Commentary

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, Google Enters The WiFi Business

Google yesterday announced its long-anticipated wifi service — it’s called Project Fi — at a price that observers say could put pressure on other carriers as it rolls out to a wider market. Right now, you have to have a Google Nexus 6 smartphone and must “request an invite” to join, however.

“The wireless project is the latest example of Google spreading its wings beyond its highly profitable online search-advertising business, particularly into Internet access,” write Alistair Barr and Ryan Knutson for the Wall Street Journal. “Google’s broader goal is to encourage people to use the Internet more often and especially its own services.”

There is, of course, no guarantee that people will do so, as people who have lived in Glass goggles are no doubt aware — particularly if the service depends on using Android smartphones. But there’s a lot of upside, too.

“This isn't the first time Google has been a disruptive agent of change. It is, however, potentially one of the most significant,” writes Edward C. Baig for USA Today.

“As mobile devices continually improve how you connect to people and information, it's important that wireless connectivity and communication keep pace and be fast everywhere, easy to use, and accessible to everyone,” writes Nick Fox, Google’s VP of communications products, in a post announcing the Project Fi.

There’s also a YouTube “behind-the-scenes” video explaining the rationale behind Fi.

“The gist of it is this: Project Fi lets you use a combination of different mobile data networks — Sprint's and T-Mobile's, for the moment — along with public and authorized private wifi networks (with added security) to make and receive calls, send texts, and get online,” reports Matt Hamblen for Computerworld. “It automatically and seamlessly switches between any available cell and wifi networks to give you the strongest possible signal wherever you are,” assuming there’s one available.  

This  “‘network of networks’ has a lot of potential to be more reliable. If one network has an outage, the others can serve as support,” writes Mario Aguilar for Gizmodo.

Fi’s basic service starts at $20 a month with an additional $10 for each gigabyte of data used, plus those ubiquitous taxes and fees. If you use less data than anticipated, you’ll get a credit. No contract is required.

"Perhaps the biggest draw for Fi is that you pay for the data you use and nothing more. It’s a bold bet,” observes Nate Swanner for Slashgear.

Recon Analytics analyst Roger Entner tells USA Today’s Baig that Google is “clearly putting pressure on every other mobile carrier, even the ones they're partnering with. It's an ecosphere-wide competition, and I think there will be quite a few people currently with Sprint or currently with T-Mobile that would be very interested in it.”

The pricing establishes a new benchmark “and targets the exclusive hold carriers have on their customers,” write the WSJ’s Barr and Knutson after pointing out some hurdles Project Fi faces. “Either development could prod the industry to head in directions that make service cheaper for customers.”

The hed over Lance Ulanoff’s analysis for Mashable reads: “Project Fi is full of promise and questions” and he is clearly giddy about the prospects of reducing what he now pays for Verizon service using an iPhone. But one of the bigger questions is when, and if, users of devices outside of Google’s Android system will be able to join the Fi network.

“The problem is that there's apparently some specialized SIM-level technology that lets the Nexus 6 effortlessly hop from Sprint to T-Mobile to wifi and back again,” Ulanoff writes. “If other phones need new hardware to support Project Fi, it could be months or even years before this Google Project spreads beyond a single device.”

The Verge compares network coverage between Fi, Verizon and AT&T. There are no surprises — the patched-together upstart doesn’t measure up when you eyeball the nationwide maps handed out by each of the carriers. 

But “Google actually has a pretty great tool that lets you drill down to your exact area and what kind of service you can expect there,” however, write Dan Seifert and Ross Miller. Westchester County, N.Y., for example, operates at a fast pace (at least in some regards); Montana not so much. But you knew that. Ah, Montana

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