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I'm okay with the Sprint/T-Mobile merger as long as it doesn't affect Project Fi

There's a lot to say about the recent news of T-Mobile and Sprint joining forces — most of the initial takes around the web, including ours, haven't been entirely optimistic. Mergers of this magnitude historically haven't often been great for customers in the long run, though both T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure have continuously asserted otherwise.

I'm no business analyst — and most of the inner workings of a merger are admittedly way over my head — but there's one T-Mobile/Sprint partnership that's already been around for years, and I'd hate to see it vanish in the wake of this merger: Project Fi.

In case you're unfamiliar, Project Fi is a prepaid carrier run by — you guessed it — Google, focused on simplified billing for users that don't need unlimited data. Instead, you pay by the gigabyte, and you're credited back whatever you don't use at the end of each billing cycle.

Fi runs off of both Sprint and T-Mobile towers, along with US Cellular, which is part of the reason it only works on a few supported devices, namely Google's own Pixel lineup. The idea is to always use whatever signal is best in your given area; if you're on the road and hit a T-Mobile dead spot, you'll automatically switch over to Sprint or US Cellular's towers, and vice-versa.

Perhaps best of all, Fi works outside of the U.S. as well, supporting 135 countries without any additional cost. I took advantage of this a few years ago when I went to Berlin, Germany to cover IFA, and it worked seamlessly; as soon as I deboarded my plane, my Nexus 6 immediately connected to local towers and I was back online.

I'm no longer a Fi customer, because I simply use too much data to pay by the gigabyte, but for the majority of people who only use 3-5GB a month, the service can offer potentially tremendous savings over alternatives like AT&T or Verizon, and yes — even T-Mobile or Sprint in some cases. So what will become of Fi once two of its three constituents form a single entity?

Fi targets a different demographic than T-Mobile and Sprint, which hopefully means there's no reason to kill it off.

Hopefully, nothing. While Project Fi could seemingly cannibalize some of the merged company's business with its lower data rates, T-Mobile and Sprint have made unlimited data a large focus over the last few years, and it's something Fi can't quite compete with. For heavy data users like myself, Fi can become unnecessarily expensive, and T-Mobile offers a similar international plan — though with considerably slower data rates. With this in mind, there may not be any reason to back out of providing Fi's coverage.

So long as Fi sticks around, I'll be cautiously optimistic about the merger. As a former T-Mobile employee of four years, I've seen the ups and downs of John Legere's boisterous leadership, and I'm hopeful that he'll continue to make low costs and large data allotments a priority. But in the worst case scenario, Fi will hopefully remain as a cheap, comprehensive alternative.

What's your take? Do you think the T-Mobile/Sprint merger will mark the eventual death of Project Fi, or will it stand strong as an alternative for Google devotees? Let us know in the comments!

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Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

39 Comments
  • Just a heads up. Fi only bills up to 6GB, after that it's on them. Same speeds as always up to 15GB then it's throttled. So my bill is still never over $80 and change. Much better than the $110 I was paying at VZW after taxes and fees and a discount from work.
  • $45 for unlimited on Xfinity Mobile or just another $10 if you're not a cable customer which is STILL cheaper than Fi. Also has a much higher cap before throttle. No free international data though...
  • IF you use a lot of data. I haven't paid more than $40 on Fi in months.
  • Same here, last four bills have been around $40-50. So five dollars less than Xfinity, which isn't available in my area.
  • Xfinity Mobile, like Project Fi unless you opt out, uses Wi-Fi not only for data but for calls and texts whenever it is available, for example when the customer is at home, since only Xfinity internet customers are eligible. The difference is that Fi does not count Wi-Fi data as mobile data and Xfinity does. Another difference is that Fi charges for the exact amount of mobile data used at a rate of 1 cent per MB, while Xfinity for those who don't pay for the unlimited plan charges $12 for every GB or part thereof. Finally the big advantage of Bill Protection over unlimited is that you only pay for the data you use in the months that you are under the Bill Protection limit while with unlimited you pay the same amount every month.
  • Fi taught me how to sip data. Would turn data off unless I really needed it. $45 for 2 lines. Almost always on T-Mobile. Then T-Mobile came out with their One Unlimited 55+, 2 lines for a flat $60. $15 more, data always on, no more sipping data. And a choice of almost any phone. Much better deal overall. $60 is a fair price for 2 unlimited lines.
  • Seems like an ok deal if you don't use much data. I'd probably use it if not for the deals I got with t-mobile. I am on 3 lines for $100 and I get $10 back on the first and second line if I don't go over 2GB on each line. Typically my bill is $90 (also that's with taxes and fees included) because one line goes over 2GB.
  • I just wish TMobile had the coverhae here that Fi has. When I had TMO solely, it just wasn't enough. With that Sprint coverage thrown in it gets me what I need. No with the merger at hand things might change in a year or so.
  • I WANT a reason to switch to Fi, but I just can't do it. I'm on Straight Talk, have two phones on it, we don't travel internationally, and I spend $45/month for my wife's line at 15GB of data and my line is $55 for unlimited, both using Verizon's network. And since the speedcap has been removed, I just don't see any reason to use anything else. Fi is great, but the difference between price vs data usage is small, the value add is small. We'd have to use 6GB or less monthly to save at least $5/month. Just not worth it. Add to it all the texting issues Fi users report and I say it just isn't worth it.
  • Can you tether with straight talk?
  • On AT&T's network you can but not Verizon
  • Same here. I would love to switch to Fi but I have such a good deal on T-Mobile right now.
  • I hope it stays. I just wish that I could use it.
  • With the limited number of phones that can use Fi, I doubt it will go away. I would be surprised if there are even half a million Fi users.
  • I also imagine that even the Nexus and Pixel phones that support Fi lose that support once Google stops supporting the hardware - and you move on to a custom ROM to keep it going. I imagine, this being AC, that most would just say to "just go buy a new phone already". But if the purpose of Fi is to be an economical way to get cellular service, conditioning it on buying a top-dollar phone - and replacing it every 2 years - doesn't make much sense.
  • Not correct, I used my Nexus 6 on Fi past both EOL and EOSL with the stock ROM. It's hardware that lets it switch between the two.
  • Not sure the concern... It would be a concern if Verizon bought Sprint.. but since Tmo and Sprint were both in support of Fi already.... "Spri-Mobile" won't change anything. Literally nothing changes. Cmon man.. use some sense!
  • The reason that Sprint and T-Mo are so keen to offer low bulk rates to MVNOs like Fi is because they're smaller than AT&T and Verizon, so it's a way to get more people on the network without having to do any work. T-Mobile and Sprint compete against each other for the same cost-conscious consumers. If they no longer have to compete with each other, they can charge more money -- simple as that.
  • And that's when Alphabet says "hmm less than 75bn and I get to sock it to VZW and ATT. SOLD!"
  • I really don't see why Project Fi pricing would not just be a plan offered by "New T-mobile" since they are already allowing Sprint phones to work on both Networks, surely there would be no need for the fancy Google only phone requirement. The cell plan does already look like something both companies would be willing to do based on the pricing, so I don't see why not
  • My Sprint portion of Fi hasn't been working for nearly 2 month now. Developers and support are clueless and can't figure it out, or don't want to. Pretty pathetic.....
  • I'm connected to Sprint right now, so YMMV...
  • First paragraph is a little Overkill in my opinion "As long as Fi sticks around, Google users will always have a cheaper alternative to potentially tyrannical carriers." Over-dramatized much.
  • Not really. They are indeed "tyrannical", IMO.
  • And Google isn't. Google collects more data on you than anyone.
  • Data collection has nothing to do with tyranny, also Google isn't a tyranny simple because any data they collect on your is voluntary. There are alternatives to all of their services. Just not good ones.
  • I'm thinking you don't really know the definition of tyrannical.
  • I've had project fi account since the Nexus 6 and while I don't always have it activated you can put it on hold for up to 90 days and then when you need it just activate it also I have a same project fi account data-only Sim in my OnePlus 5T and it will always work on T-Mobile and with my pixel 2 XL of course the fi sim built-in so I have a second Sim in its FreedomPop on AT&T Network
  • I'll be happy if they kill off CDMA altogether
  • I just activated Fi on my Pixel 2 alongside with my Verizon service to just give it a try. It's decent, but not able to compete with the coverage where I live that Verizon offers. Still, if I go out of the county, that's where I see using Fi as a huge advantage! I'll probably keep it alive as a fallback as long as I see it being useful to me Flicked via the BlackBerry keyboard on my Pixel 2
  • I have my Pixel 2 XL on Verizon, and my Nexus 5X (which my son uses on occasion) on Project Fi. When I went overseas for a month, I used Fi on the Pixel. My bill for that time overseas was around the same as it would've been when I was stateside, $45 that particular month. If everything with the service stays the same post-merger, I'm planning to move my P2XL over to Fi too, saving $50/month even if I hit the Bill Protection "cap" month-to-month, even more savings if I don't.
  • With Bill protection, you essentially get unlimited data. It's the best, cheapest option if you have a phone that can utilize it. Pixel 2 ftw
  • Paranoid much? The only thing is going away is the sprint name and maybe the 99 prepaid carriers they own. Fi is it's own little carrier that uses T-Mobile's towers by paying them to use it, just like any other prepaid provider. Just like what the big (now ) 3 does have nothing to do with Straight Talk and the others.
  • It's not how much data you use with FI, it's where you use it. With Fi automatically switching my phone to WiFI when I get near a hotspot, even though I use a lot of data, most of it is through WiFi hotspots and not billable. My bill rarely goes over $30, and that's including the $5 insurance on my phone. And Fi has unparalleled international service, and data SIMS with no monthly charge, just piggyback on your primary data.
  • I switched to project fi last year before an international trip, and the fringe benefit has been a much lower monthly bill. I hope it sticks around, but would go back to Verizon if it doesn't. Fi has been completely adequate, but the coverage isn't as good. Actually, I'll be switching to whomever first offers 5G in my area.
  • I have been on Fi since last year and not regretting my switch from AT&T. I do not use much data and to keep my bill down I check my data usage, towards the end of the month, to make sure I am not going over.
  • Fi's best feature for me is the data SIM. I have three children running off my account, just taught them to use hangouts and hangouts dialer. I charge the older two for data (really I trade them for babysitting) so it is perfect to not have a monthly base, just usage. I could maybe have gotten $80/4 lines from T-Mobile at some point, but this way I have lots of data, can roam into Sprint with my phone, and get 6 more SIMs to use in laptops / spare phones / hotspots. The SIMs are free, and I usually only pay around $50 because we're all mostly wifi. So, yes, definitely hoping it doesn't go away, at least until the kids are buying their own cell phones. :)
  • While Project Fi states its mobile data price as $10 per GB, in fact it bills for mobile data at 1 cent per MB. Use less than 30 MB of mobile data like I do and you pay less than 30 cents. Since January when they introduced Bill Protection, Fi does not bill for the mobile data used until the end of the billing cycle. Prior to that you were billed for at least 1GB of data for each phone on an account at the beginning of the monthly cycle (although your payment is collected about 20 days into the cycle) and either there was a credit for unused data or a charge for excess data at the start of the next cycle. How do I use less than 30 MB of mobile data? I generally use about 20 GB of Wi-Fi data per month. My ISP is Comcast (or XFINITY as they prefer to be called now). I pay them each month for up to 1 TB. So I only use Wi-Fi at home and almost everywhere I go in my town, because Comcast pretty much has a monopoly on internet service there are XFINITY hot spots. (They have more than 18 million nationwide.) Almost everywhere I go there is free Wi-Fi. Last year at the Department of Motor Vehicles during the absurdly long wait I downloaded and watched three episodes of Mozart in the Jungle. Project Fi creates a VPN through Wi-Fi connections.
  • It's available in 170 countries now...and yes the data prices are capped at 6GB. Maybe some research before writing a column for a site that's supposedly the place we go to for "expert" opinions?