Did Google Fi Shoot Itself In The Foot?

Google Fi has a lot going for it: amazing international roaming options, fancy network-switching technology, and a simple pricing structure. Despite all Fi’s great aspects, I don’t usually recommend it. For most users, it’s just too expensive. Google Fi typically charges $10 per gigabyte of data. A lot of other carriers offer plans with far lower rates for data.

All Fi subscribers have roughly the same plan with the same pricing structure.[1] There aren’t ten different plans with different names and policies. This is in sharp contrast with Verizon. Looking at just unlimited plans, Verizon has several options:

  1. Start Unlimited
  2. Play More Unlimited
  3. Do More Unlimited
  4. Get More Unlimited

In fact, Verizon actually has a fifth unlimited plan it offers as a prepaid option. Each unlimited plan is a bit different. Some of the plans have more limits than others—inviting critics to joke about how Verizon doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “unlimited.”

While it feels silly, there are a handful of reasons why it makes business sense for Verizon to have several unlimited plans. Today, I’ll only touch on one of those reasons: when a carrier has multiple plans, it’s easier to introduce new prices and policies without immediately affecting existing customers. We just saw Verizon do this. A month ago, Verizon was offering three postpaid, unlimited plans. They were different from today’s plans:

  • GoUnlimited
  • BeyondUnlimited
  • AboveUnlimited

When Verizon introduces new plans, it can cease offering old plans to new customers while offering existing customers the same service on legacy plans. Since there are several plans that all have different policies, it’s difficult for people to make simple, apples-to-apples comparisons between legacy plans and plans available to new customers.

Back to Fi. Google Fi has been charging almost everyone $10 per gigabyte for a long time.[2] Years ago, that was a decent price for data. Today it’s not. Data costs have gone down in most of the industry.

I don’t have any inside knowledge about Fi, but I’m suspicious Fi’s simple pricing structure makes it hard for the company to change its prices. If Fi wanted to offer new customers data for $5 per gigabyte, existing Google Fi subscribers would want that deal too. If existing subscribers had to continue paying $10 per gigabyte, they’d get angry. If Fi reduced prices for existing subscribers, Fi’s revenue would plummet.


Added after publication: The idea I share in this post probably doesn’t explain why Fi charges so much for data (or at least, it is probably an incomplete explanation). There are a lot of other plausible explanations. E.g., Fi’s agreements with network operators may not lead to Fi getting good rates on data.

Added even later: When I said I don’t usually recommend Google Fi, I didn’t mean to imply that Fi’s prices are uniquely awful or that no one should use Fi. Rather, I don’t typically recommend Google Fi since most consumers can find comparable service at a lower price (see carriers I recommend).

Footnotes

  1. There are small differences in Fi’s price structure as the number of lines on an account change. A minority of heavy data users also hit a threshold where their bills will not increase as more data is used.
  2. While the base rate for data has stayed consistent for years, Fi’s bill protection feature was added relatively recently.

39 thoughts to “Did Google Fi Shoot Itself In The Foot?”

  1. Perhaps you should have first read the pricing structure of Google Fi’s data costs. Google only charges you for what you use so for your first GB if you were to only use 512MBs out of the allotted 1GB you would only pay $5. Comparing this to Verizon as you did, if the customer were to pay for unlimited data but only use a GB or less a month they’re stuck bearing the full cost. Furthermore, you’re welcome to use this data on Fi internationally without the hefty roaming fees or need to set up an international pass as you would with Verizon. On top of which with Google Fi unlimited calls and texts only costs $20 a month and when you add that to their pay for what you use data your monthly cost could be around mine at roughly $28/ month, as I barely use any data with WiFi being so prevalent these days. Not to mention with Google Fi anything over 6GB is free.

    Now compare that with Verizon’s bare minimum unlimited plan starting at $70 before taxes and fees… Google Fi allows us to escape the tyranny of major cellular cooperations and their over priced plan structures.

    Although I am a Google Fi customer this research takes anyone about five minutes give or take. Perhaps you should have done yours?

    1. Hi Kolby,

      I’m familiar with Google Fi’s pricing structure and discussed it in some detail in a previous blog post.

      I didn’t intend to argue that Google Fi’s pricing is uniquely awful. It’s not. In fact, Fi’s prices are decent for ultra-light data users. That said, I do think most people can find a plan with a better price (e.g., see my recommendations).

      1. Google Fi’s pricing is very competitive. I have been a Verizon and T-mobile customer, and have never had such a low cell phone bill, as I have with Google Fi! Cell service has been great. I’m a very satisfied Google Fi customer.

        1. Google Fi may be competitive compared to some plan purchased directly from Verizon or T-Mo. That said, for most customers there will be more cost-effective options than either Google Fi or most postpaid plans offered by the Big Four networks.

          E.g.,

          • Mint Mobile (use T-Mobile’s network): Unlimited talk & text with 3GB of data for $20 per month
          • Tello (uses Sprint’s network): Unlimited talk & text with 1GB of data for about $10 per month
          • Verizon prepaid: Unlimited talk & text with 16GB of data for $45 per month
          1. Christian, it appears you are still failing to understand Google Fi’s simple data plan. Your monthly bill will vary based on how much data you have used that month. In other words you are only paying for used mobile data . And for data hog users your bill will never be higher than $80 that includes international roaming. Not for everyone but I love it. My bill fluctuates from $40 to $53.

    2. Great points Kolby, this is the reason I have had my family on Fi for the past 18 months. My monthly bill is significantly lower as we are only charged for data we use. Also, Fi does a great job of switching our phones to wifi, even when out and about, saving us data

      Another important savings with Fi over other carriers is that I am not charged for our tablet use, Google provides us with free sims and we are just charged for the data we use, not $10 or $20 per month per device like our past providers charged. J

    3. Thank you Kolby. I couldn’t agree more. I generally pay $28-31 per month. Your comment was actually a much better written article than the original article.

    4. So true. A little research would go a long way.
      I’ve had my family on it now for the last two years and they are loving it. I’ve even recommended it to a couple of my friends and I have one that’s been on it for the last 3 months. She bought a Samsung S10 and put the service on and she told me her last bill was $7.00 because she uses mostly Wi-Fi and she got a credit of $20 for signing up. 😃

      1. Google Fi is good for people mostly staying at home and using WiFi. I think the reasonable price per GB should be $5

    5. Pay as you go: use 1gb pay $10. Use 5gb pay $50. Reach your gb limit, pay nothing more. 6gb for 1 person, 10gb shared for 2 people. No overage charges or paying for more data than you actually use. At 15gb usage per individual data slowing may occur but there all no additional charges beyond your limit. Free international roaming, no additional plan needed. If you have a made for Google Fi phone, then you get free network switching between T-Mibile, Sprint and US Cell depending on whoever has the best signal and auto used WiFi for calling. Comes with Google Fi VPN for secure WiFi.

    6. No doubt, I’ve had Fi for over a year and love it. Plus, my bill is literally half of what it was with Verizon. No extra charges or set up for when I travel to Canada. No holes in Google’s feet that I can see.

  2. In the article you said the price of data for the company went down. That means they’re making more of a profit than they used to. so, why not pass the savings on to the consumer?
    They would still make the same percentage of profit and maybe draw in new customers.
    The other thing is, if anybody thinks Google is hurting for money, there’s something wrong with them! Google is doing just fine financially, so why not help the little people out
    Am I missing something here?

    1. The costs consumers per byte of data seem to have gone down in most of the industry. It’s a bit harder to say anything with confidence about how the rates Google Fi pays network operators have changed over time. Unfortunately, details about arrangements between MVNOs and the networks they use are usually not public.

  3. My Fi bills usually come in around $35/month. I feel like this is reasonable, but I’m frugal with mobile data. No streaming and downloading off of WiFi, etc.

    The real problem with Fi is the dearth of phone options. Their best deals are generally two-plus year old phones that were middling to begin with.

    1. We got 3 different very good Motorola phones (2 from Amazon and one from Google) and thrilled to enjoy most (if not all) the advantages FI offers.
      Our monthly bill for all 3 lines with Verizon was around$180. It was reduced to less than $70 after switching to FI for the last 5 months.
      We saw not reduction in the quality and coverage of our usage – even in the rural area of southern Hawaii.

  4. This article is very misleading. I don’t think the author looked closely enough at how Google Fi’s pricing method works. There’s a base fee of $20 per month (unlimited calls & texts, 24/7 support). Above that, yes, data is $10 per gigabyte. But it’s pro-rated. So if you only use a half gig in a month, it’s only $5 for data that month. If you use .25 gigabytes, it’s $2.50, and so on. I have WiFi at home and work, so I rarely approach a gigabyte of data. So say I do use a half gig in a month, that’s $5, plus the $20 base fee, plus an average of about $4 in taxes and regulatory fees. For that month, I only pay a $29 cellphone bill. Everyone else I know pays far more per month for their traditional cellphone plans. The coverage is better than any other carrier I’ve been with, and there’s no contract, so you’re not locked in for two years, no hidden fees. Also, the author didn’t clarify that data is free for the duration of the month once you hit 6 gigs. So, you’ll never get a bill more than +/- $84 for a month.

    1. Hey Rick,

      I’m familiar with how Fi’s pricing structure works, and I love the pay-for-what-you-use model.

      I agree Fi’s pricing isn’t bad for people with unusually low data use like yourself. There are cheaper options for low-use cell phone plans, but it seems entirely reasonable to pay a bit more for Fi if you like aspects of the service and still pay under $30/month.

  5. Ah, ok I just noticed on the “Transparency” page of this site that you’re a Verizon affiliate, so it would make sense that you’re trying to steer people away from Fi, towards Verizon, because you Verizon pays you for that. Well, I appreciate your transparency page, even though your Verizon affiliation isn’t clearly stated in the article itself.

    1. I do have an affiliation with Verizon as well as affiliations with AT&T, Sprint, and a bunch of smaller carriers. I think you’re right to ask whether those relationships impact the things I say about wireless carriers. I’m confused by your comment though. I’m somewhat critical of Verizon in this post. I expect Verizon’s decision to offer tons of different plans with different names, policies, etc. confuses consumers and makes them worse off.

  6. Don’t bother with Fi if you want to use a bottom end phone model. My son and I both have Pixel and XL, my wife has a Samsung J3.
    The two numbers transferred within an hour, the Pixels. The third, STILL hasn’t been PORTED OVER after 20 days! I was with Verizon for 8+yrs. Only switching for the International for my son in Italy.

    1. As someone who was on Google Fi for years its service is horrible. Its support is even worse. The billing is messed up where you end up paying $70 for a month compared to like $50 unlimited with other services. I was dealing with their support for 5 months and once I was able to convert my multiple numbers to google Hangouts and attached them to existing google accounts I instantly switched providers. I got a random number from Cricket Wireless which is only used for hangouts to piggyback off of. $50 a month unlimited service, kept my numbers and have a functional google account. Service running off a cell provider which uses technically the ATT network. Sooo much better.

  7. I always feel like every who writes about Fi misses the point entirely. Verizon does have better options if you use a lot of data. If you are a low data user, like my wife and I, then Fi beats Verizon by a long shot. My wireless bill with Fi is $100 cheaper than it was with two phones on Verizon’s cheapest plan. Not to mention that Verizon is notorious for their hidden fees and charges. When I was with them I had to call every couple of months to get my bill adjusted because they’d add some new charge. I use wifi 90% of the time, so for me, a plan that includes more than 1gb per a phone is costly and unnecessary. Paying less than $20 month for data and getting refunded for the data I didn’t use is a no-brainer. So while all the high data users see it as expensive, low data users see it as amazing. I can have a great phone on a cheap plan. No major carrier can compete because their plans include too much data and the cost is high.

    1. If you’re a very light data user, Fi’s not a bad choice. However, Verizon probably does have options that are better-suited to your needs than the plan you were on. E.g., one of VZW’s prepaid plans is $35 per month for unlimited talk, unlimited texts, and 6GB of data. You can also get a multi-line discount on that plan. I think the total cost before taxes and fees would be $60 for two lines.

  8. I love fi, but it’s not for everyone. My wife and I had Sprint for years. Our bill was $160ish for unlimited. The reason we switch was for the opportunity to save money. With the max being a $100 for data with Fi. I figured worse scenario we pay that. To be honest, our bill is is between $60 to $70 .

  9. My data rates have never been higher than with Google fi. I’ve finally got them to reimburse me the past two months since I was using over 6gb while connected to WiFi, but they won’t do it for the past few years that this has been happening. They either can’t figure out how to stop this from happening, or that’s just how they get the extra money from you.

    1. Here’s a tip, just lower your estimate for data to 1gb and then they will just add the extra over 1gb to your bill each month.

      I always exceed 1gb for my family so their is no reimbursement involved, and the cost is the same, no penalties ever for going over. I’ve done this for the past 18 months I’ve been on Fi. J

  10. Even with the 10$/gb model it’s still miles cheaper than Verizon and most other carriers. The supported phones may be limited, but all in all they’re -really- good phones.

  11. Google Fi,
    Having a good smartphone say you have internet access to anything open in hotspots throughout the United States & the World it’s a Great deal Wi-Fi hotspots everywhere no roaming say you use 62 MBs out of 1GB $26.20a month! You only pay for what you use my eyes bill was $34 I’ve been with Google Fi 4 years.

  12. You fail to mention how Verizon “unlimited” plans may not let you user hd video, that’s a pretty significant negative.

  13. Sure Fi’s data may be more expensive but you failed to mention that Fi customers only pay for data up to 6gbs for a single plan and 10gbs on a two person plan and so on. After 6gbs the data speed remains the same until 15gbs used then it will slow down after that.

    Fi customers stay loyal because of the huge perks for international roaming with the same speeds abroad as in the USA (unlike T Mobiles international plan).

  14. Said by almost every person that uses a ton of data. Search Reddit and there’s a plethora of posts complaining about how expensive Fi is. When asked what they’re data usage is like it’s almost always a ton of data.
    I’ve been with Fi for a little bit now and have saved a ton of money by not using Verizon paying for data I didn’t need. Let’s be real what is it that you “need” to stream when you are out and about? I’ve had discussions with people who refuse to download anything on wifi because “they simply have no time for that”. Seriously when I hopped on they had some promotions going on and I managed to not have to pay a phone bill for about 5 months. When I did, it was drastically cheaper than Verizon.
    Almost every article on Fi is extremely biased because the author of said article is a heavy data user. Fi ought to have a disclaimer and tell people if you’re switching to Fi for the data usage, stop, there’s cheaper options. Data is not a need. I tire of people and their dependency on needing immediate access to the internet….

  15. I travel out of the USA and that is why I finally killed my Verizon plan. Same data charge overseas on fi as domestic. Besides, you can find wifi hotspots everywhere so no data charges. Even phone calls switch to wifi. I estimate we use about 4 gigs of data but with wifi I’m only 1 to 1.5 of cellular data. Much much better deal than my old Verizon service.
    International roaming is a license to print money for the first line carriers.

    1. Yep, totally, $80 for 15gb of semi fast international data is ridiculously cheap and super useful. OP won’t be able to provide any evidence of a US mobile carrier that can match that.

      Sure local high data use might fit selling some Verizon/etc plans, but they’re locked in phone tactics are trash. Can I get a new unlocked phone at any of the major carriers (other than apple)? Will they give me a phone without the crappy carrier / ad apps? My current phone was top of the line from Google directly with $100s in savings and months of free service.

      I’m also curious about the avg data usage in the us…pretty sure it’s not upwards of 3-4gb/mo on avg.

  16. I was an early adopter on project fi. I work in the United States while living in Ukraine. I also use a Google fi Pixel 3. That said, my phone and the company behind it is my lifeline to United States. It’s not about money with Verizon vs Google fi, G fi will usually win that battle. For me it’s about having a reliable world company, a flagship type phone with the fastest Android security updates. Lastly, Verizon is a great deal if a person wants to leverage an Apple high end phone, stay in the United Statesit doesn’t care about the cost of the cell bill.

  17. Ugh, I wish that these things would be properly tagged as advertising. I get tired when companies like Verizon put some slick message like this together and fail to make it clear that it is an advertisement. Its still easy to tell when you notice that all of the suggestions are for Verizon services.

    Sad business practices.

  18. I have been with Google Fi for about six months the reason I change from Verizon which by far has the best coverage in the United States, my bill with Verizon was always $105 a month for two gigs of Internet. With Google Fi yes I pay $10 a gig up to six and over six it’s unlimited free in May I went to Europe went to 12 different countries used over six gigs made over 30 calls from Europe to America or from Europe to other European countries and my entire bill was $105 when I’m not using the Internet because I’m using Wi-Fi in America my bill is around $61 almost half of what Verizon charges me. The only problem I have with Google Fi is I have a front room in my house that is my office and I can only get 0 to 2 bars of reception So often I have to go in my backyard to continue the conversation.

  19. Fi is not for everyone. My wife and I have been using it for about 3 years now and have been generally happy with it. That said, we rarely exceed the 1gb data plan as we have wifi virtually everywhere including in the car. The ability to roam from cellular to WiFi and back while calling is huge for us and why we got the service to begin with.
    Your not wrong about their data being expensive but that only matters if you use a lot of data.

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