Long-time readers here know that there is no real love loss between me and the cell phone industry servicing the Denver, Colorado area. I’m currently with Sprint, who finally got usable 4G here in Denver about two to three years after it would have been reasonable. Even now, I drop back to 3G a lot and not just in the boonies either. I drop to 3G in the middle of downtown Denver in several places. Even worse, the switch between 4G and 3G is seldom elegant resulting in having to turn on and off Airplane Mode to reset the radio signal.
I’ve looked into other wireless companies in Denver, but they are grossly overpriced. The fact of the matter is that I average less then 3 phone calls per day, I use WiFi for most all of my data, but when I do need wireless data, I can use a lot all at once, and I need it to be fast and reliable. I’m stuck with doubling my cell phone bill with Verizon in Denver, AT&T in Denver, or T-Mobile, for something I don’t use often enough, or sitting on an inferior, frequently slow and unreliable network. So, I just suffer along with Sprint.
Project Fi Denver
Google may just have an answer to my (lots of people, actually) dilemma of having to choose between overpaying for good data networks, or using crummy data networks.
Google’s Fi Basics plan starts at $20 per month. That gives you all of your phone calls and texting. It also, unlike most cell phone plans, gives you Wi-Fi tethering for no additional monthly charge. As you all know, the true scam in cell phone bills is all the add-on charges that seem like things that should be included. Google doesn’t seem to be using the “gotcha” model of profitability.
Next up is data. There is where it usually turns into a horror show. Choose a reasonably priced, but very limited data package, or a high-priced data package with way more data than you will probably ever use.
With Google Fi, data is $10 per GB. The really great part though is that you get a credit for unused data. So, if you put yourself on a 5 GB plan but you only use 3 GB, you get a $20 credit for the unused data. In other words, I don’t have to waste money during my low data usage months to ensure that I have the data I need in high use months. This is gold.
Even better, it’s just flat out cheaper.
The reason I’m still on the crummy Sprint network is that years ago I go in on a SERO plan that was $30 per month for 500 minutes of calls plus unlimited texting and data. In the years since, they made me pay an extra $10 per month for a 4G phone, and before that, another $10 per month for a “premium phone”. Still, it’s literally $50 per month for voice and data. I can’t come close to touching that with another carrier.
But, with Google Fi, I can get $50 easily. It’s just $20 for Google Fi Basics, and then $30 per data. The great news is that most months, it won’t even cost that because I won’t use a full 3 GB of data.
This is what I’ve been hoping for, a technology company pushing the agenda on cell phone networks, not the carriers, who clearly are content to just ride their quadopoly to their target earnings per share. I’d rather hoped when things got so bad with AT&T that Apple would just say enough and acquire a carrier, but I guess Google will make the move here.
Google isn’t building a new cell network (yet) but, they have done something almost as good. They have contracted to use BOTH Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks. Then, the idea is, that your phone will switch, automatically, and seamlessly, to whichever one works best where you happen to be standing. And, unlike the carriers, Google is happy to let you use this connectivity via your phone, your laptop, your tablet, or whatever else, all at the same price.
The problem with the traditional carriers is that there is always a minimum fee to entry. For example, I can get data for my iPad added on to my Sprint plan, but it costs another $20 a month for MINIMUM data. With the Google Fi, I can tether my iPad to my phone (for free, it’s an extra monthly charge for tethering on carriers) and then just keep paying the $10 per GB. So, my iPad could use wireless for just $5, if I only ended up using 500 MB of data, instead of $20 minimum.
Google Fi Phone
The only potential downside is that you must use a specific cell phone for Google Fi, the Nexus 6. However, there is a lot of upside to this as well. First, cell phones from all manufacturers are notorious for being loaded with bloatware. My Samsung Galaxy 4 has dozens of Samsung apps I can’t delete, plus even more Sprint apps I can’t delete. But, the Nexus 6 direct from Google, on Google’s network uses pure Android. Also, they’ll let you pay for it monthly, and with the money you save on your plan, it’s like getting it for free!
Double bonus: The screen is cracked on my Galaxy 4, and while I WAS eligible for a new phone with a 2-year contract in April, Sprint went ahead and changed that to 24-months from 20-months IN MARCH, without grandfathering anyone. Long story short, if Sprint hadn’t screwed me over this month, I would probably already be locked into a 2-year contract with my new phone, but now I’ll wait with cracked screen to see if I can get in on this instead.
Of course, something like this doesn’t launch all at once and you have to ask for an invite. Looks like Google Fi in Denver is ready. Google says that invites will be based on when you submitted them, and the area you are in, and if the network is ready. Hopefully, there are way less of us in Denver trying to get in than in places like San Francisco and New York, so maybe I won’t have to wait too long.
Anyway, I check the Denver area, and apparently my zip code qualifies, so I’ve already requested an invite to the new Google Fi. Now, I just have to wait up to 30 days and hope that it works well. Bold first generation projects like this often come with bugs. Fortunately, with no cell phone carriers in the way blocking updates and the like, those bugs should be short-lived.