Most people know Google as a powerful search engine, but it also offers a digital phone service called Google Fi. Before deciding if making the switch to this mobile virtual network operator (or MVNO, as it’s more commonly known) is for you, learn what is Google Fi and how it works.
What is Google Fi?
Simply put, Google Fi—which started in 2015 as Project Fi—is Google’s answer to MVNO phone service options. As long as a customer is using a Google Fi-compatible phone, they can use Google Fi for phone calls, texts and other mobile broadband services. Using Wi-Fi, Google Fi runs on three cellular networks: T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular. The fact that Google Fi runs on three networks makes it stand out among its competitors. “There are some MVNOs that use multiple networks, but not from one SIM,” said Tina Chang, editorial manager at cellphone comparison site WhistleOut. “Google Fi, on the other hand, allows a single SIM card to switch between T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular networks, depending on which one has the best service for you.”
How does Google Fi Work? What’s the cost?
While Google Fi service only works on Google Fi-compatible phones, many phones now work with the service. Most Android phones work with the service, while the majority of Pixel and Moto G phones were designed specifically for use with Fi. Google Fi is currently in beta with iPhones (and requires some extra setup). You can check here to see if your phone is compatible with the system. There are also new phones that work specifically with Google Fi, or you can trade in your old phone for a discount on a new Fi-supported one.
Once you have the right phone, the advantage of Fi’s three-carrier network plus Wi-Fi availability means customers should have access to the most reliable connections wherever they are, without having to make any changes in service manually. Fi-compatible phones automatically pick up on the service that’s best for your phone based on its location.
The cost of Google Fi will depend on the plan you choose, but it pays if several family members use the service, which brings down the cost per line. For example, if you pay for four or more lines a month on the unlimited plan, the cost drops to $45/line for unlimited data, talk and texts (whereas one line will cost you $70 on the same plan). This includes free international calls from the U.S. to more than 50 countries and territories, unlimited data and texting abroad, and 100 GB of storage from Google One.
There is also a cheaper plan called the Fi Flexible plan, which costs $20/month for unlimited talk and text, plus $10/GB for data for one line. With this plan, you only pay for the data you use. With bill protection, charges are capped each month, making any data used during the rest of the billing cycle free.
What are the pros and cons of Google Fi?
As with any cellular service provider, there are pros and cons to using Google Fi.
You have the option to only pay for what you use.
Bills are capped with bill protection.
You can use your plan internationally.
You get coverage from three networks instead of just one.
There are no activation fees.
You can get family plan discounts.
Plans include a mobile hotspot.
It isn’t necessarily the cheapest option.
You’ll need a Google Fi-compatible phone to be able to use all three networks.
How to switch to Google Fi
If you’ve decided Google Fi is the service for you, it’s easy to make the switch. “You don’t even need to cancel your service yourself,” said Chang. For example, if you’re switching from T-Mobile to Google Fi, you would just sign up for Google Fi and request for your current phone number to be ported over. “Google Fi will handle the phone number porting and account activation,” said Chang. Once your number is ported to a Google Fi plan, your T-Mobile account would be canceled and you would receive a final bill from T-Mobile.
The process would be similar with a service that isn’t connected to Google Fi. As long as your phone is unlocked and compatible with the new carrier, you can use your existing phone, said Chang. These days, most new phones are compatible across all carriers, which makes the process fairly simple.
“Google Fi is best for someone who doesn’t have consistent mobile data use,” said Chang. “It’s also great for someone who travels internationally quite often.” But if you’re consistently using 3 GB of data a month or more, you’re better off getting a different plan from another MVNO. By comparing your average data usage, monthly fees and other factors, you’ll be able to better determine if Google Fi offers you the best service at the best prices.