Google announced its new wireless service, Project Fi, on Wednesday. It will do something really smart: automatically route your data between available Wi-Fi networks and the 4G LTE networks run by its Fi partners, wireless carriers Sprint and T-Mobile, depending on which is the strongest wherever you are at the time.
If this works well, it could make it easier for people to get and stay connected over speedy networks, without having to worry as much about signal strength and dead zones on a specific carrier’s network. It could also make it cheaper and more efficient to run wireless networks by punting some traffic automatically over to Wi-Fi hotspots.
Another part of Fi that may be appealing to users is its simple, inexpensive billing structure. There’s no annual contract; rather, Google says it will charge $20 a month for unlimited calls, texts, Wi-Fi tethering, and coverage in over 100 countries (though you’ll have to pay 20 cents per minute for calls outside the United States), and it will charge $10 per gigabyte of data (you get a credit each month for any data you don’t use).
If this all sounds appealing, don’t get too excited just yet: for now, Fi is available by invitation only, and you’ll need Google’s Nexus 6 smartphone to use it even if you snag an invite. (Google says the Nexus 6 has a special SIM card that allows you to get on several networks and “has a state-of-the-art cellular radio tuned to work with different network types.”)
Still, the idea of wireless carriers working together to make it easier for you to communicate–and, in fact, to make it so you don’t have to think much at all about the technology making it possible for your texts, calls, and Periscope livestreams to get where they need to go–is intriguing. And whether or not Fi moves beyond its initial stage, this should make the two big U.S. wireless carriers who aren’t involved, Verizon and AT&T, squirm a bit.