What does Google's Project Fi mean for cellular services?

July 27, 2016
3 min read

Google’s Project Fi gained attention from the cellular industry for promising a new type of cellular service that relies primarily on WiFi, yet can transition to cellular internet depending on which type of connection would be fastest and most stable. Project Fi revolutionizes core components of traditional wireless services: it leverages WiFi as a quintessential feature while also using the infrastructure put in place by traditional cellular providers.

For its initial launch in 2015, Project Fi supported networks from T-Mobile and Sprint, meaning users from either network had the option to connect. In early 2016, Project Fi also gained support from US Cellular.

76% of US mobile app users primarily use apps over WiFi instead of relying on cellular internet

Google’s focus on WiFi aligns with the way many consumers use mobile technology. Even in the mobile apps category, Mintel research shows that the majority of users primarily use apps when they have access to a WiFi connection instead of relying on cellular internet.

Project Fi also addresses two key concerns in the cellular services market. With a base price of $20/month, the service is inexpensive, and price is the leading reason consumers look to switch carriers. Although those planning to switch are in the minority, we know that price plays a dominant role in getting consumers to consider other providers. The ability to switch to the network that offers the best quality also addresses switchers’ second most-cited desire: service quality.

While Project Fi answers several common frustrations among consumers planning to switch cellular carriers, it still faces an uphill battle in terms of gaining traction in the cellular industry. The trust and familiarity consumers have with the carriers that currently lead the market will make them hesitant to switch. For instance, among consumers not planning to switch, the top reason is that they are satisfied with their current service.

Regardless of how it ultimately performs in the market, Project Fi has the potential to lead to market disruption; the industry should pay attention to Project Fi and learn from its successes, as well is its failures. For example, competing carriers may benefit from adopting a WiFi-centric approach, especially as the number of public WiFi hotspots in the US increases.

Moreover, Google’s decision to give consumers the option of paying only for the data they use showcases consumer demand for value in wireless services. If consumers begin to feel like they’re wasting money on data they rarely use, less flexible service plans, despite the provider, will need to adapt.

Bryant Harland is a Senior Technology and Media Analyst at Mintel. He brings almost a decade of experience working in the tech arena, most recently as a Senior Technology Writer with Brafton News.

Bryant Harland
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