- Project Fi is currently invite-only (request an invite) and requires a Nexus 6 phone priced at $649.99 for the 32 GB version and $699.99 for the 64 GB model. Interest free 24 month financing at $27.04/month (32 GB) or $29.12 (64 GB is available to customers with good credit.
- Service costs $20/month plus tax 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 of approximately 1¢/MB for the unused amount. Taxes and surcharges will be between 10% and 20%.
- It runs on a "network of networks" consisting of the T-Mobile and Sprint mobile networks plus over a million WiFi hotspots that Google has verified as fast and reliable. There is no charge for calling US and Canadian numbers, texting or using data when connected to WiFi.
- Project Fi phones will automatically connect to Google verified WiFi hotspots. WiFi connections will be routed through an encrypted VPN by Google. When moving out of WiFi range the phone will will seamlessly switch to cellular without interrupting ongoing calls.
- WiFi hotspot tethering is included at no extra cost.
- On mobile network connections voice calls use traditional cellular voice, not VOIP.
- 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.
- Calling and texting using your Project Fi number can be done from any device that supports Google Hangouts and has a data connection. Note that you still need a Nexus 6 be a Project Fi customer.
- A Project Fi app that lets users change plans, pay their bill and check data usage.
- Google will provide 24/7 phone and email support for Project Fi customers.
What is Google trying to accomplish: I see Project Fi as a Google research project. Google is primarily an online advertising company. Virtually everything it does is designed to further the goal of putting relevant, effective ads in front of every user. The cost and scarcity of mobile data gets in the way of Google's ability to track users and reach them with ads. With Project Fi, Google is learning how it can work with multiple networks to make mobile data fast, ubiquitous and cheap. A secondary goal is to put pressure on mobile operators to make data pricing more affordable and transparent.
Is Project Fi a good deal? Not really for most people. Project Fi is a good for frequent international travelers thanks to low cost international roaming. But for the rest of us, the $650+ for a Nexus 6 cost of entry is steep and unless you really need unlimited talk and messaging, $20/month plus taxes is high just to keep service active. $10/GB is nothing special either as it's pretty much the going rate for mobile data in the US. But this is a research project, not one to take over the mobile business, at least not yet. I think Google is keeping pricing relatively high to keep demand for Project Fi at a manageable level and to placate mobile operators that Google relies on to support Android.
What is innovative about Project Fi? There are two things about Project Fi that I see as shaking up the mobile industry. The first is that with the credit for unused data, Project Fi data isn't $10/GB, it's actually 1¢/MB PayGo data. The $10/GB that the incumbent operators charge is use it or lose it. The operators are counting on you paying for more data than you need to avoid running out of data or being hit with high overage charges. PayGo data is typically priced at 5-10¢/MB, so 1¢/MB is a good deal when you are paying only for what you use. I think Google is also trying you put pressure on the operators to move toward more transparent per unit billing. I'm hoping that at some point Project Fi will introduce data-only plans and/or offer cheaper voice and messaging options for light users. For example, Google could treat unlimited as equivalent to say 5000 minutes and 5000 texts. If you use more than 5000 you wouldn't get charged extra but if you use less you get a credit for the unused portion of 5000/5000.
The other innovative thing about Project Fi is the encrypted WiFi network. There have been other attempts at creating networks of free public hotspots that phones connect to automatically. But the ones I've tried like AT&T's Smart WiFi and Devicescape's DataBooster weren't encrypted and had a tendency to connect to hotspots that were non-functional. If Project Fi's network encrypted of vetted hotspots works well I could see Google turning it into a standalone app providing free reliable data access to all Android users.
Does using only Sprint and T-Mobile as network partners limit Project Fi's usefulness? Yes, T-Mobile and Sprint have limited coverage outside of population centers and major highways. I suspect that Google would have liked to partner with Verizon and AT&T too, but wasn't able to get them on board at a price Google was willing to pay. Also it's not actually just T-Mobile and Sprint, there seems to be some off network roaming. The Project Fi coverage map shows coverage in lots of places where neither T-Mobile or Sprint operates. Here's a map of combined Sprint and T-Mobile coverage that FierceWireless published last year:
Project Fi map:
Most of those light green areas are 2G roaming coverage in places where neither T-Mobile or Sprint has any network presence. Look at Wyoming, the Dakotas, West Virginia and Maine for example. While 2G is anything to rave about, it's better than nothing and hopefully Google will eventually be able to hook up with AT&T and Verizon to expand high-speed coverage.
Sources: Google Blog, Project Fi FAQ