Google Fi Comes to the iPhone… Mostly

(Jeff Porten) #1

Originally published at:

Google’s Project Fi phone service has become Google Fi, with official support for using the iPhone you bring to the plan. But the iPhone experience isn’t the same as for Android phones using regular Google Fi. So for now, Google Fi is worthwhile in select circumstances.

(Ron Risley) #2

I’ve been using Project<<<<<<<Google Fi since before the beginning (I was an early beta tester). I quickly became disillusioned with the whole Android ecosystem when my less-than-year-old Nexus 6 phone stopped getting security updates and I discovered that there is no way to fully back up an android phone without rooting it. As a consequence, I’ve been using Google Fi with a cheap iPhone for several years.

The fact that Google is now officially supporting iPhones is nice, but I never had any problems before. I guess it would have been a hassle had my Nexus 6 actually died, but it still runs – swollen battery and all – well enough to re-active Fi had I needed to before the iOS app rolled out. T-Mobile has had good-enough coverage everywhere I’ve needed it, so the inability to switch between multiple carriers hasn’t been an issue for me.

A couple of things about Fi that Jeff didn’t mention, that I have found invaluable: the first is having Google as my wireless carrier. For customer service, they are head-and-shoulders above any other wireless carrier I have even encountered. They used to send us Christmas presents every year and other random goodies (I guess those days are over), but their well-designed apps and web presence make managing my accounts (I now have two) a joy instead of a chore.

The other is their data-only SIMs. You can request a second or third (I don’t know the limit) SIM card which will provide a data connection to other phones or tablets. Google ships the SIM to you at no cost. They even cover shipping. All the devices using data-only SIMs share your data plan with your primary phone, with the same simple pay-by-the-byte rate as your phone. That means your (cellular-equipped) tablets or old phones can be made quite functional. (You don’t have direct text or calling, but you can use apps like Hangouts or Signal to text and call when you only have a data connection.) Since it’s getting to the point where most of us have old devices floating around, it’s surprisingly useful to be able to turn them into back-up phones, surveillance cameras, or wireless hotspots without adding any new monthly charges.

Fi isn’t the amazing bargain it was when I first got it (I was paying about $110/month to AT&T which immediately dropped to about $30 with Fi), but I’d still be reluctant to switch. I’d recommend it highly to anyone with good T-Mobile coverage.

(Fearghas McKay) #3

Ron is correct about the data only sims - it is a real cost saving measure that Fi provides. Like him I am long time user mostly on iOS, you can get up to 9 data sims and they can just sit in devices with no monthly charge unless you use them. It is great to just be able to grab a device and take it on the road.

The only time I needed a US billing address was for the delivery of the SIM card, even though delivery was free it insisted on a US billed card for a zero charge, other than that it bills to my UK card. You might get cheaper data, and you probably can, but for roaming internationally nothing can beat it and the multiple data sims just add to the value.

I will admit to being a bit of a corner case in terms of International usage but having just spent 50 weeks in the US with no overseas travel I think it has still worked out cheaper than ATT etc.

I use Hangouts for making voice calls on wifi and it worked well last time I used it but that was just before the change from Project Fi to Fi so no guarantees it still works.

(Tommy Weir) #4

Every carrier should offer this. I’ve two old iPhones and I’d consider an iPad with data if I could. Very handy around a family.

(Dennis Swaney) #5

I wouldn’t get to heavily involved in this due to Google’s poor track record of arbitrarily killing off services/products after a few years to the user’s detriment.

(Fearghas McKay) #6

If that happens I will bank the savings and move on.

Worst case the telephone spam goes to someone else… if people want to reach me then email is the way, has been for ~20+ years, I have no problem ignoring a phone :slight_smile:

I think even Google would have issues with not offering number portability, my Google Voice # has been around since ~2009, I maintain separate Fi and GV numbers because Fi was a ‘project’ and anyone can have my GV number and I will read the email with their Voice Mail if they leave a message.


(Jeff Porten) #7

I would be shocked if Google killed Fi without a very long lead time to prepare. I’ve had my number since Grand Central was a thing, so 2006? or so, and it’s been my primary number through a half-dozen cell phone switches on all four major providers. At the time I switched to Fi, they warned me that there was no provision for moving the number back into Google Voice, so the cancellation of Fi would be a massive headache. I don’t want to deal with porting numbers (and I’ve gotten really addicted to my number ringing through Hangouts—I hope that doesn’t go away when Hangouts does).

The data SIM is a very good idea I wish I had mentioned—in fact, I can think of a problem here it could solve for which I hadn’t thought of that approach.


ProjectFi is adding billions to Google’s bottom line. They start collecting data the minute a user accesses the internet, even before you search, look or click on an ad they serve (or look at one that auto plays, expands, etc.), track your location via Maps, watch something on YouTube, etc., etc., etc.

This level of access data really makes ISPs very nervous. Google Fi was originally going to be free and was in test markets as such, but they were immediately hit with very credible anti trust threats from all levels. So they just priced the service very competitively, and it most probably is keeping prices down.

In areas in the third world where internet service is not available, Google is giving away free internet access via balloons from Project Loon:

(Dennis Swaney) #9

Excellent point for a better reason to stay away from this! Thank you for reminding us of Google’s anti-privacy policies and user monetization.

(Simon) #10

Thank you! Like @romad I am always happy when people remind us of possible privacy pitfalls. It’s easy to suspect when a service is offered super cheap or for “free”, but you’re much less expecting it when a service comes along with an apparently market rate price.

What does the law actually say about this with “regular” ISPs? And does any of that actually have teeth? And what about the ISPs’ ToS? Comcast connects millions of Americans to the internet (just got rid of them myself two months ago, praise the [insert your favorite deity here]!), offers them DNS services, and I’m sure can log as much of that traffic as they please. What prevents Comcast from selling that data to say Geico?

(Doug Miller) #11

Just to play the Devil’s Advocate, how much of this is this different from what Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, et. al., do from your phone? They know where you have been, what DNS lookups you do, who you call, who you send and receive SMS/MMS messages from, etc.


Absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, and I am trying not to get political, but in the US, the Net Neutrality laws, which had specific privacy regulations that did protect against this, were very recently eliminated.

But Google does have specific advantages that the other ISPs do not - data they collect from photos, Chrome, Gmail, Google Maps, Waze, Google Home, YouTube, probably even the mesh router that was recently mentioned, as well as the data they collect from their second and third party AdSense, Adwords and all the data they gather from their Doubleclick advertising and affiliate partners, along with all the other Alphabet/Google companies. And this is just what I can think of off the top of my head.

And this does’t even count the possibility of what might or might not exist or have existed with companies like 23andMe, whose co-founder and current CEO was married to Sergy Brin. Her sister is currently CEO of YouTube. Alphabet/Google, like Apple, has a health services arm that’s starting to get off the ground. Like Apple, they are deep into AR/VR research. Their Deep Mind AI division is reportedly light years ahead of Apple’s, most probably because they have mined so much data from their companies and from their affiliates and advertisers. does have a longtime advertising relationship with Google and with Aplhabet’s Calico division, and this creeped me out when I read about it recently:

I wasn’t about to spit into a tube anyway.


AT&T bought Dish Network, Time Warner, etc. for good reason…to try to siphon a portion of the ad dollars Google and Facebook are earning, especially since the numbers of cord cutters are growing. Verizon bought Yahoo and AOL for the same reason. But neither have been able to match the level of granularity Google has achieved with its huge portfolio of advertising offerings that know what you like, what you’re searching for, where you are, where you are going and where you go regularly, and most of all, what you need to do, like to do, intend to do, are considering doing, and a while lot more. The ISPs might know where you are, but they don’t analyze your photos, know what brand of shoes you’ve been checking out in retailers recently, if you or anyone of you family members is searching for wedding venues or a divorce lawyer or whatever.

The ISPs are now able to gather more information starting from ground zero, but they still can’t come close to the level of precision targeting that Google is delivering from all its properties, affiliate, advertising and revenue and data gathering partnerships. Only Facebook is about to neck and neck with Google, but Amazon is rapidly closing in on both with its increased advertising portfolio. So the ISPs hare still stuck in the minor leagues in the ballparks, including Verizon who spent a mint on AOL and Yahoo.

Something else Google is investing in to remain king of the hill…$12 billion to remain the default search engine Safari in 2019’ up from $9 this year. I’m glad Apple anonymizes the data and it is only used to serve ads:

(Jeff Porten) #14

Interesting tangent. For what it’s worth: I’ve been a privacy and security activist for a long time, and in general I’m perfectly fine with Google’s practices precisely because they do a decent job of disclosing them. A little, er, googling will bring up any number of posts and discussions on the topic, and you don’t have to dig into the 542nd paragraph of a EULA as you do with Verizon or Comcast.

What would make me raise my eyebrows would be finding out that they engaged in practices that are in violation of the security settings attached to an account—i.e., you can shut off location tracking there over IP, so I would then presume that location tracking related to your account would also be shut off based on cell tower geolocation. (And yes, I’m aware that both Apple and Google have been accused of crossing this line—the cases I’ve looked into, I’ve deemed to be programmer error rather than nefarious behavior.)

So, yes, if you eschew all Google products because of what they do with your data, you should also avoid Fi—but I’m not aware of any provider in the US with a better track record. Quite the opposite. (I’ve also never heard that Fi was planned as a free service and would love to see a citation.)


Actually, I do love and use lots of Google’s services, especially their search engine, which I use frequently throughout every. But do I trust all their initiatives regarding information I would like to be kept even remotely confidential? Not any further than I can spit, and that’s one reason I said I’d never spit into a 23andme vial.

Here’s an example of one of Google Fi test markets for one of their test market variations for LinkNYC,a free wifi service that includes wifi calling that has turned out to be much more than a dismal failure in my home town, New York City. After after it was clear that setting up balloons for wifi and cell service wasn’t going to fly in the US, they’ve been trying various other scheme partnering with competitors to keep anti trust lawsuits away.

WARNING - X-Rated Content inspired action by thousands of Link NYC users that caused me and all my neighbors, friends, coworkers, family members and most of the general public at large to go into ballistic mode:

Here’s the lengths Google went to so they would not be easily identified as the primary service provider, and consequently, the company that would be blamed if the test market flopped:

LinkNYC is still creeping New Yorkers out to this day. But it’s still a lucrative source of location based data, so Google shows no signs of giving up on it despite years of bad publicity. This has been freaking people out for months and hopefully just ended:

(Doug Miller) #16

That is not the same thing as Google Fi, a mobile phone MVNO service that competes with Verizon, AT&T, etc., which is not a free WiFi service, and has never been offered for free to anyone.


Link NYC is a wholly owned divisionof Alphabet’s Sidewalk division, the holding company that also wholly owns Google. If Alphabet didn’t charge for GoogleFi, none of the participating carriers would ever have even thought of participating. The carriers were screaming antitrust (with a valid case), and localities were hysterical about balloons (it was originally supposed to provide good service to underserved rural areas, then roll out into cities, but balloons over cities wasn’t exactly popular with anyone anywhere) when rumors were flying about that. Giving the service another name that clearly delineates it from Google Fi gave a reason ($$$$$$$$) for carriers to partner to provide the service:

In New York City, the LinkNYC kiosks have been up and running for a couple years now and have been installed in all five boroughs of the city. It project includes 7,500 kiosks, the gigabit internet infrastructure connecting them and the free Wi-Fi, national VOIP calling and USB charging — all at no cost to the city.

(Dennis Swaney) #18

When did this happen? I’m surprised the FCC didn’t stop it since AT&T already owned DirecTV. Is AT&T planning on merging the two Sat TV providers into one ala SiriusXM?


My mistake, AT&T bought DirecTV. And they’ve been at war with Dish Network ever since:

My senior memory ain’t what it used to be.