I can see Google's campus from my 12th-floor desk at 500 Startups. And it's here. Project Fi is official. Google's new wireless network has been officially launched with the name Google Fi.
Major Turning Point
Just as at other major turning points in human history, incredible business opportunity arises from beneath the weight of scarcity.
Five thousand years ago, in response to rising population, and the resultant scarcity of huntable-gatherable food, humans began growing crops in a single location—the Agriculture Revolution—and this single change unlocked all-new waves of economic efficiency, as people were able to work together and allocate less energy to procuring food. Without that change, for example, the arts would not have been possible.
Communication bandwidth is the parallel scarcity of our day, and innovations that result in more efficient use of existing bandwidth, I think, will be the key to the next big economic boom.
Think about it. The internet of things. Your refrigerator and bathroom scale in the cloud. While quirky and fun and even useful, all of these new ways to connect put additional strain on our limited bandwidth.
The next big revolution, just as the Industrial Revolution and the Computing Revolution increased productivity by making more efficient use of available inputs, will be figuring out how to communicate more for less by allocating bandwidth more efficiently.
Enter Google Fi
Now back to planet earth...whether my prophecy comes true or not, Google Fi is going to be big
in the wireless space...and by big I mean disruptive...and by disruptive I mean burn-the-ships-type stuff.
What it is
Basically, the phone is able to swap from WiFi to Sprint to T-Mobile, as appropriate, to get the best signal, and can seamlessly transition voice calls. As part of that, your phone number is no longer tied to your phone. So you can use it on the computer, or any device, really, via Hangouts. Hell, when you lose your phone in the couch cushions, you can use your number on a friend's phone, so long as you can access Hangouts, which is pretty cool.
Here's how that works under the hood. Similar to the "WiFi-first" concept pioneered by Raleigh-based MVNO Republic Wireless, and later expanded by Scratch Wireless, Google Fi is service that automatically switches between T-Mobile, Sprint and WiFi. Google Fi's advantage, then, over the early WiFi-first pioneers, is that it works on two cellular networks, making it compatible with both GSM (T-Mobile) and CDMA (Sprint) cellular network technology. So Google Fi subscribers would be tapping into more of a network of networks.
What It Costs
[You]: "Hoorah! Three networks for the price of...wait, what it is the price?"
It's not the cheapest: $20/mo + $10/GB of data. You get credit for any data you don't use (the ol' "why should you lose the remaining gas in your gas tank at the end of every month?" argument, which, I like).
Is that a good deal for you?
Given the $10/GB of data pricing, it really comes down to what your normal monthly data usage is. Sure, most of us do love most anything Google but... you can get more data (which is what many folks need/use) for less money with something like a $30 prepaid+ T-Mobile plan or pay-only-for-what-you-use service from Ting, which has cheaper data prices and is also who I use for my personal cell phone service (my cell phone bill from Ting is consistently under $30/month, total!).
How To Get It
Initial access to Google Fi is by invite only and requires a Nexus 6 phone—which might prompt you to declare your ineligibility out loud:
This will be my carrier one day...whenever they expand beyond the Nexus device. I still have a reasonably-sized cell phone....so for now, I don't get to play.
The only other thing you'll need is an @gmail.com address to direct the access confirmation to.
Other Downsides For Now
Sure, many consumers, like me, find this announcement exciting. But how many will switch to Google Fi right away? Initially, I think many folks will say something like this:
I'll wait and see how this develops. For one, I don't own a Nexus 6 (only supported phone at this time). And two, I use my phone heavily for both work and personal. I can't dabble with a beta technology for what drives my income/productivity on a daily basis. Plus, given my heavy data usage, I'm not sure it would be any cheaper than what I have now.
Lastly, it sounds like a lot of hard work over a two-and-a-half-year period went into Google Fi. Engineers, designers, partners, a lot of talented people came together to bring this innovation to market. But still, if you're one of the many folks who've been disappointed before by the spotty performance of Sprint's or T-Mobile's service, in places, fledgling networks, then you're probably not too excited about the networks chosen for Google Fi.
Is Google Fi Right for You?
It's funny to me how people differentiate between cell phone service options. Everyone is different, and most decision calculus isn't really rational. In fact, I think it's highly
Some people care more about strength of brand, which entails a predictable, here-to-stay company you can trust. These people wouldn't even consider doing business with a smaller, cheaper, as-good-of-cellular-service-quality carrier trying to challenge the the Big Four's 97% grip on US market share.
Others care more about price. They're price-elastic deal hounds.
So unless they're heavy data users—like more than 3 GB/month users—Google Fi might make a lot of sense (and I'll mention again the carrier I use, Ting
, since I only pay between $20-30/month).
Interestingly though, the most critical driver today of consumer purchase decisions for cell phone service is device. Does this plan/carrier offer the latest and greatest device? If not, cross that carrier off of the list. For most consumers, it's a necessary condition of which carrier the consumer chooses to do business with. Whereas the main drive used to be network, with FCC-mandated inter-operability agreements between carriers, the difference in cellular experience one-carrier-to-another has largely diminished—not disappeared, but diminished. Unfortunately, at least for now, Google Fi only works with one device.
Efficient Allocation of Bandwidth: The Next Revolution
To me, Google Fi is about efficient pricing and access, and I think the disruption it presents will inspire subsequent copycat responses. All good for consumers.
But the next change in how consumers make cell phone service purchase decisions, I think, will result from data-driven customization: "my particular needs are X...give me the best-fit plan on the market...I press the button, and the recommendation spits out in half a second."
We've already built and launched this data-driven recommendation engine at Veeto.co.
Why it matters? This will result in more optimal fit for consumers, which will ultimately contribute to the revolution in bandwidth efficiency. Consumers won't buy more than they need/use, and they won't pay any more than they have to, because bandwidth will be an undifferentiated commodity, the purchase-decision corollary to what Google Fi is trying to do for bandwidth usage.
I'll leave you with this video from "Google the phone carrier" (or a meta-carrier) about Google Fi: