In April 2015, it seemed like Google launched their Project Fi wireless service almost in secret.
While they’re actively promoting it now, it still feels like it’s flying below the radar even among in-the-know-travelers. And, that’s a shame because it’s honestly the best international cell plan for travelers.
I’ve had plenty of frustration with the major U.S. cell carriers — domestically and especially internationally. AT&T offered great international coverage, but their global data plans were laughable ($60 for 300MB?!).
And searching for an alternative while traveling — one that’s affordable, reliable, and offers great coverage — became a hassle. I was sick of having to juggle new SIM cards and worry about foreign data service in every new destination I visited.
So, in late 2016, I jumped aboard the Project Fi bandwagon to see if it lived up to the hype. It’s been 18 months, and I’ve traveled to several dozen countries and four continents with Project Fi. So, I figured it’s about time for my own Project Fi review …
Project Fi Review 2018
A quick word about this Project Fi review: because I travel often, my experience is in using Project Fi outside of the U.S.
This review of Project Fi is likely to be most relevant to you if you too are a frequent traveler.
The Skinny on Project Fi
What Is Project Fi?
In Google’s own words:
Data abroad costs the same as at home — Project Fi works in over 170 countries and territories. No need to modify your plan to enjoy unlimited texts and data for the same price you pay at home.
How Does Project Fi Work?
Project Fi is not actually a cell network unto itself. Instead, it’s an MVNO (mobile network virtual operator), meaning it piggybacks on other networks.
In this case, those three 4G LTE networks are Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular. By combining the global networks of all three carriers, Project Fi is able to provide a substantial amount of coverage.
Motorola moto g6 (for Project Fi)
The Traveler’s Take: A Project Fi Review (2018)
How’s the Coverage?
In short, I’ve been absolutely thrilled with the coverage. The official coverage map includes 170+ countries and territories. In the U.S., there’s a ton of overlap with Verizon’s coverage map:
U.S. Cell Coverage Map for Google Project Fi
U.S. Cell Coverage Map for Verizon
In my own experience over the last 18 months, it’s worked in nearly every international destination to which I’ve traveled. I’ve called and texted home from the southern tip of South America, southern Africa, Mexico, all over the Caribbean, and dozens of U.S. destinations.
The three exceptions:
- Cuba (almost impossible to get any sort of foreign coverage because of government bureaucracy)
- Mauritius (one of the rare countries with which Fi doesn’t have an agreement to work)
- Antarctica (… because it’s f**king Antarctica!)
Mauritius is an outlier in Project Fi’s otherwise stellar coverage map. And virtually no cell plan that I know of (short of Iridium) works in Cuba or Antarctica, so I wasn’t exactly disappointed.
Immediately after landing, my phone will alert me to whether or not I have coverage in that particular destination. If Project Fi works where I happen to be, it usually connects to the local network in less than three minutes.
Plus, the service includes Wi-Fi Assistant — access to more than two million Wi-Fi hotspots around the world. Whenever you’re in range of a preselected hotspot, your cell and data service can connect automatically (which helps you save big on data!). The changeover from cell service to Wi-Fi and back again is seamless, even if you’re in the middle of a call. Plus, the connection to these hotspots is secured through a virtual private network backed by Google’s ultra-secure servers.
In many developing countries, the local LTE service is faster than most of the free Wi-Fi you’re likely to find. With tethering enabled on my smartphone, I’m guaranteed lightning-fast wireless Internet virtually anywhere I need to work.
Google Fi Pricing: What’s It Cost?
The pricing structure is dead simple. In a nutshell, Google promises unlimited data anywhere in the world for a one-person plan for just $80 per month.
But, if you’re smart about using Wi-Fi while traveling abroad, it’ll likely cost a fraction of that. When broken down, the pricing is $20 per month for unlimited domestic calls and texting (international calling starts at $0.20 per minute, and varies by country), plus $10 per GB of data.
New for 2018 is Project Fi’s Bill Protection. Once you reach 6GB of data usage in a single month, the feature kicks in giving you unlimited data so you’ll never pay more than $60 for data.
To be clear, Project Fi isn’t the cheapest international cell service option for travelers. It’s easy to find dirt-cheap international data plans in almost every destination around the world. But, for me, price wasn’t the only factor.
What I like about Project Fi is that it’s both affordable and convenient. Travel already involves plenty of planning and logistical work. I like not having to worry about finding a new SIM everywhere I land, figuring out the pricing structure for the local cell carrier, praying for halfway decent coverage and data speeds, and watching my data usage add up, wondering if I’ll run out before the end of my trip.
Project Fi means one phone, one SIM, and one plan with simple pricing almost anywhere in the world.
Plus, Project Fi is the rare carrier that actually refunds you for data you don’t use. So, if you’re on a 4GB plan, but only use 3.5 GB in a given month, you’ll receive a refund for that 0.5 GB difference.
What About Project Fi Phones?
The one potential wrinkle with Project Fi is that their selection of phones is limited.
While this wasn’t an issue for me and the phones they do offer are great, this might be an issue if you’re dead set on using a particular phone model.
Here are the current new phone options (as of Summer 2018):
- Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL
- Motorola Moto G6
- Android One Moto X4
- LG G7 ThinQ
- LG V35 ThinQ
Technically, Project Fi will work with other older phones (like the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, and Nexus 6P) as well. Google doesn’t officially support compatibility with such phones, but it is an option. Just know that, if you run into technical snags trying to setup, say, an iPhone with Project Fi, you’re on your own.
One nice feature is that Fi customers with decent credit can score a new phone with a two-year, same-as-cash payment plan. So, instead of dropping, say, USD $900 upfront on a shiny new LG V35 ThinQ, you can instead pay about $38 per month for 24 months with no interest.
Project Fi also accepts trade-in phones. Depending on your particular model, you could land a credit of up to USD $440 at the Google Store.
How’s Project Fi’s Customer Service?
I’ve needed to call customer service twice in the last 18 months. The first time was from the Dominican Republic days after I activated my service. My phone wasn’t connecting to the local network even though it assured me that I had service. Turns out Google needed to make a few adjustments on their end to get things moving along. They were polite, efficient, and I was in business in less than 10 minutes.
The second time I called was about an issue with my Nexus 6P (my first Project Fi review phone which turned out to be a junker wrought with issues, but that’s a story for another day …). Unfortunately, the phone was six months out of warranty, so there was nothing they could do.
But, I also needed to transfer my personal phone number from AT&T (which I certainly won’t miss) to Project Fi. They prefilled all the necessary details to facilitate the transfer in their system. Then, I bought a new Motorola Moto G6 via the Project Fi website.
When it arrived, I ported all my old phone’s details and transferred my AT&T number to Fi — all in about eight clicks. The entire process, from receiving the package to fiddling with the new phone to receiving the text confirming the transfer was complete took less than 20 minutes. That was last week, and it’s worked flawlessly since. I didn’t even have to call AT&T to say, sayonara!
The Bottom Line
After one minor hiccup in the D.R., my experience with Project Fi has been smooth sailing since. Their customer service is spot-on, the high-speed coverage works in 170+ countries, and the price structure is simple, convenient, and affordable, particularly for international travelers. While their phone selection is limited, it does include some of the best smartphones on the market. All of which is why I highly recommend Project Fi.
Buy Google Fi
Get your own Project Fi phone now for less than $30 per month!
Are you a Fi customer? What’s your own Project Fi review?
The post Why Fi? I Cut My International Wireless Bill in Half by Switching to Google Project Fi appeared first on Vagabondish.