Project Fi: Where Google’s Shot At Being A Telco Might Take Us`

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Google wants more people online.

Not just philanthropically, but practically: more people online means more people use Google services, and that means more power to Google. To this end, they’ve launched some pretty amazing ventures over the years – Project Loon, Google Fiber, Android One.

Now they have another: Project Fi. It’s a cell service that automatically routes calls through the nearest publicly available Wi-Fi hotpot if the signal is strong enough. And Google, being Google, is selling not minutes, but data: you pay for the amount of data your calls consume.

That sounds pretty epic, doesn’t it? Because VOIP apparently does not consume a lot of data. I looked up the numbers, and though the figures vary a lot depending on the circumstances, the most commonly used codecs have data consumptions that are measured in kilobits per second (not kilobytes). The G.711 codec takes around 87 Kbps. G.729, one of the best performing codecs, does it with 32 Kbps. G 726 does 47 Kbps. Taking the math from www.voip.com, that comes to about 45 Megabytes for a one-hour call.

$10 buys you a whole gigabyte, and Google even refunds you for the data you don’t use. All you need is to a) be in the US and b) have a Nexus 6.

Wait, this suddenly got a lot more expensive.

Barring the pessimism, it’s an excellent idea, even if it is hamstrung at the moment. There’s both money and customers in it. In fact, a company called Republic Wireless has been doing the same thing for quite some time now. If they haven’t got enough attention, it’s probably because they’re not Google. $10 will buy you unlimited texting and talk over WiFi and cell service. And unlimited data over WiFi. Can you imagine that? Unlimited data and phone calls for 10 US dollars? Their advanced plans even do this over 4G.

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Now, before we realize that all of this is still only in the US, look into the future. Five years, in fact. Picture Google opening this up to everyone and making it as cheap as Republic Wireless is now.

There’s going to be a lot of grumbling about monopolies and anti-trust and all that. France will probably demand all of Google’s algorithms and will probably end up being excommunicated from the Internet. But at the end of the day, the telcos also stand to profit, because Google will be using their towers and simply being a virtual mobile service provider. So say they do pull it off, and suddenly we, as in we, the people of countries like Sri Lanka and India, have on our hands a service that gives us a sizeable amount (unlimited is a strong word; let’s not go there) of calls and text messages, provided you have a Wi-Fi hotspot or a 4G data network around you.

Of course telcos want a piece of that pie. Especially in India, where there’s money to be made and people to make money off.

Even if they don’t like the idea, there’s Google

It’s 2015 and Sri Lanka already has tons of Wi-Fi hotspots. In five years’ time ICTA will probably have bullied the telcos into providing free Wi-Fi island-wide. Even if they haven’t, 4G coverage is spreading rapidly, thanks in large part to Dialog; it’s easy to imagine that Sri Lanka will have 4G like we have 3G coverage now.

And, even better: Google has Project Loon. Here’s the other half of the equation, the Ying to Project FI’s Yang. Google Loon uses Raven Aerostar balloons at at altitude of about 32 kilometres to provide a wireless network with”3G-like speeds”. It’s like a bunch of cell towers floating around in the air.

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Balloon internet, bruh.

 

Hook Project Fi up to the Google Loon network, and bingo: we have a world-wide mobile network where calls are taken through Wi-Fi, 4G or Whatever-Loon-Is-Called, where you’re billed for data, and where Google is literally everywhere.*

But it gets better, of course. Android One, the dream of a low-cost Android device with guaranteed updates to Android and an experience just how Google wants it. The only effective impediment to Android One is Xiaomi, with its better-than-Google pricing (but again, Android devices, so Google wins either way). 

So picture the future. Those who can go fancy, go fancy. Those who can’t go Android One. They all connect to a Google network, pay Google, use Google devices to connect to other people and use Google services to find and access information. Google knows what you search for, what you like, what you share, what you say, where you are (location data, remember?). And the best part? It will all be a good thing. Google, being Google, will probably be making billions of people happy. 

Okay, Google. The Circle is now complete.

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