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Google Fi: The complete FAQ


Google Fi may sound like some weird sort of initiation ritual (“Whoa, what happened to Rick? I heard he got Googlefied!”) — but if you can get past its silly-sounding name, the Google-owned wireless service can both save you money and step up your smartphone security situation.

Make no mistake about it: Google Fi — known as Project Fi up until 2018 — is a pretty unusual proposition. And it absolutely won’t make sense for everyone. If you fall into a certain style of smartphone usage, though, it can eliminate a lot of the downsides that typically come with a traditional wireless plan.

So how does Fi actually work, and could it be right for you? Let’s tackle it question by burning question and figure that out together.

What exactly is Google Fi — or Project Fi, or whatever you want to call it?

Google Fi is technically what’s known as an MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator. That’s a fancy name for an entity that provides wireless service — y’know, the thing that allows you to make and receive calls and use mobile data from that shiny rectangle in your pocket — without actually owning the network infrastructure behind it.

In other words, it’s kinda like a high-tech landlord. It doesn’t have its own network like AT&T or Verizon; instead, it has an arrangement with those same sorts of carriers that allows it to tap into their networks and repackage access to those pipes under its own brand and arrangement.

What networks does Google Fi actually use, then?

In the U.S., Fi uses a combination of T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular (so eventually just T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular, since Sprint and T-Mobile are in the process of becoming one and the same). That’s one of its distinguishing features, in fact: When you use Google Fi with a phone that’s designed for the service, it’s able to seamlessly switch you between those networks based on which one has the strongest service at any given moment.

Ooookay. How does this network switching mumbo-jumbo even work?!

Automatically and silently; on a day-to-day basis, you’ll never even think about it or be aware that it’s happening. Your phone just shows that you’re connected to Google Fi — but behind the scenes, the device continuously seeks out the best possible network for your location and bops you around as needed.

Will I get good coverage, then? How will it compare to what I have now?

That’s an important question — and unfortunately, there’s no simple nor universal answer, as it ultimately all depends on where you are and how Fi’s networks perform in your area.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.


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