Google Unveils Wireless Service To Bridge Cellular and Wifi

Google is inviting a small number of people onto a new wireless phone service it calls Project Fi. The company says that the service will simplify how people pay for cellular access, and that it will help phones bridge the gaps between traditional cellular networks and the WiFi networks available inside so many homes and businesses.

The unveiling is the first real look at the service, which a Google executive promised last month at a conference in Barcelona. Today, Google launched a site where anyone can request an invitation.

Google is intent on lowering the cost of wireless service and improving how it operates.

Well, at least anyone with a Nexus 6 phone, the flagship Android handset Google developed in partnership with hardware maker Motorola. For now, it’s the only device that can use the service. “Similar to our Nexus hardware program, Project Fi enables us to work in close partnership with leading carriers, hardware makers, and all of you to push the boundaries of what’s possible,” the company said.

This latest move fits an established pattern at Google, which so often introduces projects deemed experimental that nevertheless end up pushing markets in new directions. The most prominent example is Google Fiber, the company’s ultra-high-speed wireline Internet service, which has nudged the likes of AT&T and Comcast into offering their own high speed services.

Closing the Gap

Google did not respond to a request to discuss the project. But according to its blog post and other public comments, Google is intent on lowering the cost of wireless service and improving how it operates.

Specifically, Google says Project Fi will offer new technology that “gives you better coverage by intelligently connecting you to the fastest available network,” whether that’s a cellular network or a WIFi network. The service works with existing cellular networks from US carriers Sprint and T-Mobile, and according to Google, it can automatically connect phones to more than a million open WiFi hotspots that it deems fast and reliable.

Google, with its control over so many popular Internet applications and so many of the world’s Android phones, has the muscle to make an impact.

As you move onto WiFi networks, Google says, you can still make calls and send and receive texts, as you would on a cellular network. What’s more, the service separates you phone number from a particular device—so that you make calls and text from a single number on multiple devices.

At the same time, Google says, it will offer a simple way to pay for the service. A flat $20-per-month fee provides unlimited calls and texts, including when you travel outside the country. You pay $10 per gigabyte of internet data sent and received across the network. If you don’t use your entire gig, you receive a credit.

Though Google doesn’t say this outright, the company is clearly aiming to change the way we pay for wireless service. Traditionally, carriers have not provided such credits for unused data, and they often charge exorbitant fees when you travel abroad. Companies such a T-Mobile have worked to change things as well. But Google, with its control over so many popular Internet applications and so many of the world’s Android phones, has the muscle to make an even bigger impact. It wouldn’t be the first time.

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