I have been an AT&T customer since 1997. The only time I wasn’t actively using a mobile device on AT&T was when I lived in England and even then I kept my account so when I did move back I would be able to get a SIM and up and going within minutes. When the opportunity came up to review Project Fi, I was unsure because after such a long time with one carrier, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bother with the messiness of switching. So I met the review halfway. I kept my old number on AT&T and when I set up Project Fi on my Nexus 6, I requested a new number. The thought was, if things went pear shaped, I could simply shut off the Fi service and nobody would be the wiser (as I had just forwarded my old AT&T number to my new Fi number).
I will be cancelling my AT&T service at the end of this month.
After using Project Fi for the past month, in multiple locations throughout the United States, I have been so overwhelmingly pleased with the service and quality of data throughput that I will not be looking back. Indeed in some locations, I have had virtually no signal on AT&T while I have had 3G coverage with Fi. Add to that a powerful and informative dedicated app along with a pricing model that just makes sense, you have what I think is the model that should be scaring the poop out of the major carriers.
What Is Project Fi?
I’ll start by giving everyone a little bit of background on Project Fi, a side project that Google started last year. It is what is known as a Mobile Network Virtual Operator, or MNVO. Google doesn’t actually own the cell towers or physical equipment. Instead, they purchase service from an established carrier and rebrand it. In the case of Google, the bought service from both T-Mobile and Sprint, assuring that they would have coverage for their customers. This is not a new concept here in the United States or in Europe but what makes Project Fi unique is how Google has gone about doing this with the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P.
In those three devices, Google has built in the ability to switch between the T-Mobile GSM network and the Sprint Spark (CDMA) network on-the-fly. Which ever has the stronger signal in the area you are in at the time wins. Doing this is nothing short of engineering gymnastics. To get a device to switch antennas and carrier modes actively is extremely difficult. Then Google went one step further. In the Nexus devices it will switch between these two carriers and Wi-Fi. So now if you have strong, good quality Wi-Fi it will leverage that for your calls and if that signal starts to drop, it will seamlessly hand the call of to one of the carriers so you don’t lose the call. You, as a user, don’t have to do anything to make this happen.
This monumental engineering effort is why you don’t see a generic Project Fi SIM for every device. To really take advantage of the service, you have to have the multiple array of antennas in the device and the software engineered for the handoffs between the carriers and Wi-Fi. That is no small feat. You can also see where there is a lot that could go wrong with this process and user experience and call quality would suffer. That has not been the case at all since I have moved to Fi and in fact I would contend that data throughput and voice call quality has been superior to my other carrier everywhere I have been with the service.