For those of you who have been following my journey, you know that I use Google for a lot of things. This would include my cell phone service. That’s right. If you didn’t know, Google does provide cell phone service. At the beginning, it was called Project Fi. But Google has dropped the word Project and now call the service Google Fi. But how is Fi supposed to work? How does it work in Korea? Would I recommend Fi as a service to other people? This post will examine these questions based on my experience with Fi, both in the United States and here in South Korea.
How Google Fi Works
Google Fi was founded on the thinking that you should only pay for the amount of mobile internet data that you actually use. Why pay for unlimited data if you don’t actually use a ton of data? So Fi offered up front pricing in structure that was partly prepaid and partly postpaid in nature. Talk and text were unlimited at $20 USD per month. You only paid for the amount of mobile internet that you used. So if you only used a gig of internet, you were only charged for a gig. The price per gig? $10 USD. That’s right. $10 USD per gig of internet. Clearly, this was the highest per gig rate of data that was being advertised by anyone. So if a person used a ton of internet, this was not the plan for them.
In the beginning, the only phones that were supported were Nexus and Pixel phones. (Other phones did work, but were not recommended in the beginning. I personally used a OnePlus 2 phone on Fi for over a year with no issues.) The reason for this was Fi would have users go between WiFi, Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks. (U.S. Cellular was added later as a network option.) If there was a available WiFi signal, Fi would try to route you to that first. That way any data you consumed would be free for you to use. When mobile data was needed, it searched for the strongest network of the ones mentioned above and put you on that network. If that network signal dropped, it would search for the next network or WiFi to put you on.
Fi was mainly designed for people who used WiFi as often as possible. These people did not use a lot of mobile data, so their bill would be lower than having a postpaid plan on a major carrier in the U.S. For a person like me, my average bill would be less than $40 a month with Fi, after taxes, fees and insurance on my phone. So I saved $30 a month compared with what a lot of other companies would have charged me. (Going with a prepaid option would be the only way I would possible have saved more money on my phone bill.) But there is another reason why people chose to go with Fi. The rate for data was the same both in the U.S. and in other countries. This meant that a person had access to the internet without having to rent a sim card when going to another country. While other U.S. phone providers offer international roaming, their plans were usually at 2G speeds unless you paid more. But Fi touted itself as being different by offering faster data. So how has Fi been for me in Korea? And do I recommend it to other people who travel abroad?
How Fi Has Performed Thus Far
The first question that comes up is what does one have to do when they arrive in a new country to use their phone? The answer is to just turn it on. As long as roaming and location is turned on for the phone, you can turn on the phone and get a notification that your in another country, so Fi will configure your settings for you automatically. No numbers or codes to dial, and no notifying Fi beforehand that you are leaving the country.
So before I left the airport, I had mobile data and the ability to make phone calls. Calling is at a rate of $0.20 per minute. Since many in Korea have Kakao or WhatsApp, you will likely call people using one of those services, meaning you aren’t likely to make regular voice calls unless you absolutely have to. In my case, I did have to make one phone call in the time I’ve been here, but there were no issues with connectivity.
The next question is how fast is the data? When checking out another service, I saw that I would have to pay extra to get 3G data in Korea. (We will avoid the argument on if people ever actually got real 3G and 4G data at this time.) I used Speedtest.net’s app for speed test in different parts of Seoul. This included being at the Kintex Convention Center, being in Bucheon and while riding the bus in the Times Square area. The results? The pings are very high in Korea. (The pings I’m seeing are usually around 300-400 during the speed test.) However, the speeds have been decent and are fast enough for me to get connected to GPS apps, emails and other important applications.
The average download speed I’ve received since coming to Korea has been 18.4 Mbps. While I would get faster speeds if I had rented a sim card and got a plan from a Korean provider, this is very decent data speeds for a U.S. provider. Also, I’m charged the same rate as if I was back in the U.S., so I’m not paying extra to get this speed.
Would I Recommend Fi To Others?
When it comes to recommending Fi to other people, it can be hard to recommend it to people who use a lot of data back in the U.S. Going with a prepaid carrier will get a user potentially more perks, as well as a cheaper rate on data. But for people like myself who need only a single line and are on WiFi a lot, Fi is a very good option. Also, to be able to travel to another country and not have to worry about taking out my sim card and not losing it is a great headache to avoid.
Fi has recently announced a unlimited plan to go with their regular plan. On the regular plan, talk and text is $20 per month and the charge is $10 per gig of data. But after 6 gigs, you are no longer billed for data, meaning before taxes, fees and insurance, the highest your bill would be is $80 per month. On the new unlimited plan, unlimited everything is at $70 a month, with your data slowing down only if you go over 22 gigs of usage. You also get Google One membership which will give you 100 GB of cloud storage if you need it. For both plans, you will receive a discount if you add additional lines of service. You can also talk to Google about a data only plan for internet usage outside of the U.S.
For myself, my experience with Fi has been very good, so it is easy for me to recommend. It is also useful for people who want to live outside the U.S. for a period of time, but still keep their U.S. number. Fi also supports usage in more phones that are made by other carriers at this time. If you would like to see more information about Google Fi, you can click here. If you would like a referral code to save some money on switching to Fi, please let me know. Hopefully this will help you when deciding on what carriers to consider as options when you are traveling to Korea, or anywhere else in the world.