March 16th marked the six month anniversary of my move from AT&T to Project Fi as my main carrier service. It is a move that I admit I approached with some trepidation. I had been with AT&T since 1998 (seriously) and the thought of moving from the albeit expensive known to the inexpensive unknown was a concern. It was a big change and one I hoped would work out. It has, in spades.
For those interesting, you can read my original review of the service here on the site.
Not only have I seen a massive reduction in my mobile bill each month, I have also found that Project Fi works well in just about every area I have traveled here in the United States and abroad. I regularly find that I have a solid, fast data connection when I need it but with Wi-Fi assistant on my side getting me connected up to fast, secure wireless networks, I have found my data consumption has dramatically gone down with no real changes in my usage behavior. It’s not perfect this Project Fi thing but it is improving constantly and clearly Google feels confident in it given they just eliminated the invite system to get started on it. I’ve put together some thoughts around the service to help those of you who are considering it.
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.
In the 6 months since I have been on Project Fi, I have traveled nearly 90,000 miles across the United States and Mexico. In each of those cities, big and small, I had no connectivity issues or call issues with the only exception being Los Angeles International Airport. For whatever reason I have never been able to get a decent signal in that airport on Fi or AT&T. I’ve also had this issue with multiple phones so, yeah, I don’t think it is me or Fi. But beyond this, everything has been excellent. My most common destinations are San Francisco, California and Austin, Texas and in these
two locations in particular, it has been superb. Even when I traveled to New York and friends were with me, I often had no signal issues in Manhattan while friends I was with at the time on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile all struggled to get signals.
What’s interesting to me is that I often find that I have a better signal than my friends on T-Mobile. I will many times have better data throughput than they will and, in theory, we are on the same network. I cannot explain this and I certainly don’t have anything scientific to back it up, but it is an observation I have seen repeatedly, especially in larger metro areas.
Admittedly, the one part of the Project Fi experience I have not tried is how it performs in Europe. I’ve not had a trip over there yet so it is a blank for me at the minute. That should change later this summer and I’ll likely post thoughts on it at that point.
Best of Two Worlds – or Three
For me what has made Project Fi solid in performance is the switching that happens seamlessly between T-Mobile and Sprint on my Nexus 6. I have had times where I have noticed it is searching for a signal but the vast majority of the time, this switch happens automatically and I never know it. That has huge benefits, particularly in a large metro area, where I will flow from one carrier to the next depending on which serves that area best. As a Fi user, you know this already, but if you are reading this and considering the service, to me, this is the real killer feature of the service.
Couple this with the Wi-Fi Assistant which connects me automatically to hotspots as I move around. I never really even think about it until I pull my phone from my pocket and see the key icon on my system bar. That tells me I’m connected securely to a public hotspot which means I’m not eating up my data plan. This adds up to huge savings for me monthly.
Anytime I tell someone about Fi, the question of cost always comes up and if it has really saved me any money. For me, it is an unequivocal yes. In the 6 months prior to me signing up, I was on AT&T and my average bill was $92.00 per month. A lot of this was tied up with the 5GB data plan I had at the time because I always seemed to use 3.5-4GB per month and that was the closest I could get without getting killed with data overages at the end of the month.
With Fi, my average bill has been $38.77. In reality, that number is skewed a bit high because when I first signed up for the service, I matched my 5GB plan thinking I would need it. Since then, I have slowly shrunk it down to 2GB per month and I rarely use over 1GB. Why? I think because of Wi-Fi Assist and the fact that Fi seems to sip data, not drink it. Moreover, even if I were to go over, I don’t sweat it much because I know it will only cost me up to $10 more per Gig. I can live with that but so far, I’ve not even come close.
So all in, if you do the averages, I have saved $53.23 per month. That’s $319.38 over the course of these six months and will be over $630 savings by the time I reach the year end. Of course your mileage will vary but I do think that a lot of people could save with Fi.
Get Geeky With Signal Spy
I’ll conclude with a plug for an app that has really proven to be hugely helpful in my Fi experience: Signal Spy. I did a review of this app a few months ago and basically it gives you all kinds of information about your connection such was what LTE band you are using, your Wi-Fi signal strength and the like. It also has a great historical data section so you can see just how much your switching from T-Mobile to Sprint as you go through your day. If you are a Fi user, Signal Spy is really a must-have app so you can really understand the service and how your connectivity is in your area.
At this point, I cannot ever see myself leaving Project Fi. The service has been rock solid for me and the cost savings have been significant. I have no reservations in recommend it to anyone, especially if they already own a Nexus device. I have posted a lot of content here on the site about the service and how to get the most out of it. If you are thinking about making the switch, be sure to read over my Project Fi section (it is in the menu at the top of the page) so you can get more details on some of the finer point.