The Edge

Google's cheap and super-simple cellphone service will now work with iPhones

Key Points
  • Fi, the phone service Google launched more than three years ago, is finally expanding to a broader range of devices, including Apple's iPhones.
  • The biggest appeal of Fi, a mobile virtual network operator that hops between Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular, is its super-simple pricing scheme.
  • Until Wednesday, it only worked on a very limited number of phones.
A customer looks at Apple's iPhone XS at the Apple Store in Tokyo, Japan.
Issei Kato | Reuters

Google's super-simple and cheap cellphone service will now work with a broader selection of devices, including iPhones from arch-rival Apple.

Google Fi (formerly known as Project Fi) is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which means that instead of just using one of the "big four" carriers, it automatically jumps between several cellular networks depending on which has better service. Fi hops between Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular, and also favors Wi-Fi whenever possible, including for calls and texts.

The main appeal of Google Fi is a simple pricing scheme that, depending on a person's usage habits, can end up being cheaper than any of the bigger carriers. It costs $20 for unlimited calling and texting, and $10 per gigabyte of data. Users get money back for whatever data they don't use, and data usage over 6 GB is free (though Google will throttle speeds after users hit 15 GB). It also has no roaming fees in more than 170 locations.

But despite the simplicity and appealing pricing, Google Fi wasn't very useful because it only worked with a very small number of phones, namely from Motorola and Google's own Pixel line.

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That changes Wednesday, with a few caveats.

Starting Wednesday, Google Fi will work with iPhones running iOS 11, as well as many new Samsung, LG, Moto and OnePlus phones running Android 7.0 or higher.

iPhone use, however, is still in "beta," which means users should be prepared for bugs, and won't be able to use certain features like visual voicemail and international tethering. iPhones also won't be able to make calls and texts over Wi-Fi.

Google first launched the service more than three years ago, and as part of Wednesday's announcement, it changed its name from "Project Fi" to "Google Fi," presumably signaling a commitment to keeping it alive. Google is notorious for killing or scaling back communications projects, including its Fiber internet service, Project Ara modular phones and its Allo chat app.

To try to boost sign-ups, Google is offering free travel gift cards for anyone who buys a new phone through Fi, or service credit for anyone who signs up with an existing phone. The deal will only be available on Wednesday.

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