In 2015, Alphabet’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google set out to disrupt the cellular industry. Or as the company put it, “to make your wireless experience fast, easy and fair.” Project Fi offered low rates, better reception and perks like unlimited data on demand, and free international text roaming. The service moved out of beta to public use in 2016, but remained exclusive to the company’s own smartphones. As of Nov. 28, the service is now called Google Fi and it’s not only open to most Android smartphones, it also works with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhones.
Although iPhone users won’t quite get the full Google Fi experience … here’s what you need to know.
Google Fi for Everyone
Google announced on Wednesday that its Project Fi wireless service has graduated from “project” status and is now called Google Fi. As part of this graduation, Google is making the service available to the “majority of Android devices” and is also offering it for iPhones.
What Is Google Fi?
Technically speaking Google Fi is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). This means Google doesn’t actually operate its own cellular service or build its own tower infrastructure. Instead, it buys network capacity from three big carriers — Sprint (NYSE:S), T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) and US Cellular (NYSE:USM) — and resells it to consumers.
However, Google Fi goes much further than that. With access to three nation-wide cellular networks, it seamlessly switches between the three carriers and secure Wi-Fi hot spots in the background. This ensures customers get the best available wireless network performance no matter where they are (and the Wi-Fi leverage, where available, helps cuts Google’s costs). Data is protected through use of virtual VPN technology, so Google’s use of those Wi-Fi hotspots isn’t a concern.
In addition, there are significant cost savings with Google Fi’s pay-as-you-go model compared to the contract offerings of most cellular providers: $20 per month gets unlimited U.S. calls and texts, with free international text roaming in over 170 countries. Data costs $10 per GB until customers hit 6GB in a month. At that point additional data is free, although speed limiting does kick in at 15GB. Additional users (for a total of six maximum people per account) can be added to the plan for $15 monthly each, and they share the data.
In other words, Google Fi is offering better service and coverage than any single U.S. carrier, lower costs than most, flexibility and no contract.
As InvestorPlace contributor Greg Gambone pointed out in 2016 when Project Fi ended its invitation-only phase, the service posed a potential threat to wireless carriers. Now that Google Fi is being offered to a much wider range of devices, that threat level is also going up.
At this point, owners of newer iPhones are able to join the Google Fi party, but there are a few catches while Apple support is in beta. A big one is being limited to T-Mobile coverage since the iPhone doesn’t currently support dynamic carrier switching. As pointed out by The Verge, additional iPhone limitations include no visual voicemail, and the need to tweak settings to get text messaging other than iMessage to work.
So for now, iPhone owners miss out on the performance-related aspects of Google Fi, but they still enjoy the flexibility and potential savings.
Are You Eligible for Google Fi?
At this point, Google Fi is limited to U.S. customers and as mentioned, Apple iPhone support is considered to be in beta. To make things easier, the company has set up a page where you can verify your device’s eligibility. And to goose adoption, it’s currently offering perks, including up to $300 in service credits if you buy and activate a new smartphone.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.