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Google Announces $20/month Project Fi Prepaid MVNO

Google has published a blog post revealing the details of its much anticipated prepaid mobile phone service. Called Project Fi, it's a mobile virtual network operator or MVNO that uses both the T-Mobile and Sprint networks as well as WiFi for calls, messaging and data.

Project Fi requires a Nexus 6 phone with special Project Fi software that routes calls, texts and data over the best available network whether its Sprint, T-Mobile or WiFi.

Google has verified over a million WiFi hotspts that it has verified as fast, reliable and safe. Project Fi phones connect to these hotspots automatically. When using WiFi, Project Fi creates an encrypted connection. Handoffs from WiFi to cellular are supposed to be seamless.

Project Fi costs $20/month for unlimited domestic voice and unlimited domestic and international texting. Cellular data is available in 1 GB increments priced at $10 per GB. If you don't use up all your data Google will give you a credit for the the unused amount. So if you buy 2 GB and only use 1.2 GB you get an $8 credit toward the next month's payment.

WiFi hotspot tethering is included at no extra cost. International roaming is available in 120 countries. Data while roaming costs the same $10/GB as data in the US but is throttled to 256 Kbps. Texts are free while roaming internationally and calls are 20¢/minute.

Account management is provided by a Project Fi app that lets users change plans, pay their bill and check data usage. Google will provide 24/7 phone support for Project Fi customers. Project Fi numbers are Google Voice/Hangouts numbers so users can make and receive calls, texts and MMS on any phone, tablet or PC that supports Hangouts and has an internet connection.

Project Fi is available on an invite-only basis. Click here to request an invite.

56 comments:

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  1. Does the service use the T-Mobile and Verizon networks or the T-Mobile and Sprint networks?

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  2. Typo ; Sprint Network not Verizon.

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  3. At this time Invite Only - only with the Nexus 6.

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    1. "At this time Invite Only - only with the Nexus 6."

      That reeks of the "One Plus" iffy dealings.

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    2. One Plus One was "iffy" because they didn't have the capital to go straight into full production, and so were trying to build buzz while dealing with a limited supply. Google here is acting exactly like they have several times before, treating a new product as a limited beta release -- most notably, GMail was invite-only for quite a while. Presumably they'll open it up if and when they're sure everything is working, that it'll scale, and (most importantly) that it's a business they want to be in long-term.

      It's an nice idea, trying to get around the limits of the Sprint and T-Mobile networks by using both of them plus wifi, and also the rational approach to data. No idea how it'll work in practice, but at least Google are doing something interesting.

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  4. I read their blog; very informative. Sounds almost revolutionary.

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  5. I'm surprised nobody has tried straddling different cell networks before. In guessing there is some Google voice magic going on behind the scenes: you have a "public" phone number for receiving calls and texts, and google forwards them transparently to your WiFi IP Address, Sprint SIM, or TMobile SIM as appropriate (each with their own "hidden" phone numbers).

    This could be a game changer. I had to drop Sprint after 14 years because I couldn't get coverage at work, but TMobile signal reaches there. 20$ looks better than 35$ for other entry level talk text and 3gb data plans

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    1. This is not new. Truphone has roaming in the US on both AT&T and T-Mobile. It picks T-Mo as default, but switches automatically to AT&T when needed. I can also lock the phone to AT&T if I want.

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  6. I requested an invite although I don't have a Nexus 6. Although Google says Project Fi supports the Nexus 6, they did *not* explicitly say it absolutely won't work in a similar phone that also supports Sprint, T-Mobile and WiFi calling (such as the iPhone 6/6+). We shall see once those SIM cards start shipping.

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    1. The key ingredient would be the custom software developed to seamlessly switch networks. I doubt such an APK can be installed on an iPhone.

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    2. True. I'm thinking it will be a similar experience to using Google Hangouts for voice-only calling where a loss of any data connection drops the call.

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  7. $20/month for talk and text on the T-Mobile network without any included data is nothing special.

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    1. I agree. Boost is currently a better deal anyway. If you're willing to go with Autopay every month it's $30 for unlimited everything and 2 gigabytes of high speed data. This would cost $40 for the same thing. Not that Sprint's network is fantastic, but you're going to get Sprint at least part of the time with Google anyway. The exception would be for those that get better service from T-Mo where they are at versus Sprint. Then you could argue that they would be getting better service, but it would cost more. Nothing special indeed.

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    2. Dittos. Ptel throws in 250mb for $20/month.

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  8. I think this is the plan that will ultimately give T-Mobile's $30 secret plan a run for their money! The only downsides in comparison are: limited to invite-only and the Nexus for now, and not as much data as the secret plan's 5GB per month. I'm interested in seeing how this develops!

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    1. Kind of ironic that the secret plan is the one I have heard of more than other T-Mobile plans :)

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  9. It's just something to look at on paper now, as Sprint and T-Mobile, even between them, only cover a small part of the country. But if T-Mobile's promised expansion happens this year, it could be a great option. And... this is just the beginning. Who knows it could expand to bigger networks too.

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    1. What promised expansion, they are upgrading towers from 2g to LTE but I haven't heard of any meaningful expansion ( requires lots and lots of capital that tmo USA doesn't have)

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    2. So that map someone was posting showing massive LTE expansion of T-Mobile by the end of 2015 is just vapor....

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    3. That was a map of spectrum licensees that T-Mobile won in a recent FCC auction. T-Mobile has not announced if or when it will deploy service in that spectrum. Some of the spectrum is currently used by TV stations which have to move to different frequencies before the spectrum can be used for cellular.

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    4. T-Mobile began deployment of 700 MHz spectrum last year, and said they plan to cover 150M POPs by the end of 2015. Tmo News has the map and user reports of deployed Tmo 700 MHz spectrum from multiple markets. Several of the TV station spectrum moves have already been resolved, and Tmo has an agreement for future spectrum moves with several other TV stations, but the latter have not happened yet. The LTE expansion map posted earlier was not just the 700 MHz spectrum deployment map. It was published as slides by DT, the parent company at an event in Europe, and also shows re-farming of 2G to LTE, and replacement of partner coverage with native Tmo LTE coverage in areas where Tmo has no 700 MHz spectrum available.

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    5. This map on Tmo News is being updated as the 700 MHz spectrum proceeds. Read the article to understand the map icons. Click on an area to get more details.
      http://www.tmonews.com/700mhz-lte-map/

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    6. Here is the LTE expansion map published by DT, and reported on HoFo and Tmo News: http://www.tmonews.com/2015/02/t-mobiles-lte-coverage-map-will-look-like-this-by-the-end-of-2015/ Lots of gray partner areas are being replaced with native Tmo coverage: http://www.tmonews.com/2015/02/t-mobiles-lte-coverage-map-will-look-like-this-by-the-end-of-2015/ People who say it is not accurate have no facts to back up that statement and are probably just in denial. The second map is a plan, not a fact at this point, and T-mobile has a track record in deploying their LTE network over the past 2.5 years ahead of schedule.

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  10. Utilizing two - Sprint and T-Mobile LTE networks in one device is new and refreshing. If it was Verizon and AT&T LTE networks, or all four, it would be revolutionary - maybe one day... On the other hand, Tracfone does sort of the same thing with it's dumb phones for voice and text - free roaming on all available to them networks.

    I just checked my rural location for Project Fi coverage - no luck if you don't have Wi-Fi - 2G only. This means the service is strictly VOIP (Wi-Fi or LTE) without cellular voice fallback. I like Republic Wireless's model better. BTW, who pays for the LTE data used for VOIP?

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    1. "I just checked my rural location for Project Fi coverage - no luck if you don't have Wi-Fi - 2G only"

      It's that way or worse for most of the US. Fi looks very interesting, hope it expands beyond small pilot-project-style coverage.

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    2. I checked my rural region on the Project Fi coverage map, too. According to it, I would have 3G in town and along the principal highway, courtesy of Sprint; the surrounding area is a sea of 2G. If I want a small patch of 4G LTE, I’d have to drive 30 miles to the south, and if I wanted a vast, contiguous area of 4G LTE, I’d have to travel another 50 miles beyond that.
      Moreover, I don’t know where I’d get Wi-Fi, unless I’d hang out at home, the local Mickey D’s or the public library.

      With Consumer Cellular, I get 4G LTE nearly everywhere, all of the time. So, why in the world would I want to switch?!?

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    3. Four networks would be overkill as there would be too much overlap. Besides, there is a reason why T-Mobile and Sprint is being used. They charge less and are willing to sell to anybody because their network is subpar and with fewer customers than the big 2. Also going with 4 would take a big battery hit. Even with just 2, I almost expect battery life will be on the poor side.

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    4. " They charge less and are willing to sell to anybody because their network is subpar"

      Careful saying that, or some shill will mention "churn', and attempt to divert attention from poor coverage by mentioning cooked-up stats about the number of potential customers covered if these potential customers never leave their postal address.

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    5. Catt said: "... a small patch of 4G LTE....30 miles to the south...4G LTE,...another 50 miles beyond that."

      "With Consumer Cellular, I get 4G LTE nearly everywhere, all of the time. So, why in the world would I want to switch?!?"

      Exactly. I can't see this Fi as viable option in most of the country now. You shouldn't have to treat the idea of getting coverage like you are planning a weekend getaway.

      In the horserace, Verizon and ATT are many lengths ahead: thoroughbreds. Far back, old nags T-Mobile and Sprint are jockeying for 3rd and 4th place. "Fi" is like the jockey himself: jumping back and forth between the two losing horses, from one saddle to the other, to whichever horse is slightly ahead of the other. But regardless, still way way behind the two lead horses.

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  11. Not a game changer.

    But then again, only some of the products are game changers such as gmail at the time. This is below average. It is better to buy a used Sprint Samsung Galaxy S3 and get it on Freedompop. At least, you can get 1Gb (500Mb via friends easily) for free. And google hangouts works with good quality.

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    1. "But then again, only some of the products are game changers such as gmail at the time. This is below average"

      Gmail was a "Below average" game changer.... it introduced the terrible so-called "conversation view" idea which results in near-random scrambling of the inbox, and lost emails. Others have copied it, like lemmings off a cliff.

      But hey, at least Gmail has great spam filtering!

      I'd avoid Freedompop myself due to the near-fraudulent and dishonest attempts to get you to buy stuff you don't want. Definitely not on the level.

      Personally, I think this Fi thing is a great first step.... looking for the next step in this.

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    2. It helps if you have a virtual credit card generator to deal with FreedomPop. FP can be a nasty experience. But if it works out, it is an excellent setup. So far, I would say that I have had good service and products from them. It is one of those companies that if you don't deal with them, it is best. But if you have a problem, watch out.

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    3. Agreed. I was hoping for a more data centric usage model. I use about 10 minutes of voice a month and close to 1 gb and I hate having to buy unlimited "stuff I never use" just to get that 1 gb.

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    4. Dittos. I like the Consumer Cellular-Ting-US Mobile pricing model, where you buy just what you need, and share the plan for $2-10 extra/month. PureTalk Simple and Flex plans have something similar, where you can add data to the minutes/texts you need at a reasonable price.

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  12. cvost of buying nexus 6, $ twenty bucks for voice and text only on tmobile/sprint? does this really add much more coverage.. and buying gb at $10... doesn't look revolutionary... just another mvno attempt... and google mines your data afap..."as fast as possible"....

    if only getting data for dirt cheap... then the mine sweep..oligopoly would seem more of game changer.... with unlimited data offerings/other deals for heavy users.... this looks like a voice and text deal with data for limited users....
    but buying a nexus 6 for that doesn't equate... maybe for those with good wi fi coverage..but then doesn't google hangout work for talk n text?
    but will there be added taxes and fees... bringing talk n text back up..?
    agree shame dual or triple sim lte phones aren't in U.S.

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  13. In my opinion this is not revolutionary. In my case I use 2GB of data a month which will cost me $20(unlimited talk+text)+$20(2gb)=$40. That's not very attractive. I can save myself $10 a month and do Boost Mobile's $30 unlimited talk+text+2gb and also choose from a lot of phones that are more in my price range. I was hoping that google would explode the market with much better pricing.

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  14. Just like the Nexus 6, this is over priced. Nothing special about $10 / gb domestic. It's is a good price for international data. Google has made some management changes over the last two years that have resulted in bone head moves. Practically giving Motorola away to Lenovo, allowing Hugo Barra to take company secrets to China, pricing the Nexus 6 @ double the price of the Nexus 5.
    It makes you wonder how Google grew so large.

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  15. So it's the same plan as Ultra mobile 19 bucks on the T-Mobile network, for unlimited t&t and $10 for 1gb of data. Meh

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  16. I'm paying $20 each for 5 lines at cricket and each get 2.5gb data and the better ATT signal.

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  17. So, it runs on WiFi and on the T-Mobile and Sprint networks. If none of those are available will it roam on AT&T or Verizon?

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    1. Project Fi appears to have roaming. Check out the Project Fi coverage map. There's 2G (and presumably voice and text)service in many places where neither where neither T-Mobile has any presence like Wyoming, the Dakotas, West Virginia and Maine.

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    2. Interesting looking at the combined coverage on that map. and how poor it is from Sprint AND T-Mobile. In the western half of the Continental US, much less densely populated, most territory has no coverage, and most of what is there is 2G. The lack of any coverage at all in most this population wasteland is no surprise. However, Sprint and T-Mobile really have dropped the ball by having out-of-date 2G towers most of the time when they have towers at all here.

      In the eastern half... in MOST of the states, you have 4G coverage in less than half of the state's territory. Indiana (and maybe Illinois), Ohio, Florida, and Delaware might be the only states with decent 4G coverage.

      There's also a big design flaw in the map: there's a square that blocks much of it, that can't be killed with an X.

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    3. Why is it important to have excellent LTE coverage in areas that are sparsely populated? How does that make any sense? You never hear of Canadians complaining about there being no Rogers service at the North Pole.

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    4. "Why is it important to have excellent LTE coverage in areas that are sparsely populated"

      The eastern US is not sparsely populated. T-Mobile and Sprint coverage at the 4G level there is rather poor. But T-Mobile and Sprint are not so bad there if you have 2005-level data needs and love 2G.

      Besides, the "Real" carriers (as opposed to these two small uncarriers) have no problem providing extensive, relatively solid 4G coverage to all of these states, instead of just a few.

      "You never hear of Canadians complaining about there being no Rogers service at the North Pole."

      Your question makes no sense. The North Pole is not Canadian territory. Might as well talk of whether or not a Mexican telco covers Panama.

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  18. Freedompop surprises -

    You heard it right. They are a startup bunch. He responded to me at 10:30 pm for a Tuesday night!

    I do have mixed feelings about them. But I think they are trying. The volume of support just crushes them. Them venture capitalist dudes need to hire more customer service people.

    Hard to be free 1Gb of data.

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    1. Anon: None of which is a good reason for Freedompop's dishonesty/tricky signup/etc which has people recommending special credit cards to avoid fraudulent charges on their actual cards. Being startup, venture capitalists is no excuse to act evil.

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    2. Yeah, true as long as people stay with them, they have a business. I hate that they use all these tactics and starting to try to charge me on a free account and saying my card does not work and then tell me to refund me, which they do.

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    3. "and starting to try to charge me on a free account "

      They need a class action suit and payback of anyone charged like this. And a stiff fine.

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    4. I think that 90% of the problems with FreePop is with defective customers, who do not read the terms and conditions. They do not understand what they agreed to; e.g., when FreePop can charge a free account where the customer has used up almost all of their data. Read the T&Cs. Adjust your settings. Understand your agreement. Don't blame FreePop when you are too lazy or clueless to do that.

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  19. Cricket needs all the help it can get. Still growing slowly despite the lower prices: AT&T only managed to add a net 98,000 branded prepaid subscribers in Q1, 2015. At least it's better than the 180,000 prepaid customers they lost in Q4, 2014. AT&T also lost 266,000 MVNO customers in Q1, 2015. Looks like Sprint and T-Mobile will extend their large leads in total prepaid subscribers over AT&T in Q1.

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    1. I'm surprised that Cricket hasn't been growing a lot more more since 2015 started. Better value than most of the Sprint and AT&T plans (except when it comes the low minutes, low data, pay go etc). Significantly better coverage than any T-Mobile or Sprint plan. And the customer service is poor... but it's that way with most MVNOs and divisions, so it is not like CS is a real disadvantage.

      Maybe people are turned off by the blobby grinning minions or something?

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    2. blobby minions? they are mutated cricket cockroaches! sorry don't want a phone service named after bugs! no growing a lot for the buggy-named service. but at least the "cricket" brand is marginally better than the ripoff "freedompop" brand.

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  20. Using VZW and AT&T and only charging $5 per GB of LTE would've been a real game changer!

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    1. Google would never have gotten favorable rates from the Big Two in order to pass along the savings to Nexus 6 users.

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  21. I am not impressed..

    Using google voice on any android phone (especially MOTO G for the lesser price) with GIV mobile's $20 plan (which gives 250MB data also) and WIFI calls via hangout dialer will be much cheaper than NEXUS 6 + $20 (voice and text) + $10 (1GB data) = $800..

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