Is Google’s Project Fi The Nexus For Prepay Operators?

October 13, 2016 - Written By David Steele

Google’s Project Fi is not yet a threat to the established American prepay carriers. Project Fi is only officially supported on a limited number of Google Nexus and Google Pixel devices and is not very well known about. The vanilla service offers unlimited calls and text messages around much of the world for $20 a month. Data at up to 4G LTE speeds is available, again around the world, for $10 per gigabyte. For international travellers who do not need much in the way of data, and with a supported device, the Project Fi service makes a lot of sense. The reason why only a limited number of devices is supported is because Project Fi is able to skip between the underlying carriers that Google use (in the United States, it uses T-Mobile US, Sprint and US Cellular) and a compatible Wi-Fi network too.

However, this week Google announced it was introduced a family or group plan. Here, customers can add up to five additional lines to the one Project Fi account with a $5 discount per line. That means a month of unlimited calls and text messaging for $15 a month. Data is still $10 per gigabyte. The Project Fi offering allows one additional user over and above similar group schemes available from competitors such as Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS, so it has an advantage for those customers who want to bundle six numbers together in one group plan. However, despite this account improvement, Google does not yet consider Project Fi to be a “substantial threat to existing carriers.” It is possible that Google will improve the Project Fi offering like this one day but at the current time, we do not appear to be anywhere close to this: that the service is only officially supported on a handful of devices will hold the carrier back as will unlimited data plans from other carriers.

Despite this, Tammy Parker from Current Analysis has penned a research note writing that the new group plan gives Google “another arrow in its quiver when it comes to establishing itself as a serious competitor to major prepaid and postpaid brands.” Project Fi has taken a small step towards being closer aligned with the established prepay carriers. It is possible that Google may shake up the Project Fi service to sell it alongside the Google Pixel family of devices at some point in the future. Google’s plan management system should also worry the competition, too. in Tammy’s words: “Furthermore, its management interface for the group plan should give rivals some ideas for making it easier for their own customers to manage the activities of members on their plans.” Perhaps Google is trying to show the carriers what it considers the ideal prepay service to look like, much in a similar way to how Google used the Nexus smartphone devices over the year to show the industry the direction it expected Android to move in. Certainly, offering a mobile service with few international borders, metered data and unlimited calls is a little different to the majority of carrier offerings.