There was an undertone at the Google event yesterday that didn’t necessarily go unnoticed but certainly wasn’t put to the fore. Google is serious about Project Fi. For those who don’t know, Project Fi is the mobile service that Google launched in April of this year and it uses a unique combination of existing carriers (T-Mobile and Sprint) as well as always on Wi-Fi to make calls and consume data on your device. It is a pay-as-much-as-you-use plan meaning that if you have a 3GB data plan and only use 1GB, you only pay for that 1GB, not the entire 3GB like traditional carriers. With the base package of $20 giving you unlimited calls and text then just $10 per gigabyte of data, the plan is cost effective when you compare it to other carriers.
To this point Project Fi has been invitation only and only available on the Nexus 6. Google, wisely, has wanted to control the number of people on the service so they can better manage expectations and experiences. After yesterday however, it is clear that Google is committed to Project Fi with the addition of the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P but also the payment plan you can sign up for on these devices when you sign up for Project Fi. While it certainly isn’t the flood gates opening, it is more than the trickle of invites that have been committed to so far.
With the announcement of the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P yesterday, many were focused on the price of the devices. With the 5X starting at $379 and the 6P starting at $499, they are certainly within the price range of an upper mid-range and flagship device respectively. What wasn’t covered in any detail was the Project Fi payment plan on both devices. If you apply for and receive an invite for Project Fi – which Google seemingly has sent many out in the past 24 hours – and start to setup your account, you have the option to add one of the new Nexus phones to your order. You then have the option to pay for the phone outright or you can pay for it over the course of 24 months. For the base Nexus 5X, that’s $16 per month while the base Nexus 6P will be $21 per month. You will have to pay the upfront taxes and chose if you want to speed up shipping but that’s all the up front costs you will have. Then, over the course of 24 months you will pay for your new phone at a 0% interest rate. If you want to pay it off early you can do so without penalty and if you are already a Project Fi users, you can upgrade your device and get the same payment plan options.
This move by Google, coupled with the support of Project Fi for the Nexus 5X and 6P, is the clearest indicator yet that the service isn’t just an experiment but rather a service they fully intend to roll out to users. Yes it is still limited to Nexus devices and that will have to change for widespread adoption, but the markers are there that show Google is committed to the long term future of the project.
That said, based on user experience, Project Fi still has some growing up to do. Wi-Fi to cellular hand-off is still not ironed out completely and there have been reports of some call quality issues (but really, who doesn’t have this on any carrier today?) so the hint is in the name: Project. It is still very much one and there will be challenges for early adopters. But as Google expands the portfolio of devices that will work with Fi and hopefully other OEMs will build devices with the antenna specs to get their devices working on it, it will only improve and grow over time.
One thing is for sure, Project Fi will not be a project forever. Google’s serious about it.