Google Project Fi: What you need to know about Google's cell network

Get your wireless direct from Google

Google Project Fi

Update: Google's Project Fi now covers more ground than ever as it has added U.S. Cellular to its list of network partners. It's the country's fifth largest carrier, and boosts the service's coverage, which previously relied only on T-Mobile and Sprint.

Original article follows below.

Google has its hands in a lot of pots, and the search company just added wireless service to that list.

In the US, mobile contracts are the realm of disliked-but-tolerated companies like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and others. But now that Google - a company notably less disliked than these carriers - has joined the fray.

Google has officially launched with Project Fi (yes, that's the name), a mobile virtual network operated on the backs of Sprint, T-Mobile, and now U.S. Cellular's LTE networks and Wi-Fi hotspots.

You probably have a lot of questions about it, so read on. We'll tell you what there is to know so far.

What is Google Project Fi

Project Fi is a new wireless service that Google is launching to offer mobile service directly to users.

The most innovative aspect of Google Fi is its pricing: Google is charging $20 (about £13, AU$25) per month for talk, text, Wi-Fi tethering, and international coverage in 120+ countries, then an additional $10 (about £6, AU$12) per GB of data each month.

For example, a plan with 3GB of data costs $50 (about £33, AU$64) per month. However, if you don't use all that data, Google will partially refund the money you already paid. So if you only used 1.4 of your 3GB, Google says, you'll get $16 (about £10, AU$20) back.

What's better than rollover data? Rollover cash, of course.

Being a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) means Google essentially licenses network infrastructure from other carriers. There are other companies that do this, like Straight Talk, which TechRadar explored in-depth. Straight Talk offers customers phone plans that work off of other carriers' networks.

Google is doing the same, making itself the middleman between customers and carriers. So although your Project Fi phone will use T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular LTE services, you'll only ever have to deal with Google.

The company says your device will automatically hop among the available networks and Wi-Fi hotspots depending on which has the best connection. Google counts over a million free, open Wi-Fi hotspots in the US as part of its network.

When you're connected to Wi-Fi networks, Google encryption keeps you secure, the company says. And you'll transition seamlessly between Wi-Fi and LTE, even in the middle of a call.

Google Project Fi looks to reinvent wireless networks
Google Project Fi looks to reimagine wireless networks

Many of these details turned up originally in an app discovered in an unofficial firmware image released to testers for Google's Nexus 6 flagship. Android Police detailed the app, which described many of the features and functions of Project Fi.

The app itself might turn out to be important, but Google has yet to mention if officially. According to that original report, though, it seems it will let you pay bills, check your plans and more.

It looks like users may be able to activate new service and request and transfer new numbers within the app, which is more than most carriers let you do. But we won't know more until Google discusses it.