. At that stage, Google had partnered with cellular phone networks Sprint and T-Mobile.

By 2016, Fi was gaining popularity and was available in 120 other countries when users were outside the US courtesy of T-Mobile’s partnerships abroad. Google added US Cellular as a support network, then brought European carrier Three on board, and by October that year Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones were included in the deal.

Now, almost any unlocked smart phone can use Google Fi, and users can access the Fi network when travelling to 170 countries.

How it works

As Wired explained in 2016: “… Fi not only offers a way of making calls over Wi-Fi networks inside homes, offices, and local coffee shops. As you leave Wi-Fi coverage, it can seamlessly and automatically move those calls onto a cellular network.

“Plus—and perhaps more importantly—it can move phones between disparate cellular networks, depending on which offers the best signal. And it does all this for a small, flat fee.”

There are two levels to this, however. From late last year Google Fi was accessible from pretty much any unlocked smartphone, but those which are specifically designed for Fi offer more of the benefits, as Android Central explains.

“Google Fi now works with any unlocked phone, with some limitations. Unlocked phones won’t be able to take advantage of Fi’s network switching, so you’ll be using the T-Mobile network primarily, and you don’t get Fi’s VPN. But you do get the same international roaming deal, plus all of the other Fi features like the great Fi app and simple billing.”

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Costs

Google notes Fi is a “different kind of phone plan”, offering “simpler pricing and better coverage”.

It kicks off at just US$20 a month for unlimited calls and texts. Then users pay an additional $10 per month for each gigabyte of data they consume, up to 6GB. At the outset, users estimate their intended data usage, and should they fall under that, Google will credit them money back for their unused data.

Meanwhile, if a user exceeds 6GB, individual bill protection kicks in, capping user’s expenditure at $60 for data for the month. The only catch is, should you go over 15GB, Google will slow the speed to 256kbps. At this stage, users can opt to pay more if they wish or maintain the slower connection until the next billing month starts.

Group options are also available where users can set up a Group Plan for up to six people who share a single account and billing source. In a group situation, the base plan is only $15.

There are a series of benefits associated with using Fi:

International roaming – Google Fi has major appeal for overseas travelers, as there’s no additional cost when it comes to international roaming. Calls and messages are still unlimited, data usage is charged at the same rate, and the service accesses its affiliated networks in other countries.

Unlimited data – Rather than paying for an unlimited data plan, users can use the data they require, and vary it each month according to their needs, with the maximum price capped at $60 each month.

Improved network coverage – Because Google works off the best signal available from a variety of carriers, network coverage is greatly improved, while the signal that users tap into always offers the greatest strength.

Google Fi benefits

Those looking to try Google Fi can sign up online for the service in minutes, and yes you can bring your existing phone number. You can select a Fi-enabled phone at that time or bring your own unlocked device, and Google will send you a SIM.

Google’s latest Pixel phones tend to offer the best experience with an eSIM incorporated into the phone.

The next best options are “designed for Fi” devices that still allow you to access the extra benefits like a greater variety of networks to switch between and the ability to transition between Wi-Fi hotspots and mobile networks using a Google VPN service.

There are a series of benefits associated with using Fi:

International roaming – Google Fi has major appeal for overseas travelers, as there’s no additional cost when it comes to international roaming. Calls and messages are still unlimited, data usage is charged at the same rate, and the service accesses its affiliated networks in other countries.

Unlimited data – Rather than paying for an unlimited data plan, users can use the data they require, and vary it each month according to their needs, with the maximum price capped at $60 each month.

Improved network coverage – Because Google works off the best signal available from a variety of carriers, network coverage is greatly improved, while the signal that users tap into always offers the greatest strength.

How do you get Fi?

Those looking to try Google Fi can sign up online for the service in minutes, and yes you can bring your existing phone number. You can select a Fi-enabled phone at that time or bring your own unlocked device, and Google will send you a SIM.

Google’s latest Pixel phones tend to offer the best experience with an eSIM incorporated into the phone.

The next best options are “designed for Fi” devices that still allow you to access the extra benefits like a greater variety of networks to switch between and the ability to transition between Wi-Fi hotspots and mobile networks using a Google VPN service.

New updates

In January, Google announced updates to its Fi service, noting Rich Communication Services (RCS) were to become a standard feature.

Considered superior to standard SMS, RCS works via the Fi Messages app, and includes features like typing indicators, read receipts, and high-resolution photos.

The recent updates were announced at the same time as Google flagged improved 4G LTE coverage in 33 countries.

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