Google's rumored "Project Fi" cell phone services are a rumor no more. The search company today announced the new service, which will charge smartphone users $20 a month for cellular access, plus data fees of $10 per GB only for the data that is consumed each month, in an effort to try a new idea for providing mobile phone services.
"In today's mobile world, fast and reliable connectivity is almost second nature," Nick Fox, Google's vice president of communications products, wrote in an April 22 post on the Google Official Blog. "But even in places like the U.S., where mobile connections are nearly ubiquitous, there are still times when you turn to your phone for that split-second answer and don't have fast enough speed. Or you can't get calls and texts because you left your phone in a taxi (or it got lost in a couch cushion for the day)."
That's where Project Fi comes in, by allowing users to connect with others wherever they are, no matter what device they are using, whether it is a smartphone, laptop or tablet, wrote Fox. Google has forged a partnership with Sprint and T-Mobile to launch the service, which initially will only work with Nexus 6 smartphones. Other devices will be included in the future.
"By designing across hardware, software and connectivity, we can more fully explore new ways for people to connect and communicate," whether they have access to a WiFi hotspot or a 4G LTE cellular network, wrote Fox. "Project Fi aims to put you on the best network wherever you go. We developed new technology that gives you better coverage by intelligently connecting you to the fastest available network at your location whether it's WiFi or one of our two partner LTE networks."
With the technology, users will automatically be connected to more than a million free, open WiFi hotspots that Google has verified as fast and reliable, he wrote. Those connections will be encrypted to protect user data.
When users are not near a WiFi connection, they will be automatically connected to the cellular network of Sprint or T-Mobile, he explained.
User connections will be transitioned between WiFi and the cellular networks as they move from one network to another, wrote Fox.
To make it all work more smoothly, a user's telephone number will live in the cloud, wrote Fox, so that the numbers can adapt to a multi-screen world. "With Project Fi, your phone number lives in the cloud, so you can talk and text with your number on just about any phone, tablet or laptop. So the next time you misplace your phone, you can stay connected using another screen."
Each user on Project Fi will pay $20 a month for unlimited talk, text, WiFi tethering and international coverage in more than 120 countries, while also paying $10 per GB for cellular data in the United States and abroad. If users consume less than full GBs of data, they will get credit on their bill for any part of a GB that was not fully used, according to Google.
The new service will start with what Google calls its "Early Access Program," which will invite people to sign up for the service where Google has coverage today. Users who live in the coverage area can sign up to request an invite at fi.google.com.
Rumors about what has now been announced as Project Fi began earlier in April, when reports began surfacing that Google was involved in talks to buy excess wireless capacity from Sprint and T-Mobile and use it to deliver services of its own in much the same way that companies Tracfone Wireless, Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile do presently. Such an arrangement is known as a so-called mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) agreement.
Google has previously noted that it is not interested in going head-to-head with incumbents like AT&T and Verizon with the wireless service.
Google's enormous wealth and resources give it the ability to deliver services that many are going to find as cost-effective alternatives to the wireless services provided by the established telecom giants. As Google has grown, the company has shown an increasing willingness to enable Internet connectivity on its own where it can rather than depend on others for it. The company's efforts with its Google Fiber gigabit Internet service, its investments in communication microsatellites and balloon-powered communications network are all part of an ongoing effort to deliver capabilities that allow people to access Google services more efficiently.