Google Fi and data only plans

Last week, Google began selling wireless cellular service via a new program, Google Fi, which utilizes Sprint and T-Mobile for coverage. Fi's pricing model is refreshingly straight-forward (following the example of T-Mobile and Ting); every plan is $20 with data billed at $10/Gb on top of that. @benthompson and @jamesallworth discussed the various aspects of Fi on a recent episode of their podcast, Exponent. At one point, James asked (I'm paraphrasing here) why the base of the Fi plan includes voice/sms. Why doesn't Google just offer data? James went on to say that he always thought if anyone were to offer a data-only plan, it would be Google. What he didn't know was this: there is already a fantastic data-only plan in America, and it's on T-Mobile.

Data only-ish

On T-Mobile's prepaid site, the company heavily advertises its main pre-paid price tiers: $40, $50, and $60. However, a quick scroll down the page will reveal two additional plans. The first one is talk and text only, with no data included. The second is the best kept secret in wireless. This second plan is $30/month for 100 minutes, unlimited SMS, and 5GB of LTE data (throttled after 5GB). 100 minutes is nothing, so this plan is essentially just data. There's no catch - the LTE isn't throttled at all, and the plan includes free international texting from the US. It even qualifies for Music Freedom, which doesn't count music streaming against your 5GB LTE allowance. You can add hotspot tethering for $15/month, and this can be added and removed as you need it.

What are minutes for?

My wife and I have been on this plan for almost a year now. It's perfect. We use FaceTime Audio if we need to call each other or anyone else that has an iOS device. We use the Vonage mobile app (any VOIP service would work) when we need to make a normal call and don't want to use our 100 minutes. Both Vonage and FaceTime Audio use data, not voice minutes, exactly the scenario James outlined on Exponent.

Caveats

The only downside to this plan I have found is that T-Mobile's coverage is still behind AT&T's and Verizon's, though it's much closer now than it has ever been. 2015 has seen T-Mobile continue to build out its LTE reach, and it's impressive. Living in Columbus, OH, one of the first cities to get Wideband LTE, I see speedtest results as high as 70mbps down.

If Google Fi isn't as radical as you'd like, I would recommend giving this T-Mobile plan a try. It’s $30 (plus the cost of a SIM card) to give it a shot. The one "catch" is that it's only for phones (or SIMs) activated in Walmart or online, but it’s easy enough to order a SIM card and give it a try.