Vacationing overseas is, as the newly emancipated British might say, an indubitable joy. But contending with mobile data isn’t. Almost without fail, one of international travel’s least appealing elements is having to settle for a slow, inconsistent, and wildly expensive mobile connection from a third-party carrier — but if you’re a Google Fi subscriber, it’s one you won’t have to worry about much longer. On Tuesday, Google announced that all Fi customers will soon gain access to “high-speed” data in more than 135 countries.
It’s quite the expansion. In the coming weeks, Project Fi subscribers traveling in foreign countries will reportedly see data speeds 10-20 times faster than before at no extra cost — rates are the same as they are domestically, or $10 per gigabyte. Google said it worked with a number of international partners to boost 3G, 4G, and LTE data speeds.
“Users will get the fastest connection available on a given network,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch. “In some cases, that would be LTE networks, in others it would be 3G networks (depending on roaming agreements). Different countries will have different speeds, which is why we set a range.”
In related news, mobile carrier Three and providers in a handful of smaller territories including the Bahamas, Montenegro, and Macao are joining Project Fi’s migratory patchwork of networks. With the new additions, Fi’s coverage map now extends to “97 percent of the places Americans travel internationally,” according to Google.
“Leaving home shouldn’t mean leaving connectivity behind,” Google Fi product manager Tyler Kugler said in a blog post. According to the company, only 20 percent of Americans opt to use cellular data when traveling abroad because of issues like cost and speed. “With the addition of faster speeds and more countries for the same … price, we’re one step closer to making your phone as easy to use abroad as it is at home.”
Google Fi is the eponymous pet project of search giant Google. It’s not a carrier, per say, but rather a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that piggybacks on third-party providers’ equipment to deliver service. (In the United States, it taps towers owned by T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular.) It’s not a new concept by any stretch, but Fi is novel in a number of ways. Plans start at $20 a month plus $10 per gigabyte per month, but customers who don’t use up their allotment of data are refunded the difference at the end of each billing cycle — if you pay for 3GB but only use 2.5GB, for example, you’ll be reimbursed $5 in the form of credit. And Fi prioritizes nearby Wi-Fi connections for data and phone calls, automatically switching to open hot spots nearby when available.
Previously, Fi’s international roaming arrangement was limited to 120 countries. Data then, as now, was no more expensive than it was domestically — $10 per gigabyte — but speeds were capped at a paltry 256Kbps.
To celebrate this week’s news, Google is launching a promotion for the Nexus 6P. Starting in the next few days, it’ll retail for $350, or $150 off list price. That’s good news for would-be Fi subscribers; officially, the only smartphones compatible with Fi are the Nexus 6P, the Nexus 5X, and the Nexus 6, though Google offers a data-only SIM for devices that don’t require a cellular connection.