Mountain View, Calif. – Google became an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) today with the beta launch of low-cost wireless Fi service that connects users to the best wireless network available, whether a Wi-Fi network or the Sprint and T-Mobile LTE networks.
Fi service is available for now only with the Motorola-made Nexus 6 6-inch phablet.
The phone connects to more than a million free Wi-Fi hot spots to make calls and access data, then hops in mid-call onto Sprint and T-Mobile’s 4G LTE networks when it moves out of hot-spot range. The phone jumps to the best wireless connection available when users are on the move without interruption, whether hopping to Wi-Fi or the Sprint or T-Mobile LTE networks.
“When you’re not on Wi-Fi, we move you between whichever of our partner networks is delivering the fastest speed, so you get 4G LTE in more places,” said Nick Fox, Google’s communications products VP. The phone connects to Wi-Fi hot spots that Google said have been verified for speed and reliability.
Because Google stores the user’s phone number in the cloud, consumers who misplace their Nexus 6 will be able to use their phone number on any cellphone, tablet or laptop running Google Hangouts to talk, text and check voice mail.
The company is offering one plan, which costs $20/month for unlimited talk, text, Wi-Fi tethering, and international coverage in more than 120 countries, plus $10 per GB/month for cellular data in the U.S. and abroad. Google offers a credit for the full value of unused data.
U.S. consumers can request an invite to sign up for service at fi.google.com.
Google offers the Nexus 6 at $649 for the 32GB version and $699 for the 64GB ($699). After a credit check, consumers who pay in installments over 24 months pay $27.04/month for the 32GB version and $29.12/month for the 64GB model.
Consumers who already own a Nexus 6 can also sign up for service and get a SIM card shipped to them.
Google didn’t say when other Fi phones would be available.
“By designing across hardware, software and connectivity, we can more fully explore new ways for people to connect and communicate,” Fox said of the Fi beta.
For his part, T-Mobile president/CEO John Legere said he expects T-Mobile’s network to capture the largest share of Fi users because the phone will seek out the cellular network with the highest speed. Fi service, however, won’t include all of T-Mobile’s features, such as HD Voice.