Google Project Fi is a different kind of mobile network

Yesterday Google announced Project Fi, its somewhat unique spin on a wireless service. At first glance it seems almost too good to be true, at least for those of us with modest data requirements.

Rather than try to build out its own network, Google is piggy-backing on Sprint and T-Mobile networks. The first thing different about Project Fi is that you don't have to choose one of these networks; your phone will use whichever signal is strongest wherever you are. Or, if you're within range of one of what Google calls "more than a million free, open Wi-Fi hotspots we've verified as fast and reliable" then you'll connect to that. Of course if you're at home or at work you can use your own WiFi networks as well.

The way Google explains it, you'll transition seamlessly between networks. So if you initiate a call from home (where you'll be using your WiFi network) and leave the house, as you get out of range of your router your call will transition to a cellular network without the connection dropping.

Google has set up a page describing its "network of networks" and you can enter your address to get an idea of what coverage is like in your area.

The next thing different about Project Fi is that your phone number is "in the cloud." This means you can make calls from a PC or a tablet if you don't have your phone handy.

But what has me really excited about Project Fi is the price. You pay a base $20/month for, as Google puts it, "all the basics (talk, text, Wi-Fi tethering, and international coverage in 120+ countries)" and then you pay $10 per GB of cellular data you use. If you don't use all your data you'll get a credit for whatever you don't use. For once you'll be paying for data you use and no more.

Now if you're a heavy data user you might think I'm crazy being excited about the price; Project Fi may not be for you. This seems like a better fit for those of us with more modest data requirements. I currently have a 2 GB data plan and don't really feel cramped by it. 

Of course, there's a catch, at least for now. First of all, Project Fi is currently invite only and there's no real indication of how long it'll take you to get invited. You can sign up here. Second is that it requires a special SIM card, and that card only works with the ($649) Nexus 6.

That means as cool as it sounds, it's probably not going to be a money saver in the short run. I'm estimating I'd save $40-$50 a month if I switched so I'd be underwater for at least 13 months and possibly a bit longer.

The good news is that this Project Fi's Early Access phase and we can expect to see more (hopefully cheaper) phones supported over time (though I suspect it'll always be limited to Android devices). To learn more about Project Fi, check out Google's blog post

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