Google Raises Project Fi Data Speeds Internationally


Google’s Project Fi is revving up its data speeds internationally to bolster the experience for the new mobile phone service’s customers who travel outside the U.S.

The move is a small step from a service that attracted widespread attention some 15 months ago but still has limited usage. Project Fi, which stands out for a simple pricing structure ($20 a month for unlimited talk/text plus $10 per gigabyte of data), has been held back by the limited number of phones that work with the service.

The latest developments are aimed at the more than 15% of Project Fi customers who use Project Fi overseas and is meant to give such folks a data experience that is similar to what they get at home.

Google says you can now use Fi service while you’re traveling in more than 135 countries, with the company having just added a dozen new countries. With the help of its new carrier partner Three (from Hutchison Whampoa), Google said it was raising data speeds internationally, by as much as 10 to 20 times.

According to a recent Google survey, only 20% of Americans opt to use their cellular data when traveling internationally, instead choosing to jump between Wi-Fi hotspots or scramble to find a local SIM card.

Fi made waves over a year ago as a new U.S. mobile phone service that seemed to offer a novel alternative for cellphone customers.

It has an unusual structure. Google doesn’t make you pay for data you don’t use. Its network, which piggybacks off T-Mobile, Sprint, U.S. Cellular, and as of today the international network Three, automatically chooses the fastest and strongest available network to glom onto, whether that’s cellular or Wi-Fi.

“I think it’s hard for folks outside of Google to truly believe us but we’re not trying to overtake the cellular industry,” John Maletis, the head of operations for Project Fi, told me during a recent visit to the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. “What we’re trying to do is showcase what’s possible when you can manage the hardware in Nexus devices, the software in Android and the connectivity with Project Fi.”

Fi may someday still become the disruptive force in wireless that some predicted when rumors first surfaced that the Internet giant had designs on becoming an ISP (and not just with its speedy Google Fiber service). After all, Google already controls the dominant Android mobile operating system.

But if Google is planning a major shakeup in wireless it is still counting on companies it could end up competing against. Google as an MVNO, industry shorthand for Mobile Virtual Network Operator, relies on its partner carriers, for the cellular infrastructure.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Edward C. Baig