This article originally appeared in DisruptiveViews.
After months of speculation Google has finally announced its foray into mobile networks as an MVNO on T-Mobile and Sprint in the USA. Dubbed Project Fi (not sure if it’s pronounced ‘fee’ or ‘fie’) by Google’s ever-creative marketing folk, the service presumably plays on the Fi in Wi-Fi. That’s because “Project Fi uses new technology to intelligently connect you to the fastest network whether it’s Wi-Fi or one of Fi’s partner LTE networks.”
Before I start to question the motives or logic behind Project Fi, let me briefly outline its main ‘selling’ points as per Google Fi’s dedicated website. Plans start with the Fi Basics for $20 per month that includes: unlimited domestic talk and text; unlimited international texts; low-cost international calls; coverage in 120+ countries and something called Wi-Fi tethering. “Then it’s $10 per GB for data. $10 for 1GB, $20 for 2GB, $30 for 3GB and so on. That’s it. With no annual contract required and at the end of each month, you’ll get your unused data credited in dollars and cents, so you only pay for what you use.”
Couldn’t be simpler, right? Well, not quite, it gets decidedly more complex when you try and work out call costs when roaming and the exact rates of calling other countries from the USA, let alone calling other countries from other countries. That alone makes a mockery of the statement on the Project Fi website that “There’s no mega-brain required to decode your Project Fi bill.”
When I compare it to my own network provider (FREE in France) where I get unlimited national calls, SMS, MMS plus 3GB data and free calls to 100+ countries, plus 35 days free roaming in each European countries for €15.99 ($17.77) per month, I’m wondering what all the fuss is about.
Oh, hang on, the blurb states that “Wherever you’re on Wi-Fi—whether in your home, your favorite coffee shop or your Batcave—you can talk and text like you normally do.” Whooppee, what else? “If you start a call over Wi-Fi and walk outside, Project Fi detects when your signal becomes weak and seamlessly moves your call over to a cell network to keep the conversation going.”
Umm, I’ve been able to do that in on FREE’s network in France for eons thanks to its EAP-SIM protocol. I even have a small cell in my home router and can access secure Wi-Fi through any other Free customer’s home network. If Google had said that you connect to a Project Loon balloon anywhere in the world it would have been way more exciting, surely? And if those prices are supposed to be great value then all I can say is that US customers are being ripped off, royally.
Of course, Google doesn’t just start a project for no reason and one has to ask ‘why’ this project and how far it is prepared to go with it. After all, Google has started many projects and then after disrupting a market, promptly dropped them. Seems to be a sport of some kind, albeit an expensive one.
Google can’t be serious
It can’t be too serious about Project Fi because the service is only available via a Nexus 6 phone, a device with ‘a state-of-the-art cellular radio tuned to work across network types’ that has hardly broken any sales records. I guess this is one way to move stock but it is hardly a recipe for the project’s success. And I don’t believe for one minute that no other phone on the market has the capability to hand-off a call from Wi-Fi to LTE.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the story, and the secret sauce, is the Project Fi SIM card the Nexus 6 works with that supports multiple cellular networks. Isn’t that what Apple wanted to do with its own programmable SIM that could be configured for any participating network? That went over like a lead balloon so why aren’t the dogs howling over the Google ‘soft SIM’ if that is what it actually is?
Maybe Project Fi is a ‘toe in the water’ experiment to see if Google needs to tie up any loose ends in its crusade to access and eventually control every aspect of our meager lives. When it finds out just how painful it is being a network operator, even a virtual one, and having to offer ‘real’ customer service it may just drop the whole idea, like so many others it has dabbled in.
On the other hand, it might be on a mission to become a full network operator in its own right, using Wi-Fi as the dominant technology. Good luck with that! And even though it could buy some of the world’s biggest network operators with petty cash why would it ever want to? Hmmm, something doesn’t smell right here. Perhaps Google plans to combine Project Loon and Project Fi in the future and attempt to ‘LooniFi’ all of us?