Users of Google’s Nexus devices will soon have the option of enabling their smartphones or tablets to automatically use free open WiFi hotspots where available to supplement their regular cellular service.
The company on Friday said that it has begun rolling out Google’s WiFi Assistant to Nexus users in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Mexico and certain Nordic countries. Nexus devices running Android 5.1 and later will receive the feature in the next several weeks.
The feature has up to now been available only to subscribers of Project Fi, a wireless service that Google is delivering using a combination of 4G LTE cellular networks from multiple carriers and WiFi hotspots around the country.
WiFi Assistant is designed to search for and automatically connect Project Fi users to more than 1 million open WiFi hotspots that the company has previously confirmed as being fast and reliable. All data flowing through such open WiFi hotspots will be completely encrypted via VPN to protect user privacy, according to Google.
Google has said that the combination of WiFi hotspots and cellular networks gives users a way to lower their data usage while getting access to fast Internet services around the country.
Unlike with Project Fi subscribers, WiFi Assistant, however, will be turned off by default on Nexus devices. Nexus users who want to take advantage of the feature will need to switch it on manually via the Settings app on their smartphone or tablet. A “Connected via WFi Assistant” message will notify users when the device is connected to a wireless hotspot.
Users may also a see a “Network may be monitored” message when connected through a wireless hotspot. That’s because Google sometimes monitors system data flowing through a VPN for quality, security and compliance reasons. However, none of the content is recorded, according to Google.
Google launched Project Fi in April 2015. The company currently is using networks from U.S. Cellular, T-Mobile and Sprint to deliver the service. A basic plan starts at $20 and comes with unlimited domestic and international text, unlimited domestic phone calls and the ability to use a phone as a wireless hotspot. Google charges $10 for every 1GB of data consumed by the user and offers refunds for unused data.
The service is currently available on the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6 and Nexus 6P. The three devices currently work with the Project Fi SIM card that is capable of working with cellular networks from multiple providers.
Initially, the service was available on an invitation-only basis. However, it is currently open to anyone interested in signing up for it. Prices for the Nexus 5X smartphone start at $199 for those who activate Project Fi.