advent of the smartphone and apps has driven the need for more data capacity
and it is the biggest cost and challenge to the wireless telephone companies. In
addition to these two cellular wireless networks delivering data is Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is
fast, inexpensive, operates on frequencies that do not require expensive licensing
like cellular, and is in your home and many, if not most, other places you frequent. Its biggest drawback is that it has a very limited range and limited privacy.
Google’s plan for unification
Strategy #1 in Google’s plan—Wi-Fi is the answer to cheap wireless data.
While most smartphones can leverage Wi-Fi for data, Google has developed technology where its Fi service will use Wi-Fi, whenever possible, for calling, texting
as well as data. Google is developing a network of certified Wi-Fi providers across
the country and uses encrypted connections over this network to ensure privacy.
The use of Wi-Fi costs much less than building your cellular network. However Wi-Fi, as mentioned above, suffers from limited range. Making calls in your
house or at the local coffee house might be OK, but what about everywhere else?
This is where Google’s plan for unification starts. To have a viable mobile
service they would have to be more places than Wi-Fi could reach, so Google
would have to use a cellular network. But building a new network would be costly
and would take too long. To be successful, Fi would provide access to a broad
cellular network. Now both T-Mobile and Sprint have capacity that might work,
but they both suffer from limited coverage. Divided their reach was too limited,
but united you might have something. T-Mobile and Sprint also use two different
To use the combined breadth and power of their cellular networks, Google
would have to do something new. Enter the Nexus 6 smartphone. It is the flagship
of Google’s Android operating system and currently the only phone supported by
Project Fi. It is big, powerful and fast, but most importantly, is one of the very
few cellular phones that has two radios and can operate on both CDMA and
GSM networks. By using the Nexus 6 phone, and partnering with the two underutilized wireless carriers, Google Fi senses and uses the best network, whether
Wi-Fi, T-Mobile’s GSM or Sprint’s CDMA, and seamlessly switches between them
allowing Fi to have good service coverage and without buying or building an
expensive cellular network.
Google is also offering a quite different price structure. There is no contract or
phone subsidy. You have to buy or bring your own phone (Nexus 6 U.S. version
only) and service is $20 a month per line for unlimited talk and text. Data is a
la carte at $10 per gigabyte, but you only pay for the amount you use and only
when the data travels over one of the cellular networks. Fi users who don’t use all
of their data get a refund. The user who uses three gigabytes of data will pay $50
a month. Fi users can use their phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot for free and the service
offers unlimited text, along with the same $10 per gigabyte of data, although
limited to 3G speeds, and $0.20 per minute calling while traveling in 120 other
countries without expensive add-on plans or complicated switching of SIM cards.
Will the Google Fi experiment succeed? Only time will tell. Google is starting
slowly by invitation only with only one phone, hence the experiment part, and
there are many hurdles to overcome. Apple is still a major player and their phones
can’t fully support Fi. The switching technology is new and relatively unproven.
But by simply having the experiment, Google is changing the way the industry
looks at data transport and wireless networks, and this will have an impact on
the structure and costs of mobile service going forward. I-L