The rumors are true. Google is now a mobile carrier as it unveiled Project Fi, partnering with T-Mobile and Sprint as an MVNO. The #3 and #4 nationally ranked carriers are no doubt happy to have the Big G as a partner, but does this mean added pressure for Verizon and AT&T?
Yes and no.
First of all, Project Fi is invitation-only for now and only works with the Nexus 6 because of certain technological requirements, such as a fitting it with a particular SIM card in order to use multiple carrier networks and handoffs to WiFi.
The interesting part of Fi is the pricing plan which one could argue to cause headaches for Verizon and AT&T. Fi subscribers will pony up $20/month and $10/GB, but credited for unused data. Everything else seems fairly standard similar to T-Mobile’s offerings: unlimited talk & text, tethering, and free international data roaming (at slower 3G speeds).
Project Fi will also have a database of reliable public access WiFi hotspots so that a subscriber can handoff a voice call from cellular to WiFi seamlessly. No details are given on how Google plans to harvest this information about public hotspots.
What’s intriguing here is Google decision to become an MVNO rather than buying out a carrier (it can certainly afford to). It is pouring money into the Google Fiber wireline business, yet we all know the future is all wireless. It seems the company wants to connect everyone to the Internet, but not necessarily through the cellular network.
And why T-Mobile and Sprint? Why didn’t it partner with the top two carriers which will definitely provide Fi subscribers top notch network coverage? Was it because of cost? Or did Verizon and AT&T turn down its offer?
The way Google is approaching this definitely fits the “project” moniker. I would’ve liked for Google to go all-in and gobble up a wireless carrier. However, I think even Google realizes how difficult it is to become a full blown carrier, especially with all the regulations and legal requirements.
It appears Google is being very cautious and non-committal with the idea of entering the wireless carrier market. Let’s just hope it doesn’t end up being something like the Wave debacle.