Google’s Project Fi has been causing quite a lot of excitement across the US in recent months. So what is this new option for mobile users, and how likely is it we’ll see it appear this side of the Atlantic? We take a deeper delve into what could be the future for smartphones and those who use them. See also: Best UK SIM deals
What is Project Fi? : A new type of contract
Google seems to be in something of a disruptive mood of late. First there was its high-speed fibre service that brought ultra-fast broadband to select cities in the US for very reasonable fees. Now the focus is switching to the mobile phone landscape with Project Fi. See also: Best Android Smartphones 2016
At first glance Project Fi looks like a standard data/text/minutes package for smartphone users, albeit one offered exclusively by Google. Underneath it’s a little more complex than that. Rather than go to the massive expense of creating its own hardware infrastructure of transmitter towers and receivers, Google instead opted to join forces with three existing mobile carriers in the US - T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular - to offer customers a unified service.
Those who sign up to Project Fi have their mobile connection seamlessly switch between the three networks automatically as they travel around, thus increasing the chances of a strong signal wherever they go. That’s not all, though. Google recently added a feature where a built-in Wi-Fi assistant searches for open Wi-Fi hotspots and connects to them whenever they provide a better option than the cellular offering.
Project Fi costs a flat fee of $20 (£15) for the unlimited talk and text service, plus an addition $10 (£7.50) for each GB of data you use. Now, obviously, if you want to download HD movies on your cellular data then it will quickly become a hefty bill, but for normal use it’s a good deal.
The most interesting part is that you estimate your usage ahead of time, pay for it up front, but are refunded money if you don’t use as much data as you thought you would.
US travellers also benefit from the fact that the data and text packages work internationally at no additional cost, plus there's a set rate for phone calls, which should prevent any catastrophic bills when they get home from a European holiday.
What is Project Fi? : Sounds great. How do I get it?
Ah, I thought you’d ask that. At the moment Project Fi is only available in the US and there have been no indications of when this is likely to change. Also, the service is restricted to the last few Nexus-branded Android phones (the Nexus 6, 5X, and 6P) although we assume the Marlin and Sailfish models thought to be coming out in October will also work on the service. See : New Nexus UK release date
So unless you live in the States and use a very specific smartphone, Google’s initiative will remain Fi in the sky. (Sorry).
What is Project Fi? : Do I really need it?
That’s a good question. You see, while the cost and coverage all sound quite tempting, they’re not actually that much different from what’s already on offer in the UK. It’s important to remember that phone contracts in the States are usually a lot more expensive than over here, plus the vast expanse of the country also means that it’s not unusual to have only one provider offering a signal in some regions.
In fact at the time of writing, Three is currently offering 4GB of data, plus unlimited calls and texts for £21 p/m. This contract also includes the Feel at Home add-on which allows you to call UK numbers when you’re abroad at no additional cost. That fares well in comparison to Project Fi which would work out at £15 for calls & text plus £30 for the data, so £45 in total and over double that of Three’s contract.
EE offers pretty much the same deal for £21.99, O2 has a similar offering, albeit without the European roaming, for £18.79, while GiffGaff’s Always-On package provides 6GB of data plus unlimited talk & text for £20 p/m.
So there you have it. Project Fi is a pretty cool package for Americans, but when you do the research you’ll see that over here in the UK we’re doing just fine, thanks Google.