As expected, Google announced its wireless service, Project Fi on the 22nd of April. Details about the program as just filtering in but this is a high level take on what it means to the mobile operator ecosystem/model and implications for handset and wireless device makers. This is a pretty exciting development that could have a long term impact on how we purchase, pay and manage our cellular devices.
During the Mobile World Congress in March, Google SVP, Sundar Pichai talked about Google getting into the business without providing much details. Today, Google unveiled the service and described how it would work. Here is the short and sweet of it. You can read the full details on the well documented FAQs page on the Google Fi website.
- Google is launching the service with the partnership of T-Mobile and Sprint in the operator space, Qualcomm in the chipset space and other undisclosed partners.
- Google is promising technology that will automatically switch between Wi-Fi and cellular LTE and within cellular- T-Mobile and Sprint based on coverage in the specific location.
- Google Fi service will cost $20 for voice and SMS package and $10 for every 1 GB of data. A smart spin on this plan is that Google will refund users on unused data. This makes it a good package for folks who have varying data use month over month.
- There is no family plan so to speak of right now.
- To begin with, the service will only work on Nexus 6 which costs $650. It is possible and likely that more devices will support this in the future.
- SMS to 120 countries is included in the Fi Basics plan. When in one of those 120 countries, no new data plan is required and the existing data plan (1 GB for $10) is sufficient. This makes it a truly global service.
The Fi service will get the other big elephant in the room, Apple, thinking. Apple could conceivably do an Apple Wireless service that aggregates all 4 carriers and work directly with customers. Apple tends to take a wait and watch approach on things of this scope and that will apply here too. If the model works for Google and it attacts a reasonable number of new subscribers, Apple might follow. This might also interest other players to consider a similar option- Facebook could conceivably bundle its growing set of apps and services and offer a carrier agnostic MVNO service. Microsoft could attempt something similar too although they seem like a far shot for this.
How does this affect Android/Google’s relationship with the two other big carriers- AT&T and Verizon. In the past, Google has tried to break away from the carrier monopoly with out of contract unlocked phones. While the Nexus and Moto X/G/E program has been a success in many ways, Google has been unable to break the control carriers have on the system. Google Fi is a bolder approach at tackling the problem and it remains to be seen how it plays out. For the consumer, it would help if Google Fi succeeds. It will offer them an alternative to contract driven service tied to a single operator.
If Google can convince customers that they are a viable cellular service provider at a reasonable price offering good quality of service and customer support, there is a lot of opportunity in the space for an alternative solution to traditional mobile operators.
Devices and Ecosystem
Google needs to build not one but a slew of devices either by itself or through the Nexus program to prove the concept to the wider audience. A $650 6 inch device might not be compelling for many. But a smaller, cheaper Nexus 5 like device at $300 could do wonders for Fi. The Android ecosystem will be a huge plus to drive adoption. In a sense, it could trigger a virtuous cycle of customers adopting Google Fi service and increasing Android adoption and vice versa.
Google will also need other Android OEMs to join the party sooner than later. This is complicated since the OEMs have a long term relationship with ATT and Verizon. But variety of devices is critical for Google Fi to attain mass adoption.
Services and Local
Google can now aggregate other services into Fi. Local services, maps services, local business coupons, Google Local reviews, Google Shopping Express and many more services can be brought into the Google Fi offering. Services could be discounted for folks signing up for ads. The opportunities for an MVNO with a lot of ancillary services are very many. The sky is the limit and knowing Google, they will explore a lot of it. This could be the true value addition on top of the cellular service that customers and Google could benefit from.
Google has taken a big bold step in becoming a MVNO and offering a compelling argument to customers to switch to its service. If it can back its vision with devices, partners, and service, there is a big opportunity for them to build a whole new business.
You can see the launch video below.
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