Making sense of international cellular/data plans is the bane of every traveler’s existence.
Until recently, there have been only three viable service options for international travelers: purchase a SIM in your destination country on arrival (which requires an unlocked phone), opt for an outrageously pricey prepaid international plan (such as those offered by AT&T), or go with a carrier that provides cheap, but slow international data service (a la T-Mobile).
For some travelers, these may still be legitimate options. But Google’s Project Fi is looking to upend the idea of what a modern global cell provider should look like. In the last year — particularly with the release of their stellar Google branded phones — they’re proving that they’re a serious contender. Here’s why.
How It Works
Project Fi collectively uses the cell networks from T-Mobile, Sprint, U.S. Cellular, and Three, plus publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots. Behind the scenes, it constantly searches for the provider with the best service and connects automatically. When a stronger signal from another provider is discovered, it “hands off” your call or data service seamlessly. Practically speaking, the process is invisible — most users will never even notice. Calls continue without a hiccup and even data streaming is 99.9% uninterrupted. A baked-in VPN service provides solid data encryption to ensure calls and data are always secure.
What It Costs
The straightforward, contract-free pricing structure is where Project Fi really shines. Users pay a $20 flat fee monthly, plus $10 per GB of data. Period. Opt to prepay for what you might use or pay after the fact. Either way, you pay only for the data you actually use. Accounting for the ubiquity of public Wi-Fi hotspots, it’s likely that many users won’t extend past a single GB of data per month.
Unlimited text messaging is also provided, along with $0.20/minute calls outside the United States.The simple pricing means no more guessing about your bill when you return home. It’s one rate in every country where the service is available.
The service is available to any U.S.-based customer who lives in a zip code covered by one of the above cell providers. Users traveling with the service have access to high speed data (up to 4G LTE) in nearly 140 countries.
If Project Fi has an Achilles Heel, it’s in its hardware availability — or lack thereof. The choice of devices is limited to only a few Nexus phones — the Nexus 5X or Nexus 6P — and Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL. However, given the spike in popularity among travelers, we wouldn’t be surprised if the company quickly broadens its reach to customers with other hardware.