What Is Google Fi?

Google Fi saves mobile phone users money, and it's better service

Homeowner looking at bills and receipts on floor

David Sacks / Getty Images

Google Fi is Google's effort to become a wireless phone company in the U.S. Rather than buying a wireless carrier or building their own towers, Google leases space from US Cellular, Sprint, and T-Mobile. This means you get the combined coverage of all three networks.

How Does Google Fi Work?

Traditionally, wireless carriers used either GSM or CDMA technology, and phone manufacturers put one or the other in their phones. This arrangement, however, uses a combination of GSM and CDMA towers — the carrier equivalent of an appliance that is both AC and DC. Manufacturers have begun to follow a similar path, offering quad-band phones with both types of antennas.

To take advantage of different towers and networks, Google Fi provides a way for compatible phones to switch among these towers to use the strongest signal. Other phones do this, but only among towers on the same band.

On the consumer end, Google Fi works in many ways like regular cellphone service. You can use your phone to make phone calls, text, and use apps, and Google Fi bills your credit card. You can carry up to six family members on the same account and share data.

Before signing on with Google Fi, check if you're subject to early termination fees with your existing carrier. In that case, it might make sense to wait for your current contract to expire.

There's no cancellation fee or contract. You pay only for the data you use rather than pay for the potential to use that data, as you do in many conventional plans.

Google Fi and Google Voice

A Google Voice number works differently with Google Fi. If you have a Google Voice number and begin using Google Fi, you must choose from the following actions:

  • Use your Google Voice number instead of transferring your cellphone number.
  • Delete your Google Voice number permanently.
  • Transfer your Google Voice number to a different Google account (one that isn't the primary account for your Google Fi number).
  • Start fresh with a completely new phone number, and delete both your old cell number and your Google Voice number.

If you use your Google Voice number, you won't be able to use the Google Voice web app. However, you can use Hangouts to check messages or send texts from the web, so you're really only giving up the old Google Voice interface.

If you transfer your Google Voice number, you won't be able to forward calls to your Google Fi phone number. However, you can use the Google Voice app on your phone, as long as you're using a secondary Google account.

Google Fi-Compatible Phones

You can use your existing phone with Google Fi; most Androids and iPhones work with the service. To take advantage of Google Fi's network-switching capabilities, however, you'll need a phone designed specifically for this. As of September 2019, these include:

  • Pixel 3a and 3a XL ($399, or from $16.63/month)
  • Pixel 3 and 3 XL ($499, or from $20.79/month)
  • Moto G7 ($199, or from $8.29/month)
  • Moto G6 ($99, or from $4.12/month)

These phones are unlocked quad-band phones and can be used with any major U.S. network if you decide Google Fi is no longer a good fit.

Google Fi Pricing

Google Fi relies on an innovative pricing model. In many cases, it could save money, but this comes with strings. As of September 2019, the total monthly cost consists of:

  • A base fee which is $20 for unlimited calls and texts; $15 for each additional line on the plan.
  • Data that is charged at $10 per gigabyte, shared across all lines on your account.
  • Phone purchase price (if applicable).
  • Taxes and fees can typically be 10% to 20%, depending on locale.

You should also consider any early cancellation fees from your current carrier.

Google Fi Bill Protection comes into effect when usage reaches 6 gigabytes, after which the rest of your data for the month is free. So, the max you would ever pay for data is $60. The point at which Bill Protection takes effect varies with the number of people on your plan. There's no charge for tethering or using your cell phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot when you're in an area that doesn't have Wi-Fi access (although doing this tends to use more data than using your phone).

Can Google Fi Save You Money?

That depends. Users who consume little data save money over the cost of traditional phone plans. For example, if you use 1 gigabyte of data for the month, your bill will be $30 plus taxes and fees. Likewise, heavy data consumers can save money, too, and Fi doesn't slow data transmission speeds until you reach 15 gigabytes in any given month. If your usage falls somewhere in between, though, you might save money with a more conventional service plan.

Google offers a simple bill estimator that shows how much your bill is likely to be with Fi.

Referral Codes and Specials for Google Fi

Before you switch to Google Fi, ask your social networks if anyone has a referral code. Currently, Google is offering $20 off to both you and the person referring you. Google Fi also offers other specials and promotions from time to time.

International Calling and Google Fi

If you live in the U.S. but travel abroad, Google Fi has deals on international coverage. In the more than 200 locations where Fi has coverage, unlimited SMS (text) messages can be sent at no additional charge. Data is charged at the same rate as above. Non-Wi-Fi calls are billed at $0.20 per minute, and Wi-Fi per-minute costs depend on the country (inbound calls are free).

How to Save Data Usage on Your Phone

With Google Fi, data costs money, but Wi-Fi is free. So, keep Wi-Fi on at home, work, and any other area with a trusted Wi-Fi network. You can also be mindful of the data you do use. Most phones have the ability to alert you when you reach a specified data limit, and you can set this feature up to turn off data access at that point; you simply need to turn it on. You also might choose to prevent apps from taking up extra bandwidth when you're not actively using them through settings on the phone.