GOOGLE FI

I am always on the lookout for a good way to communicate on the road. I like simple. I like cheap. I like to maintain as much control as possible.

In the cell phone department, that meant having a Tracfone. A flip phone being my favorite, but since I travel around the US, I had to have a smartphone for those occasional times when I needed data to get a hotel, check an opening time or whatever. I did not need that feature often, but it was very valuable. When in other countries, I had a world travel dumb phone with a world travel SIM card in it. Cheap enough and it allowed me to make calls. Data was an issue. When travelling with Irene, we would use her phone. That was a great option, but now I had to do something else. Normally, one would get a SIM card in the country they are travelling in, and just use that. But Canada presents a problem. I sometimes just pop over the border, and it would be nice to get data then, but I could find no option for occasional cheap data.

I was in a position where I had to do something that would allow me data anytime, anywhere. I did not want to spend a lot of money. I live in an area with crappy cell phone coverage. Verizon works, but is very expensive, including for travel. Enter The Google FI Project. This is a different kind of service.

Typical cell phone service providers like Verizon or Tmobile have their own towers, and they have agreements with other providers towers. There are differences in frequencies etc but most providers can cover most areas. There are some major gaps, with Verizon having the fewest gaps as far as I can tell. They are also the most expensive. Companies like Tracfone and Google FI are MVNOs (I don't know what it stands for) and they do not own their own towers. They contract with someone like Verizon and use their tower. Although Tracfone and others might use more than one carrier (AT&T & Verizon) each phone can only use one of the providers. They also only use the provides cell towers. So if Verizon does not have a tower where you are, and would normally provide service through another providers tower, you are shit out of luck with an MVNO. In fact, most of the providers offer pay as you go plans, but those phones won't use the other providers towers.

Google FI is no different. Where they are different is that they don't just use one provider. They use T-Mobile (the preferred provider) and they use Sprint and they use US Cellular. It is supposed to switch to the provider that is best where you are standing. There are also aftermarket apps that you can use to switch manually, with is sometimes necessary. When they started out, they were not very good at switching to the best, and sometimes you could not make a call, but they are better. They are also supposed to switch to WiFi when available.

What all this means is that Google FI should give you darned good service almost anywhere. It does, with a little fiddling. Google FI is a Google Project. That means they are having fun playing with it. That does not mean that they really care. They are always improving it, but it still is a work in progress. If this goes the way of most Google projects, once they get it almost perfected, they will forget about it and let it slowly die.

For me, though, it is pretty much perfect. I use almost no data, except when I use a bunch all at once. I don't even talk or text much. Google FI is $20 per month, plus about $3 in taxes, plus $0.01 per megabyte. That works out to $10 per gigabyte, but you only pay for the megabytes you use. I have not had a phone bill more than $25. In most foreign countries a phone call will cost you $0.10 to $0.20 per minute, unless you have WiFi, then they are free to the US/Canada. Still will cost you to foreign countries, just as if you were calling from home. Data is the same price as at home, so if you were calling to the US, it would be cheaper to call using data.

Speaking of data, you can get up to 10 free data SIM cards. If you have a tablet or an old phone you can put these in and use them for data anywhere. Same $0.01/MB charge. This includes overseas. In the US it only works with TMobile towers though. So, if you have an old phone, put this card in and you can use it as a tablet, or use it to make internet calls. Great deal.

Is Google Fi for everyone? No. Absolutely not. There is no discount for family plans. It only works with one of google's phones (a very limited and expensive selection) I did get my Nexus 5X for $240, which is holy crap expensive in my opinion, but cheap by most providers standards. Google FI is also fiddly. If you did not fiddle with it, it would work most places fine, but places like my house are an issue. Fiddling makes it work, but who wants that.

So why did I get it, and why do I keep it? I had to get a phone that works overseas. There are plenty of cheap options, but I was looking at around $200 to $250 for the capabilities I wanted (about where the Nexux 5x was). The cost for getting a travel SIM with data for the timelines I was looking for were around $150 or more a year. Possible cheaper options if I bought in country, but that would exclude Canada. My Tracfone was costing about $110/year. So..... Google FI would cost me no more than any other option I was looking at, and if it did not work, I had a phone that I could use anywhere.

The future of Google FI? I don't know. When I retire I will keep it for now. Worst case scenario, the phone stops working or the service becomes an issue and I dump FI, moving my phone number back to Google Voice and I live on the road with local SIM cards, using free Google Voice and whatever data is on my SIM card or WiFi for calls home.