Google's Project Fi gains ground in U.S.

Jun 09, 2016, 3:34 PM EDT
(Source: TechStage/flickr)
(Source: TechStage/flickr)

With advancements in the mobile industry, the focus is often on flashy new devices themselves or household-name software such as iOS or Android. The technology behind the networks required to host the billions of connected mobile users isn’t the most glamorous, but it is the backbone of wireless connectivity for many. But these networks associated with giants like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile are being given a run for their money. Google, having entered the network fray last year, announced this week that it is expanding its Project Fi access to three of the U.S.’s five largest wireless networks, and seeks to eventually be a viable alternative for mobile users.

Google has presented a new challenge for the wireless monoliths in the U.S. with Project Fi since its launch in April 2015. This week saw it bolstering the initiative in a way that is turning the heads of not just mobile network giants, but consumers as well. Its newest partner network U.S. Cellular, as revealed in a blog post on Wednesday, indicates that the company joins Sprint and T-Mobile to bolster Google’s mobile connectivity. The company blog writes:

U.S. Cellular, one of the top mobile networks in the U.S., offers service in 23 states with 4G LTE coverage for more than 99% of their subscribers, both urban and rural. With the addition of a third network, Project Fi now gives you more coverage and speed, helping you stay connected wherever you are.

Project Fi is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) whose network will now use those three cellular networks to provide users with the strongest wireless connection possible. Whichever network’s connection is currently the strongest is the one Project Fi will user to deliver to the user. This aspect and its other unique, inexpensive price point are two innovative elements of Project Fi. But the fact that users must have either the Nexus 6, Nexus 6P, or the Nexus 5X (all Google phones) to employ the service is the hangup for most. (Although, Blouin News reported last December that Google announced that users can order data-only SIM cards for select Android tablets and iPads equipped with cellular antennae.)

Project Fi was (and still is) discounted by many who say that it can never actually challenge giants such as Verizon and AT&T. And, indeed, it may not in terms of volume of customers. But Google doesn’t need Project Fi to obtain hundreds of millions of customers to be a relative success. (Consider the many other markets Google dominates.) It is more about offering an alternative to U.S. consumers who are fed up with what they see as often sub-par network coverage, bill shock tactics, and poor customer service — the three top complaints from U.S. wireless users.