Note: This article has nothing to do with privacy. If you are looking for privacy articles, I suggest you skip this one. However, this article reflects one of my other interests: telecommunications, especially low cost or no cost telephone services. I feel that we are being “ripped off” by telephone companies and by cell phone companies. A few companies offer much cheaper services that work just as well as the services from the big conglomerates. If you are interested in reducing your present telephone expenses, you may be interested in this article.
I have written before about Google’s Project Fi, a very-low-cost cell phone service that works without roaming fees in more than 120 countries. I have been using Project Fi for several months and love it. After using Project Fi for a few weeks, I canceled my prior AT&T cell phone service that cost about $85 a month (that price included some options, such as tethering). Even better, Project Fi is a pre-pay service with no contracts; you can cancel at any time.
The new cell service from Google used to be by invitation only. However, that changed today. Now anyone can sign up for immediate access to Google Fi, according to an announcement from Jake Leichtling, Project Fi Product Manager, at https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/project-fi/FFqtY-laeFE. The company also announced the deepest discount ever on the Nexus 5X cell phone. If you buy the phone through Project Fi and activate it, you can get the normally $349 Nexus 5X for just $199. The offer is valid from today until April 7, 2016.
With Project Fi, I now have the same or better service than I had with AT&T, but most months my total bill is less than $30 a month. That includes unlimited talk minutes (in the US but $0.20 per minute in other countries), unlimited text messages, tethering, and a lot more. Even better, coverage with Google Fi seems to be as good or even better than that with AT&T. There is one well-known “dead spot” near my home where AT&T coverage disappears, but Google Fi works perfectly in the same place. I haven’t found any dead spots with Project Fi except for a couple of deep valleys where all cell phones stop working. A Project Fi coverage map may be found at https://fi.google.com/coverage. Where I live, the map is solid green: no dead spots. However, like all other cell phone companies, you will find some dead spots in rural and mountainous areas.
Project Fi is Google’s MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) service that automatically switches between Sprint and T-Mobile while only charging you for the exact amount of the data you use, down to the megabyte. The service also combines all the best features of Google Voice, like visual voicemail, number forwarding, and the ability to send and receive SMS messages from any computer and via the Google Hangouts app. Project Fi charges a $20 base fee for unlimited texting and calls, plus $10 per gigabyte of data you use. A full breakdown of the pricing is available at http://goo.gl/HYY7TU.
I used Project Fi to make and receive phone calls a few weeks ago from Mexico, Grand Cayman Island, and Jamaica. I also tethered the cell phone to use it as a wireless modem with my laptop computer when in Grand Cayman Island and in Jamaica. I posted articles to this newsletter from those locations. Admittedly, the data speeds from the islands were slow; but using the tethered Google Fi cell phone was much, much cheaper than using the cruise ship’s over-priced Internet access! Data speeds within the US are typically much, much faster.
The biggest downside that I found with Google Fi is that it only works with three specific Android phones: Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, and Nexus 6P. It will not work with any other cell phones. I gave up my beloved iPhone and switched to a Nexus 6P. After using the Nexus 6P for several months I will say that I really prefer the iPhone, but I love the lower prices on Google Fi. I am keeping the Nexus 6P.
If you decide to cancel your Google Fi service, the unlocked Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, and Nexus 6P cell phones all can be switched to any other cellular network. Therefore, you won’t lose your investment in the phone. Even if you have no desire to join Project Fi, $199 for a Nexus 5X is still a good deal. That phone can be used on any US network and most overseas cellular networks as well.
All three of those phones are expensive, and the user must purchase the phone before using Google Fi. There is no monthly payment plan for the phone, only for the cell service. That’s a bit of a “sticker shock” when you have to purchase the phone, although today’s announcement of the normally $349 Nexus 5X selling for just $199 helps soften the blow. However, if you compare the purchase price of the phone plus the monthly fee of $20 to perhaps $30 (for most users) against the 24-months of payments for your present cell service and phone, you may find that use of Google Fi will be the cheaper of the two. I know I did: at $85/month for service plus a phone, I paid $2,040 to AT&T over the previous two years, and that did not include unlimited talk, unlimited data, or zero roaming fees in 120 countries. (I once paid $300 in calls and roaming fees on a one-week trip to England with my AT&T phone.) In contrast, Google Fi will only cost a total of $679 to $919 for 24 months ($199 for the Nexus 5X cell phone plus $20 to $30 a month for service) for even better service.
On the downside, Google Fi presently is available only to US residents.
Google Fi uses a rather sophisticated network switching service. It uses both T-Mobile and Sprint and will even switch between the two in mid-call if one company’s cell tower provides a stronger service than the other. Even better, it will also switch to and from a wi-fi hotspot, if available. I have it configured to receive and place calls over the wi-fi network in my home. When traveling, I use the normal Sprint and T-Mobile cellular networks unless I am in a hotel with a good wi-fi service. I generally use the hotel’s wi-fi service if available. The wi-fi connections almost always work as well as or better than the cellular networks. However, you do not pay separate bills to the different companies. You make one payment once a month to Google, and that company apparently then reimburses Sprint and T-Mobile for you. My total bill for unlimited talk, unlimited texts, and less than one gigabyte of data in a month has never gone over $30.
A couple of my friends had difficulties using any cell phone at home because they live in a cell phone “dead spot.” Google’s Project Fi solved the problem for them. Since they have wi-fi networks at home, they now use Google Fi all the time as their only in-home phone, and it works flawlessly over their wi-fi network. When they leave home, the same phone automatically switches to the Sprint and T-Mobile cellular networks to provide normal cell phone coverage in all areas covered by those two companies’ services.
When evaluating my cell phone service, I also considered several other low-cost cell services, including Republic Wireless, Consumer Cellular, Cricket, TracPhone, US Mobile, Straight Talk, and maybe a few others. However, none of them provided free or low-cost international roaming, and most of them did not offer unlimited talk and text. Those were show stoppers for me. However, if you do not travel internationally, and if you do not use your cell phone all that much, you may find one of the other services to be more cost-effective. For my needs, Project Fi was the obvious choice.
NOTE: I am not compensated in any way to write this article. I am simply a satisfied customer. In fact, I am now giving up my normal “home phone” and am using the Project Fi cell phone as my only telephone. Since it offers unlimited talk and text everywhere, at home, all over the US, and even overseas, and also unlimited data when connected to a wi-fi network, I find I no longer have any use the old-fashioned “home phone” I have used for years. Even international calls to overseas phone numbers are cheaper on Google Fi than with most wired home phones. You may find the same is true for your usage.
For more information about Google’s Project Fi cell phone service, go to http://fi.google.com. For information about using Google Fi when traveling outside the US, see https://support.google.com/fi/answer/6157794?hl=en.