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Project Fi's winners and losers

Matt Hamblen | April 27, 2015
Project Fi, Google's Wi-Fi and cellular network service announced Wednesday, can variously be described as low-cost, disruptive, cutting edge, tantalizing, confusing, even awesome.

Project Fi, Google's Wi-Fi and cellular network service announced Wednesday, can variously be described as low-cost, disruptive, cutting edge, tantalizing, confusing, even awesome.

Google is offering the lowest entry-level wireless price plan in the U.S. at $30 a month. That sum includes $20 for talk, text, Wi-Fi tethering and international coverage in 120 countries plus $10 for 1 GB of data. The plan adds $10 a month for each additional 1 GB of data thereafter. Google is partnering with Sprint and T-Mobile for the cellular service.

One big drawback is that the service, so far, is described as a "project" that is invitation-only for select users who join an Early Access Program. The plan also requires a Nexus 6 smartphone, which went on sale in October for $649. Those invited also must live in a zip code where Project Fi has coverage.

To be sure, there are potential plums with Project Fi. The biggest winners, according to analysts, will be entry-level smartphone users, frequent international business travelers and anyone who loves technology innovation and disruption, and in the wireless industry in particular.

There could be downsides as well. Users could face gaps in wireless coverage or less-than-smooth handoffs between Wi-Fi and the cellular networks of either Sprint or T-Mobile. Google customer service could be shoddy. Small wireless companies could be threatened. Google could ultimately decide to back off Project Fi, similar to what's happened with Google Glass.

Here's a rundown of winners and potential losers.

Winner: Entry-level, low-data smartphone users

The biggest pricing advantage with Project Fi goes to single individuals who are light users of data. The plan will likely be $15 to $20 cheaper than many competing offers from major carriers. (Computerworld blogger JR Raphael shows price advantages for Project Fi in 10 different comparisons with some of the major U.S. carriers' plans.)

Average data consumption in the U.S. is 2 GB to 2.5 GB per month. "The moment you use more than 4 GB of data, you are better off at Sprint, and if you use more than 5 GB per month, you are better off being on T-Mobile," said Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics.

Bill Menezes, an analyst at Gartner, agreed. "This plan is clearly aimed at lower-usage customers who are paying greater than $10 per gigabyte for what they use," he said.

Using Entner's analysis, 4 GB on Project Fi would cost $40, plus the $20 monthly fee for voice and other services, for a total of $60. Sprint offers an unlimited data plan for $60 a month that includes talk, text and data. With the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, the price drops to $50 a month.

 

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