Google has announced that it’s rolling out a wireless service in the US. The service, called Project Fi, combines access to Sprint and T-Mobile’s wireless networks with the ability to make calls over Wi-Fi. This means calls, texts, and data will automatically be sent out via whichever service has the strongest signal.
The base monthly fee is $20. Subscribers will need to pay an additional $10 for every gigabyte of data they use, but they’ll also find their accounts credited for any data they don’t use from their monthly allotment.
Google says the Fi service is “innovating in connectivity and communication,” and that it offers a “fresh approach to how you pay for wireless.” But the core idea—an Android smartphone that can connect to a 4G network and hand off calls to a Wi-Fi network when available—is no different than what Republic Wireless has already been offering for two years, and it hasn’t exactly set the world aflame. (Republic even rolled out a plan earlier this week to refund fees for unused data each month.)
For someone looking for a single subscription with about 3GB of data, Google’s monthly fees are pretty much in line with other US carriers:
While Google Fiber is providing faster broadband internet to customers in select cities where there’s no similar alternative, Project Fi should be available wherever there’s Sprint or T-Mobile coverage. This makes Fi the less dramatic bet of the two, as it involves renting infrastructure rather than building any. But it also begs the question: who exactly is Project Fi for?
Unlike T-Mobile and Sprint, Google says it won’t pay termination fees for people looking to jump out of their existing cellphone contracts. And for now, you need both a Google-made Nexus 6 smartphone—which starts at $649 on the Google Store—and an active Gmail account to use the Fi wireless service.
But the prospect of never reaching a mass market isn’t a problem for Google, which is constantly taking moon shots aimed at bettering the planet, or at least diversifying the company’s revenue beyond search advertising.
A Google spokesperson tells Quartz that with Fi, the company is “trying new ideas that push the boundaries of what’s possible in wireless,” and that the “Project” in Project Fi’s name, while not experimental in and of itself (see Project Loon or Project Tango), is ”meant to reflect [the] experimental and collaborative approach” being taken.
It’s worth remembering that Google has a long history of testing ideas that are announced with great fanfare and then swiftly shut down when they fail to capture the imagination of consumers, or of the company itself.
But just in case it succeeds, Sprint has stipulated that its agreement with Google will need to be renegotiated if Fi gets too popular, the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall).