My Life of Fi

My Recent Experiences with Project Fi from Google

My Life of Fi

As your spring social calendar went from St. Patrick’s Day parties to the festivities of Cinco de Mayo, you might have overlooked another recent celebration in the telecommunications space. Project Fi (“Fi”), a very different wireless service from Google, recently celebrated its first birthday, and quietly went from being an invite-only beta to throwing open its doors to all US wireless subscribers.

Google launched Fi with minimal fanfare in the spring of 2015, positioning it as a new take on the traditional wireless model. Instead of relying on connectivity from cellular towers, smartphones on the Fi service will prioritize any available Wi-Fi connection for their voice and data traffic. Only on the occasions where Wi-Fi signals are weak or unavailable does the Fi service switch seamlessly over to the cellular networks of its partners—T-Mobile and Sprint—and then runs like a traditional mobile virtual network operator (MVNO).

Google has long known that most of us spend the majority of our waking hours connected to Wi-Fi, and so is cleverly stringing together millions of hotspots as its “network” and only using cellular for a fraction of the average subscriber’s voice and data usage. In doing so, it is able to leverage existing free infrastructure and forego the massive network investments of traditional wireless providers, and subsequently can pass those savings on to its subscribers.


Project FiProject Fi: How it Works

At the heart of Project Fi is the concept of dynamic network selection—the service intelligently connects the subscriber to the best available network at their location, whether it’s Wi-Fi (the majority of the time) or one of either T-Mobile or Sprint’s 4G LTE networks.

Fi offers a single, no-contract plan. It’s $20 for the base service, which includes unlimited calls and text, and then $10 for each 1 GB of data. The novel part is that the subscriber only pays for the data that they actually use. So if you prepay for (say) 3 GB of data, but only end up using 2 GB, Fi refunds you $10 for the unused 1 GB. Similarly, if you have a 1 GB plan but end up using 3 GB after streaming that NBA playoff game, you’ll only get charged $20 for the extra 2 GB. No overage penalties or price escalations.

The plan also has an attractive international component. It includes free international texts, and for those who travel abroad and have been burnt by roaming charges in the past, there is comfort in knowing that the exact same data costs apply in over 120 countries.

The only catch is that Project Fi is currently limited to Google Nexus phones only. They currently sell the Nexus 6P (from Huawei) starting at $499 and the Nexus 5X (from LG) starting at $199.


In theory, it is a brilliant design, but how well does it work? Well, let’s find out.

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A Tale of No Cell Phone

What I found reassuring: Turning on the phone. The small, white Apple icon shining brightly against the dark background, lighting up each successive morning on the train.

What I didn’t find reassuring: Pressing the power button and seeing the black screen. I had forgotten to charge my phone.

No sense of time. No way to call anyone. Nothing but my own thoughts and shades of green rushing past the train window.

That particular morning, I looked for a moment at the blank phone, shrugged my shoulders and let my thoughts meander on their own river toward nothing in particular.

Random thoughts flitted—thoughts about the present, the future, deep philosophy about family, work. Nothing that would stay in my head beyond the commute.

And then the stop nearest to Stumptown Coffee appeared, not terribly near the office but close enough to still get to my desk at a reasonable time. I jumped off, bought my treasured latte and ambled south.

And then—that sudden, unpleasant shock of realization: The Meeting.

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