Want Google to be your cell carrier? Everything you need to know about Project Fi

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Google finally announced its much talked-about wireless subscription service today: Project Fi is an actual, official thing. Google is now a wireless carrier just like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, or T-Mobile. However, it’s plan offers pay-as-you-go data with no two-year contract, network switching, international roaming, and many other intriguing features. Google laid bare all the juicy details in a lengthy blog post and FAQ today.

We’ve gone through Google’s Project Fi site to bring you all the key details. Here’s everything you need to know.

Updated on 04-22-2015 by Kyle Wiggers: Added official Project Fi details from Google.

Connectivity: a combination of T-Mobile, Sprint, and Wi-Fi

Now on to the good stuff. Project Fi relies on Sprint and T-Mobile towers for cellular connectivity, automatically moving you to whichever network has the fastest 4G LTE, 3G, or 2G at your location, but it also makes heavy use of Wi-Fi.  According to Google, Project Fi will automatically connect your phone to “free, open networks that do not require any action to get connected.” In other words, you won’t have to constantly manage hotspots in order to get a signal. When the signal begins to weaken, you’ll seamlessly transition to the fastest available cellular connection, and all voice and data on Wi-Fi is routed through a Google-hosted Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect against snooping.

Pricing: get credited for data you don’t use

Project Fi has a tiered, no-contract allotment plan structure with usage-based charging. Here’s how it breaks down: $20 a month nets you talk, text, and Wi-Fi tethering. Each additional gigabyte of cellular data is a flat $10 — 1GB is $10 per month, 2GB is $20 per month, and so on. In the case of overage, you’ll pay a flat rate for each additional gigabyte. But here’s where things get interesting: You’ll only pay for data you consume, and you’ll be credited for rollover data next payment period. Google gives this example: If you use only 1.4GB of a 3GB, $30 a month plan you’ll get $16 back.

That’s not all that’s included: Taking a page from T-Mobile’s playbook, Project Fi customers get free international coverage in 120 countries. However, free doesn’t come without a catch: Data speeds are limited to a paltry 256kbps (3G).

Multiple lines: no support at launch

Hoping to switch your family and friends to Project Fi? Support for multiple lines on a single account sadly isn’t here yet — Google’s only supporting individual accounts during Project Fi’s Early Access Program. However, encouraging code points to potential support down the road, Android Police reports — you may eventually be able to share a single pool of data.

Device compatibility: only the Nexus 6

Interested in jumping aboard? You’d better have a Nexus 6 handy. Google says it’s making Project Fi first available on the handset because of its support for a vast number of domestic and international LTE bands. But there’s recourse for non-owners: Instead of forking up the full, $650 (32GB) or $700 (64GB) unlocked price, Google’s offering a no-interest, 24-month payment plan starting at $27.04 per month for the 32GB option ($29.12 per month for the 64GB option).

You need an invite from Google to sign up for the service

Project Fi may be official, but it’s invite-only for now. You can check the coverage map and sign up through the official website. Those selected will receive a special, multi-network SIM card in the mail, and have the option of terminating service at no charge.

Early rumors confirmed

Rumblings of Project Fi came initially from an unreleased over-the-air update for the Motorola Nexus 6 meant for testers. The firmware, finalized on or after February 16, contained an app with the placeholder name ‘Tycho’ that appeared to act as a user-facing portal for the wireless service. Android Police, which first uncovered the update, pointed to the app’s code, which made reference to ‘Nova‘ and contained settings like billing and plan details, as evidence.

The first surprising revelation was that contrary to what had been widely reported, the codename Nova referred only to the infrastructural elements of the wireless service. It’s now known as Project Fi, (“Fi” rhymes with “Hi”), a reference to the public Wi-Fi hotspots the program partially relies on.

If you’ve ever used a carrier app like My Verizon or myAT&T, Tycho’s contents won’t surprise you. The the portal seems to support the standard array of account settings: bill pay, accessing usage stats, changing plans, activating service, requesting a new number, and initiating a transfer. If for any reason you need to close, put on hold, or resume your account, you’ll be able to do that, too. The app does support one unique feature worthy of note: seamless phone switching.

As Google revealed today, you’ll be able to send and reroute calls, texts, and voicemail to a device — “just about any phone, tablet or laptop” — of your choosing without the need to switch SIM cards. It’s all handled through the Hangouts apps on mobile and Web.

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