Google surprised virtually no one when it formally announced its new cellular service plan called Project Fi today. Project Fi is currently very limited — it's an invite-only program and only works with Google's own Nexus 6 smartphone — but it offers some very interesting things when it comes to service plan pricing and network coverage. Like Republic Wireless, Google Fi is heavily reliant on Wi-Fi networks for both calls and data. But it has a unique trick up its sleeve when you don't have access to Wi-Fi: it will automatically switch between Sprint or T-Mobile's networks based on whichever service is stronger where you are.
But as many people already know, Sprint and T-Mobile don't quite have the same level of coverage as Verizon and AT&T, especially in rural areas. How exactly does Google Fi's coverage stack up to AT&T and Verizon's networks? We made a slider to find out.
Google Fi on the left (dark green is LTE, green is 3G, light green is 2G), AT&T 4G LTE coverage on the right (dark orange is LTE, orange is 4G, light orange is 3G). Maps provided by Google and AT&T.
For whatever reason, finding accurate coverage maps from each carrier is actually pretty difficult, and the way Verizon scales its map doesn't play nicely with our image slider tool. But you can eyeball the side-by-side image below to see how Fi's coverage compares to Verizon's footprint.
Google Fi on the left (dark green is LTE, green is 3G, light green is 2G), Verizon 4G LTE coverage on the right. Maps provided by Google and Verizon.
It should also be noted that nationwide maps don't provide the best representation of hyperlocal coverage — how a particular service will perform at your exact home address or workplace. Google actually has a pretty great tool that lets you drill down to your exact area and what kind of service you can expect there. According to the tool, I'll get 3G service with Project Fi in the suburbs of New York City, which isn't quite as good as the speedy LTE service I can get from AT&T or Verizon in the same area. The nationwide comparison does show where Google Fi has large gaps in coverage — Montana isn't a great place to be if you're hoping to make use of the service.
While Project Fi is very limited right now, it feels a lot like Google's rollout of its high-speed Fiber network, which started out slow and is gaining traction as more cities are added to its roster. Google's big developer conference is scheduled for the end of May — we'll certainly hear more about Project Fi there.