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.
What It Costs
[You]: “Hoorah! Three networks for the price of…wait, what it is the price?”
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 emotional. 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.
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.”