What is Google Fi and their uses
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.
Google Fi is a cell phone carrier operated by Google. In the U.S., it gives you data service on two mobile networks (T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular), which a compatible phone will intelligently switch between. It also uses Wi-Fi to make calls and send texts whenever available.
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What networks does Google Fi actually use?
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.
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.
So where to begin in figuring that out? Well, you can start by checking Google’s official Fi coverage map. It lets you put in specific addresses and see what kind of combined coverage you can expect for any given city or neighborhood. (Don’t forget to check any places where you travel in addition to your home front, particularly if you visit certain regions regularly for work.)
If you want to get even more specific, snag the free OpenSignal app for your phone. The app can show you detailed coverage maps for any set of networks in any area — based on user-submitted data — and even rank overall connectivity strength for different networks where you are (or where you might be).
Or, heck, you can simply ask around — or mull over your own past experiences. Think of it this way: If you know you can get solid service with, say, T-Mobile in your area, then Google Fi should be fine for you; the addition of the Sprint and U.S. Cellular networks as possibilities will only flesh out that coverage further and fill in any gaps. As long as at least one of Fi’s networks is a viable option wherever you are, you’re good to go.
What about the Wi-Fi part of the process? Doesn’t Fi also connect to public Wi-Fi networks sometimes?
Google Fi does indeed incorporate public Wi-Fi networks into its coverage, provided you’re using a phone that was designed explicitly for Fi use. That’s another unusual and noteworthy part of its proposition. And just like with the mobile network switching, it all happens automatically and without any effort on your behalf.
Here’s how it works: Anytime you’re in range of a publicly available Wi-Fi network that Google has determined to be “high-quality and reliable” (a phrase you should probably not borrow for your next dating app profile), your Fi phone will switch over to that instead of using your regular mobile network. You’ll see it happen in retail establishments with open Wi-Fi networks or anywhere else that has Wi-Fi available without the need for any sort of sign-in.
Fi automatically encrypts your data anytime it’s connected to a network in that manner, using a special Google-provided virtual private network (VPN) — which means no one else on the network could snoop on your connection and see what you’re doing (in the way you often hear described as a risk of using public Wi-Fi networks).
But just like with the service’s mobile network switching, you don’t really think about any of that stuff in day-to-day use. With the Wi-Fi stuff, you do see a special icon in your status bar showing that you’re connected to a network with the Google-provided encryption enabled, but other than that, things just work — and you don’t put much thought into what network or type of network your phone has attached itself to at any given moment.
How Google FI setup on Samsung Galaxy phones
Google Fi subscribers with these Galaxy smartphones no longer have to rely on a physical SIM and can set up an eSIM on their devices by following the steps below:
- Connect to a Wi-Fi network
- Download and open the Google Fi app
- Sign in with the Google account you used to sign up for Fi
- Tap Continue when asked to activate Google Fi
- If you’re transferring a number, enter the number and account information for your current carrier.
Although the Galaxy S23 series is yet to reach the market, user reports on Reddit suggest that eSIM support is already enabled on older Samsung phones, like the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Galaxy S22. Users also say that the option to activate an eSIM might not immediately appear if you already have the Google Fi app on your phone. If that’s the case, reinstalling the app seems to do the trick.
What if I live outside of the U.S.? Can I still sign up for Fi?
As of now, Google’s making Fi available only in the States — which technically means you have to activate the service within the U.S., using a U.S. address and credit card. Sorry, international pals.
WHAT ARE GOOGLE FI’S PLANS?
Google Fi has two unlimited plans and a flexible plan. With the Flexible plan, you start with unlimited talk and text for $20 per month for one line. After that, you only get charged for the data you use at a rate of $10 per 1GB. Once you’ve used 6GB of data in a month, your data charge is capped at $60 for the rest of the month, but you continue to get data service.
So you can use as much data as you want for the month without paying over $80 total ($20 base + $60 data). The only caveat here is that once you hit 15GB of total data usage, your speeds are slowed to 256kbps. Alternatively, at the 15GB point, you can choose to start paying $10 per GB again for full-speed data if needed.
If you know you will be using more than 15GB regularly, you can go with the Simply Unlimited plan starting at $50 per month with one line. You don’t pay per gig on this plan, but your speeds will be slowed at 35GB of usage. Unlike Fi’s other plans, there are no international travel benefits and no data SIM option. You do, however, get 5GB of mobile hotspot data.
If you want everything, the Unlimited Plus plan starts at $65 per month and comes with a massive 50GB of high-speed data with the travel benefits of the Flexible plan. In addition, you get high-speed hotspot usage and the option for a free data SIM. This plan also comes with free calls to more than 50 countries and 100GB of cloud storage with Google One.
You can save some money on your plan if you have multiple lines, with the cost per line on the unlimited plan coming down with each additional line (up to four) or up to five on the flexible plan. So, for example, you can have six lines total, but your cost per line will be the same as four. Additionally, you can add a data-only SIM for free, so you can share your data with another device without needing to create a hotspot.
Is there any way I can get that same VPN encryption all the time?
It’s a pretty powerful perk, too, especially for anyone serious about Android security — which, ahem, we all should be. But if you ever transmit sensitive company data, always-on encryption is not only smart; it’s practically a necessity. And unless your company provides its own custom VPN service, you typically end up having to rely on a third-party service for said protection — something that’s costly, complicated, and difficult to evaluate and remain fully confident in over time.
With Fi’s built-in encryption option, that challenge is no more: Your VPN is provided directly by Google and bundled into your basic wireless service. All you do is flip a little toggle in the Fi app on your phone to turn it on, and you can then rest easy knowing all your data will always be encrypted, no matter where you are or what sort of network you’re using.
Does Google Fi offer any group plans or anything like that?
It does! Fi rolled out a group plan option back in 2016, and it’s really a no-brainer if you have family members or employees or co-workers (in a relatively small organization) who are using the service and might want to combine.
The Fi group plan has the same core setup as the regular plan, but each additional person on the plan has a discounted base fee — $18 per person with two people, $17 per person with three, and $16 per person with four or more human mammals on the plan. Then you still pay that same per-gigabyte rate for however much data is used, collectively. And your “max payment” amount bumps up to 10GB for two people, 12GB for three, 14GB for four, 16GB for five, and 18GB for six people — so any usage past that point doesn’t cost you any additional money (though your speeds will still be slowed down if you go considerably over that mark).
The Fi app even has an option to set it up so that members of your plan get “billed” for their portion of the total each month and can pay you back with a couple of taps using Google Pay. As the primary account-holder, you also have the ability to pause any member’s service or data at any point in a billing cycle, should the need or inspiration (bwah hah hah) ever strike.
What about a large-group, enterprise-style option?
Curiously enough, no such option exists — not yet, anyhow. As of now, Google’s Fi group setup goes up only to a six-person max, so it might work for a small business but wouldn’t be well-suited for a larger company, at least not in any traditional arrangement. The one exception might be if an organization is doing a bring-your-own-device-style setup in which employees pay for their own service and then get reimbursed; in that situation, it might actually be an interesting and potentially advantageous option.
All of that being said, it sure seems like it’d make an awful lot of sense for Google to bring Fi more wholeheartedly into the enterprise environment, especially now that the company’s actively developing its Google Voice service, making Voice work more harmoniously with Fi, and positioning Voice largely as an enterprise-friendly G Suite add-on (more on that in a minute). With more and more emphasis being placed on G Suite and the scope of the G Suite services constantly expanding, you’d think Fi coming into the fold would be the next logical move to make.
Does Fi have an “unlimited” option, too?
For an individual user, Fi’s “unlimited” plan runs 70 bucks a month. For a group plan with two people, it’s $60 per person per month; for three, it’s $50 per person per month; and for four or more, it’s $45 per person per month.
The “unlimited” arrangement also comes with 100GB of extra storage space for each person through Google One, which would typically cost you $20 a year — so that’s certainly something, though not a massive amount of added value.
Oh, and the reason why I keep putting “unlimited” in quotes? The plan, like most such offerings, isn’t actually unlimited in the fullest sense of the word; rather, it gives you up to 22GB of high-speed mobile data per person per month. If you go over that amount, you’ll still be able to use mobile data — but only at reduced speeds and with scaled-back video resolution.
ARE THERE GOOGLE FI DEALS?
Absolutely! There are tons of great Google Fi deals worth checking out, with many more expected to be added as we approach the holiday season. Most of these offers are only available to new customers who transfer their number to Google Fi, but they offer an easy way to save money on some of the newest and best Android phones without having to trade in an old device or sign up for some prohibitively expensive wireless plan.
That being said, the following deals for new customers can be stacked with trade-in credit if you do have an older device to send in. We’ll share a few select offers below, but check out Google Fi’s official store page for more.
Which phones are Designed for Fi?
You get a truly first-class experience with Google Fi on Google’s Pixel series of phones. These phones have an eSIM inside that’s pre-programmed for Fi, and you can set up an account and connect to its network without putting in a SIM card.
Then there are other phones “designed for Fi” you can buy to get the same experience, such as the Google Pixel 7 or Samsung Galaxy S22 series. The Galaxy Z Flip 4 5G and Galaxy Z Fold 4 are Designed for Fi, and other new phones are likely to join the list if they become popular enough.
Designed for Fi phones have full network switching capabilities, meaning they can seamlessly move between Fi’s network partners T-Mobile and UScellular, plus make smooth transitions between Wi-Fi hotspots and mobile networks using a Google VPN service.
Even if they aren’t technically Designed for Fi, all of the best Android phones should work with Google Fi’s full network.
Can I use my phone as a mobile hotspot?
Yes, indeedly. And there’s no extra charge for doing so; you just pay that same standard flat per-gigabyte rate for any data you use, regardless of how you’re sharing it or what device is actually tapping into it.
Which phones are compatible with Fi?
Google Fi now works with any unlocked phone — with some limitations. Unlocked phones can’t take advantage of Fi’s network switching, so you’ll be using the T-Mobile network primarily, and you don’t get Fi’s always-on VPN option. But you do get the same great international roaming, plus all of the other features like the great Fi app and simple billing. Yes, that unlocked support also includes iPhones, which is a massive step for Fi. Google Fi even supports iMessage using your Fi number.
One thing to keep in mind is that T-Mobile has been integrating Sprint’s towers into its network, so even phones that weren’t designed for Fi get the majority of Google Fi’s coverage. US Cellular has great coverage in some areas, but most of us will be able to get by on T-Mobile’s coverage alone without issue.
Android phones with 5G support will also get access to 5G on Google Fi. Though iPhones, even the newest iPhone 13 series, won’t get 5G access on Google Fi. At least not at the time of this update.
Google Fi has updated its eSIM support page and added support for several Samsung flagships. The new Galaxy S23 series is on the list, along with the Galaxy S22 series, Galaxy S21 series, Galaxy S20 series, Galaxy Note 20 series, Galaxy Z Flip 4, Galaxy Z Fold 4, and Galaxy Z Flip 3.
What if I want to put a SIM card into a tablet, laptop, or other connected device? How much does Fi charge for that privilege?
Google Fi lets you claim up to four data-only SIMs for your account and use them in any devices you want. You can order the SIMs free from the Fi app or website, and all you pay is the same per-gigabyte rate you’d pay for mobile data use from your phone. That means any extra devices essentially become extensions of your main Fi phone — which is another powerful perk that opens up plenty of interesting possibilities.
Contracts? Commitments? Cancellation fees? There’s gotta be some way this thing is out to get me…
Fi doesn’t play those typical carrier games. Other than the fact that if you use a ton of mobile data per month, it probably won’t make financial sense to you — and that the “unlimited” option comes with a max-out point in terms of the truly unlimited, highest-possible-speed data — there really aren’t any hidden fees, asterisks, or other “gotchas” to report.
DOES GOOGLE FI SUPPORT 5G?
Google Fi now supports 5G on its Designed for Fi phones as well as Compatible with Fi phones that support T-Mobile’s 5G network. This means your phone will need to support band n71 and n41 for the best possible 5G connection on T-Mobile’s network.
Designed for Fi 5G phones include the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 series, as well as several unlocked Samsung models. In addition, Samsung’s Galaxy S21and S22 series, Galaxy Z Flip 4, and Z Fold 4 phones will work with Google Fi’s complete network. This includes access to its full array of LTE as well on all three networks.
What about roaming? Surely Fi screws you when you go out of the country, like every other carrier — right?
Amazingly, no; this is another one of the service’s exceptional features, particularly if you travel internationally with any regularity (you lucky son of a dolphin, you).
So here it is: Fi charges you the same standard per-gigabyte rate all over the world — in 200-plus countries. You get free texting in all those places, too. You do end up paying for cellular voice calls, but even those rates aren’t generally that bad, relatively speaking.
HOW TO FINANCE A PHONE WITH GOOGLE FI
So long as you qualify (up to Google, based on a credit check), you can purchase a new phone and pay for it in monthly installments. There’s no down payment required and no interest; the cost of the phone of your choice is just spread out over 24 months.
You can pay off the balance at any time, but if you decide to leave Google Fi, you’ll have to pay out the total cost of the phone then and there. You have 30 days to activate Google Fi service from when you buy your phone. If your Google Fi service isn’t active within 30 days, Google will charge you the full amount for the phone.
Will any phone work with Fi?
Fi has a small number of phones that are explicitly designed for its service — including Google’s own Pixel devices, as you’d expect, and a handful of other specially adapted handsets. Those phones give you the full Fi experience, with the multi-network switching, the automatic public Wi-Fi connecting, and the always-on VPN protection option.
You can, however, also use Fi with most other reasonably recent Android phones or even iPhones. As long as a device is unlocked and compatible with T-Mobile’s network, it’ll almost certainly work on Fi — at least, from a technical perspective. That’s always been true, despite the fact that Google only recently started promoting it and officially supporting such widespread compatibility.
With a phone that isn’t designed explicitly to be used with Google Fi, you won’t get that aforementioned full Fi experience. That means no multi-network switching — instead, your device will connect only to T-Mobile, in the U.S. — plus no automatic public Wi-Fi connecting and no always-on VPN protection.
WHAT IF I NEED GOOGLE FI SUPPORT?
What happens if something goes wrong with my Google Fi phone?
Talking to tech support is one of our least favorite activities and being in a store that will just try to sell you an upgrade or accessories doesn’t make it any more fun. With Google Fi, if you need help, your best bet is the app. And this might be the best carrier app you’ve ever used. You can download the Google Fi app for Android or iOS and get access to 24/7 phone, chat, or email support.
If your phone is having problems or you just want to chat on a device with a proper keyboard, you can freely access Google Fi’s support page for the same options.
Check here for the blog of Google Fi security risk.
I just need to see my Google Fi usage and billing
The same app and sites for support work great for showing you your real-time usage and how much it will cost you. The widget on Android keeps you constantly informed on how much data you are using. You will have to open the app on iOS to see this information, but a data warning can be set to send a notification when your data usage gets high. With these tools, your bill should never be a surprise.
How do I cancel Google Fi service?
Very simply. All you have to do is head to the Google Fi website or open up the Fi app:
- Click or tap on the Account tab.
- Click or tap on Manage Plan under Your Plan.
- Click Cancel service.
- Follow the instructions.
If you’re switching to another carrier and want to keep your number, you should set up your new plan first to successfully port your number over.
Can I use my Google Fi phone with another carrier?
Provided it works with that particular carrier (chances are it will), yup. Google clearly states that your phone is not locked to Google Fi service.
SWITCHING TO GOOGLE FI
If you’re OK with the inherent hassle of switching carriers and porting your phone number, you don’t have many other hurdles to jump over now that Google Fi is open to just about any unlocked phone. You can sign up for Google Fi online in minutes, and you can either buy a phone at the same time (and cash in on some nice discounts and incentives), or Google will send you a SIM card to put in your existing phone. (Or, if you already have a Pixel, you can get up and running in minutes with the eSIM.)
T-Mobile bought Sprint. Does that affect Google Fi?
On April 1, 2020, T-Mobile completed its purchase of Sprint, bringing the two networks under the ownership of T-Mobile. T-Mobile has unified the two networks and has been moving the remaining Sprint customers to the T-Mobile network. As a result, Google Fi customers likely won’t see a significant change in service quality, although it is possible that some rural customers may see some changes, hopefully positive.
Still, compatibility with T-Mobile’s infrastructure looks likely into the future, as even unlocked phones that support T-Mobile’s 5G will be able to use 5G with Google Fi. T-Mobile has stated that it will continue to support MVNOs, which isn’t likely to change any time soon.
T-Mobile is also in the process of shutting down Sprint’s as well as its own 3G network to free up space for 5G. This shutdown will take place in mid-2022, though most users will never notice a difference in coverage. The vast majority of phones sold in the last several years support LTE and will continue to work on Google Fi.
GOOGLE FI: SHOULD YOU BUY?
There are a lot of cool features that make Google Fi a good choice, like dramatically simplified billing, Bill Protection to cap your charges every month, seamless international data and calling, and improved network coverage through the use of three carriers and Wi-Fi networks. Of course, each one will have a different amount of draw for different people, but that’s a pretty compelling package.
Google Fi’s pricing isn’t dramatically lower than other carriers out there, and whether it makes a good choice financially for you depends on your data usage and which features you want. Therefore, we encourage you to do your pricing research before choosing which carrier is the best.
Thanks for reading…
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