Last week I posted my review of Project Fi, Google’s MVNO service that I have been using with my Nexus 6 the past two months. If you haven’t had a chance to read the review yet, you can do so here. The bottom line is I’m quite pleased with the service and don’t see myself switching to a traditional carrier any time soon.
One aspect of my review mentioned but didn’t cover in detail the Open Wi-Fi concept. For those of you who read my Project Fi review, this seems to be one of the question marks still in the air based on your emails and comments so I thought I would address it in a separate post. Ultimately this Open Wi-Fi solution is a key part of Fi and to get the full advantages of the service, you need to be able to leverage it when it is available to you.
What is Open Wi-Fi in Project Fi
By definition, Open Wi-Fi is exactly how what it sounds like when you read it. It is open wireless networks that your Project Fi enabled phone can access automatically through the use of the Wi-Fi Assistant that is built into Nexus devices running Android Lollipop or Android Marshmallow. Google has certified that these networks are open, fast and reliable so you should have no problem performing calls on Wi-Fi and of course can easily consume data for surfing, email and the like.
To get this to work, you have to have to have enabled Wi-FI Assistant on your device. Without it, the game stops right here. To enable it, you need to go to your Google Settings. You can either access this via the Google Settings app or, if you are running Android Marshmallow, you can access it by going to Settings>Google>Networking. From there, make sure that you have enabled “Use open Wi-Fi automatically”.
Now that you have Open Wi-Fi enabled, how does it work? Pretty simply actually and it doesn’t require you to do anything other than have Wi-Fi enabled on your Nexus device and have the above mentioned setting enabled. When you go into a Wi-Fi network with your phone that is open and meets Google’s criteria, you will be automatically connected to it. There is no need to put in
passwords or consent to use the Wi-Fi. It all happens automatically.
As a user, you will be able to tell when you are connected to one of these open networks by just looking at your Status bar on your device. You will see a key icon next to your Wi-Fi signal indicator. This means that you are connected and your Wi-Fi connection will say “Connected via Wi-Fi Assistant”.
When you are connected via an Open Wi-Fi connection, essentially what is happening is that you are creating a Virtual Private Network (VPN) between your phone and Google’s servers. This protects your data being sent via the connect from being snooped on by others on the network (it is encrypted). To be clear, Google states that they do monitor connections for very specific purposes.
Google uses data sent through this connection only for the following purposes:
To provide and improve Wi-Fi Assistant, including the virtual private network (VPN)
To monitor for abuse
To comply with applicable laws and regulations, or as required by court or government orders
So while your data is encrypted from others seeing it, Google can as needed look at the data being sent for the above reasons. That may make some uncomfortable so be aware. You can always disable the feature if you want and manually connect but will be missing some of the benefits of Project Fi.
The bigger question for many will be where you can find these Open Wi-Fi networks. Google unfortunately does not post a map or list of sites which is understandable given the nature of ever-changing networks. Nor does Google layout exactly how these networks are tested, certified and how often they are retested. Like my Project Fi review, I can only speak from my personal experience and in the three cities I am in most – Denver, San Francisco and Austin – I have found a significant number of these networks. Your mileage is going to vary of course but when you go into a store, coffee shop or other location, check your phone. You could be connected and not even know it.