Google's announcement that it's entering the wireless network market raised no small number of eyebrows, but upsetting the current model is exactly what the company intends to do with its Project Fi. The current US cellphone network landscape is dominated by four major carriers: Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T. Those four carriers routinely jostle for a larger piece of the cellphone pie, but competition is so fierce that smaller companies--often pay-as-you-go outfits--have little to no hope of gaining a foothold.
Project Fi hopes to change that. Here's a breakdown of what you need to know about the project and how it could significantly alter the American cellular experience.
Project Fi doesn't own its own towers.
The concept behind Google's wireless project is to utilize existing networks. So far, T-Mobile and Sprint have signed up, which means Project Fi plans on utilizing both CDMA and GSM networks (T-Mobile is a GSM network and Sprint is CDMA). That means a smaller overhead for Google. It also means that, if it eventually wins over Verizon and AT&T, carrier maps will be a thing of the past: customers of Project Fi are granted access to the strongest signal, regardless of carrier.
A basic plan starts at $20, plus $10 for every GB of data. If you need 3GB of data, your total monthly cost will be $50. On Verizon, that same plan will run you $65. There are no contracts, no early cancellation fees, and no exasperating plans.
Verizon and AT&T are not amused.
As the two most popular carriers, Verizon and AT&T have been enjoying a long monopoly. It's the reason they're able to charge exorbitant prices: customers who want reliable network coverage are limited to the major two (Sprint and T-Mobile are notoriously spotty). Google's idea of some sort of wireless network hippie commune doesn't resonate well with companies who have reaping the benefit of price gouging for years. However, that doesn't mean it won't ever happen: if Verizon and AT&T don't want to be left behind, they'll have to adapt. Verizon did it when it eliminated contracts and all the carriers are looking to eliminate carrier phone financing.
It only works with the Nexus 5X, 6P, and Nexus 6.
There's a reason for that: it's Google's flagship phone. But beyond that, the Nexus also uses the mega SIM developed by Google to support CDMA and GSM and adapt to different network spectrums. Formerly, phones only supported one network or the other, so if your phone was locked to Sprint, you couldn't use it on AT&T. Google Fi also doesn't have a contract, unless you choose to pay per month for your phone (see the below graph).
It uses complex technology.
Project Fi automatically selects the strongest signal--whether it be Wi-Fi or a cellular network. Sounds easy enough, but that requires gathering and processing a host of information in a very short amount of time. However, it's far from perfect, and Google still needs to figure out how to improve its service before it's ready for the general public. Otherwise, they'll never win over loyalty from the current networks' customers.
With all its shortcomings, Project Fi is still exciting and it's a welcome disruption to the current wireless network model. Americans have put up with expensive, subpar cellular service for far too long, and Google may pave the way for a cellular revolution.