There's a new wireless service to put Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile on their toes, and that service is offered by Google—the same Google that has forced Comcast and AT&T to improve their broadband and cable Internet game after the release of Google Fiber.

Google's new Project Fi is not, however, aimed directly at competing with the Big Four. Nick Fox, Google's vice president of communications products, says the new service is an experimental approach to how customers pay for their wireless services, which at the moment is at best convoluted and uneconomical.

Subscribers to the four biggest wireless carriers are currently up to their knees in too many wireless plan choices, and it does not help that some carriers make misleading claims in their advertising to entice new customers. Even T-Mobile's Simple Choice plan, which hopes to eliminate all the confusion set by other carriers, can sometimes be inundated with so many deals and promos dished out by the Un-carrier every so often.

As previously leaked, Project Fi will not run on Google's own network. It will instead rely on agreement with Sprint and T-Mobile, which agreed to carry the traffic on their own networks, with the condition that if Project Fi reaches a certain number of subscribers, Sprint will be allowed to renegotiate its terms of agreement.

Google says its aim is to offer a simple pricing plan that will have subscribers paying a single base amount for unlimited talk and text and a fixed $10 for every 1GB of data used. So, for a Project Fi plan offering unlimited talk, text, and 1GB of data, users pay $30 a month, plus all related taxes and surcharges and the amount they have to pay for the Nexus 6, which by the way is the only device available on Project Fi right now.

This price effectively undercuts every single one of the Big Four, which all offer the same amount of talk, text, and 4G LTE data for either $45 or $50. Additionally, Google promises to credit user accounts at the end of each month the amount of data they were unable to use.

Here is how it works. First, customers pay the base amount of $20 and whatever amount Google charges for the data they expect to use. For example, if at the start of the month a user pays $40 for a 2GB plan but ends up using only 1.2GB, Google will refund that customer the cost of the 0.8GB of unused data. Doing the math, the customer will receive an $8 refund, meaning he would have paid only $32 for his entire month's data usage.

This is not possible with any of the Big Four, where customers are required to pay for fixed amounts of data, whether they use it or not. However, AT&T and T-Mobile are now rolling over unused data for the next month for AT&T and for the next year for T-Mobile. Customers won't get a refund, but they still get the chance to use the data they paid for, which is the closest thing one can get to Project Fi's usage-based pricing plan.

To further help customers save up on data costs, Google is integrating Wi-Fi into the service, instead of relying completely on Sprint and T-Mobile's more expensive cellular network. Project Fi finds the fastest network at the moment and connects the device to that network. For customers who are constantly connected to a Wi-Fi network at home, at work, or their favorite coffee shop, this could be a great deal as they would only be paying for minimal amounts of cellular data used during the few times they are not within their Wi-Fi's range.

It's interesting to note, though, that while users can call over Wi-Fi on Project Fi at no additional charges, they can also do the same on Sprint and T-Mobile, also for free. Verizon and AT&T have yet to enable Wi-Fi calling on their networks.

"As you go about your day, Project Fi automatically connects you to more than a million free, open Wi-Fi hotspots we've verified as fast and reliable," said Fox in a blog post. "Once you're connected, we help secure your data through encryption. When you're not on Wi-Fi, we move you between whichever of our partner networks is delivering the fastest speed, so you get 4G LTE in more places."

On the lower data tiers, Project Fi appears to be the most attractive of all offers, with Google giving customers plans for 1GB, 2GB, and 3GB of data at prices that are all lower than what the Big Four carriers offer, if they offer a plan for a certain amount of data at all. AT&T and T-Mobile do not have plans for 2GB, and Sprint doesn't have a 3GB plan. Sprint's own 2GB plan is priced at $50, $10 more than the $40 Project Fi charges. Verizon's 2GB plan is even more expensive at $60.

However, as we go along the higher tiers, Project Fi's $10 for each GB considerably drops in value, as the carriers start offering less for each GB of data as the plan rates go higher. At 8GB of data, for instance, Project Fi is on the same pricing level as Verizon, with both services charging $100 for that amount of data. Sprint actually undercuts Project Fi at this level, with its $85 for 8GB of data. At 10GB, both Verizon and AT&T offer plans that are $5 cheaper than Project Fi's own $120.

Also consider that both Sprint and T-Mobile have unlimited data plans. Sprint offers this plan at $60 a month (or $50 for those who want to get an iPhone 6 Plus), while T-Mobile's unlimited is pegged at $80. For those prices, one can only get 4GB or 6GB of data from Google when they can get unlimited data from either of its network partners.

Google is obviously targeting individuals with Project Fi. Customers who are looking for family plans, or even couple plans, are better off looking at one of the shared plans offered by the Big Four if they want to save money. However, users who use minimal amounts of data and are constantly on Wi-Fi might find Project Fi an appealing alternative to any of the plans offered by the four carriers, as long as they don't mind giving only one choice for the device, at least for now.

Jetsetting customers who constantly travel to other countries might also want to look at Google's new service, which offers unlimited data at the same $10 per GB rate in other countries. This is possible through T-Mobile's international roaming deals, although users will have to put up with speeds of 256Kbps when traveling to other countries. That Project Fi automatically connects to Wi-Fi is also an attractive feature, ensuring customers they are not getting charged sky-high amounts for using data abroad.

However, Project Fi is not the first wireless service of its kind to hinge on Wi-Fi networks as an alternative to costly cellular. In fact, users might find Republic Wireless an even better alternative to the Big Four than Project Fi.

Republic Wireless, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based reseller of Sprint's network, offers a similar service that switches from cellular to Wi-Fi at far more affordable prices than Project Fi. A basic Wi-Fi only plan from Republic Wireless costs $5, but that doesn't offer the option of switching to cellular when the customer moves out of the Wi-Fi network. Plus, talk and text will only be available via Wi-Fi.

For $10, users can get unlimited talk and text over cellular and unlimited data over Wi-Fi only. Throw in another $15 and customers can add 5GB of data over a 3G network for a grand total of $25. For customers who want high-speed 4G LTE, the price is $40 also for 5GB, which is nearly half the $70 that Project Fi charges for the same service. Admittedly, customers will not get anything beyond 5GB, and Republic Wireless slows down data speeds once they go over their monthly 5GB. For perspective, 5GB of data should be enough to let users stream an hour of music, send 25 emails, and visit up to 50 web pages each day.

Republic Wireless is also testing a new refund service that will have the carrier pay back customers for the data they don't use, similar to Project Fi's credit system. For now, Republic Wireless' network is powered by Sprint, but it says it is working on adding other networks for extended coverage for those times when users are out of the Wi-Fi range.

Currently, however, Republic Wireless is offered only on the Moto X, Moto G, and Moto E, but the company says it will be launching new phones soon. That's two more choices than the single Nexus 6 offered on Project Fi.

Here's a more detailed comparison of the price and features of Project Fi as compared to the Big Four and Republic Wireless.

 

Project Fi

Verizon

AT&T

Sprint

T-Mobile

Republic Wireless

Unlimited Talk/Text

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

5 GB 3G          

$25

1 GB 4G LTE

$30

$45

$50

$45

$50

 
2 GB 4G LTE

$40

$60

 

$50

   
3 GB 4G LTE

$50

$75

$65

 

$60

 
4 GB 4G LTE

$60

$85

 

$65

   
5 GB 4G LTE

$70

     

$70

$40

6 GB 4G LTE

$80

$85

$95

     
7 GB 4G LTE

$90

         
8 GB 4G LTE

$100

$100

 

$85

   
9 GB 4G LTE

$110

         
10 GB 4G LTE

$120

$115

$115

     
Unlimited 4G LTE      

$60

$80

 
Wi-Fi Calls

Yes

   

Yes

Yes

Yes

International Roaming

Yes

Paid

Paid

Yes

Yes

No

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