One of the most significant issues facing travelers is staying connected to the internet. How else are you going continue to feed your ego so you can brag about your travel exploits? How are you going to post countless selfies of you in front of the Eiffel tower or the leaning tower of Pisa? Without a data connection, you won’t be able to update your Facebook followers with what you had for lunch.
You can let your mobile service go on roaming. I did this once, and I saw my phone bill skyrocketing past the moon and last seen headed toward the Andromeda Galaxy. You can lease regional MiFi device, but it can get expensive. You can go with T-Mobile or something similar. T-Mobile lets you roam free in other countries(over 100 last I checked).
Google Project Fi to the rescue
You can go with the new Project-Fi service offered by Google. I had a good run of using Project-Fi during my trip to South America in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. I requested an invitation; Google is weird like that and Project Fi is by invite only. After waiting for two weeks, I got my invite. I filled the forms, and I requested the service. After another week, I received a SIM card and a paper clip.
Okay, a paper clip?
I don’t understand what it’s for but OK, I’ll take it! It might have been their attempt at a half-hearted joke or maybe I’m just too dumb to understand it. The service is specific only to Google Nexus phones. You heard that right. You can use no other phones outside of the Nexus models. This might be a turn-off for most people but the Nexus line of phones are damned good. It’s much better than most phones equipped with an Android OS full of bloat-ware. The Nexus line of phones run on pure Android OS with no bloat-ware.
I’m using the older generation Motorola Nexus 6. The Nexus 6 is a big chunk of brick which you can use to maul a bear to defend yourself during an attack. Google is not building a new mobile network to provide Project-Fi service. It’s piggy-backing into Sprint and T-Mobile’s 4G LTE networks. It’s called Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) and Google isn’t the first or only company doing it. When the 4G LTE networks fail or are not available, Project-Fi will then connect to a WiFi.
This seems awesome in theory, but not so much, but more on that later. The monthly costs? Reasonable and better than most plans you’ll ever have as a traveler. It’s good enough for me so I sold my unlimited Verizon grandfathered plan for $600 to another sucker, err I mean, winner Verizon user. I like how Google tiered their pricing system for Project-Fi. There’s a base rate and then pay as you go for how much data you use. It’s $20 for unlimited calling and texting (some international rates may apply). It’s $10 for every gigabyte of data you use and you get credited back for any data you don’t use. You only pay extra for how much of the data you use, amazing!
Project-Fi worked, but the data part of it didn’t work in Argentina. With Verizon, I was paying over $100 a month for unlimited, 120 minutes of talk time, with 1k texts. The unlimited part was impressive because I would end streaming movies and music. I’ve used up over 300gb in a month! I guess if you’re a heavy data user, Verizon will make sense. But I also travel, and that’s where the big Red get’s you. Some Verizon customers rack up thousands of dollars on their phone bill from roaming!
I’m not going to let that happen!
So what about the speed compared to Verizon’s 4G LTE? Verizon still is king if you want blazing downloads. I had it clocked at 34 Mbps at one point using speed test in Sacramento. That’s great, but if you’re overseas, Verizon is useless. Project-Fi has an excellent little app that lets you track your data usage and the current bill, so you don’t go over budget. It’s simple and easy to use. Best of all, there are no hidden or mystery fees that crop up on your bill. With Verizon, I’m scratching my head on to why I got charged that surcharge or that fee.
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Support is also top notch; I feel like I’m talking to a real human being vs. a minimum wage robot. But you never need to call support. Things seem to work like clockwork in the Project-Fi world. It’s not perfect, but it works. As far as calling quality goes. It’s good enough. I haven’t had the chance to do extensive testing since I use voice communication. Texting and messaging is king in my world.
I used the voice service one time when I had to raise my ATM limits in Chile. It was good, no static, good quality, no dropped calls, and this was in Punta Arenas, Chile. Project-Fi’s claim to fame is that the service is available and will work in over 120 countries. Some calls might have long-distance fees but are reasonable. You can always use WiFi calling and use data instead. SMS texting is unlimited in all the countries the service is available, and it’s $10 a gigabyte for data. For a long-term traveler, this is a godsend. It beats having to buy different SIM cards for each country you visit. No more paying exuberant fees for MiFi devices.
So how does it work in the countries I have visited? Great except Bolivia where it’s not available. In Argentina, the data part didn’t work, but the calling and texting worked great. Service was stellar in Chile and worked fine in Peru. In California, it works just as well as T-Mobile’s service and maybe a tad better. It’s working well in the Midwest, Chicago, where I’m writing this article. Based on my experience, WiFi is available in most developed countries. As with other services, Project-Fi won’t charge you data fees for using WiFi. You can set limits to your data usage and only let certain apps do data-intensive processes when you’re connected to WiFi.
Speaking of WiFi
Taken from Google’s website: “Project Fi intelligently connects you to the best network at your location whether it’s Wi-Fi or one of our partner 4G LTE networks.”
I don’t know how “intelligently” Project-Fi does this. But based on my experience I still have to hunt down WiFi and manually connect. Project Fi does nothing. I guess meant it will use whatever network is faster when you both have 4GLTE and WiFi turned on? But I never have both turned on all at once. I’m using WiFi whenever it’s available to avoid incurring data charges. I use 4G LTE only when there’s no WiFi available.
Project Fi is far from being perfect, but out of all the other alternatives, it’s my top choice. I don’t know of any other service offering a similar deal, and aside from having a lack of phone choices, it offers the best service for the consummate traveler. I hope Project Fi isn’t just one of Google’s “project” like the ill-fated Google voice and Google Glass. This service is legit, and I plan to make use of it more on my upcoming trips.