Living in the Cloud Reviews Technology

Google Project fi vs AT&T Unlimited Data Plan

A cost-benefit analysis between a 2-line unlimited data plan on AT&T versus Google’s new Project Fi. The winner is a disappointment…

Today, I got my invite to Google’s Project fi, which is a prepaid, pay-for-usage style, MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) based on the networks of T-Mobile, Sprint, and open WiFi access points.

Back in November, I bought a Nexus 6. However, I could not foresee that Google would release a cellular service plan specifically for the Nexus 6 devices – and because I couldn’t successfully purchase one on Google Play, I bought it through the AT&T NEXT 12 program.

This means I don’t pay for the whole phone up front, but I do pay for the cost of the phone, for the “luxury” of not being in a 2 year contract. Instead, I am in an 18 month payment plan, with the option to pay off the phone at any point, in whole…or continue paying ~$35/mo. Either way, it’s $630 coming out of my pocket.

From the beginning

I have had my AT&T service since they were AT&T the first time…before the whole Cingular ordeal, and I’ve had unlimited data on my phone since the first Motorola RAZR phone was released.

I’ve managed to carefully choose which upgrade paths, and which feature adds, over the years to ensure I kept my unlimited data – because like most people in my situation, it’s my data, and my phone, and I will do what I have to with the phone to use it the way I see fit.

Then comes along this Project fi. I’m a Google Chromebook beta tester, I own Google Glass, I have a pre-Google Nest thermostat, I have a pre-Google “Grand Central” (now Google Voice) phone number, an invite-only era Gmail and Inbox user, and an early Web 2.0 user of the many online document creation programs Google snatched up to create Google Drive.

It seems only natural that I’d jump to the chance to use Project fi. But I haven’t.

First, My Conclusion

I have the Midnight Blue Nexus 6
I have the Midnight Blue Nexus 6

In all, if I were on a single-line plan, I would make the switch. Paying off the $406 for my device now vs paying it off over the next 12 months makes little difference in the decision. But the fact that I have another line on the plan that would be forced to take over the financial burden of the plan cornerstone features, while I too acquire my own single-line plan separately, means that the cost comes out to be more expensive to switch.

If you are the extra line on someone’s plan, and willing to give up your unlimited data for a pay-as-you-use plan, and $50 for unlimited talk, text and 3GB of data is a trade up for features, or a trade up in savings, I would make the switch.

As it stands right now, there is no compelling reason to change, since it will not only disrupt my current services, but cost more with my other mobile service obligations.

Now, the Breakdown & Data

See, I have AT&T, and my wife is on my plan. We have a family plan with 500 minutes (the lowest available) @ $60 total, unlimited text @ $30 total, and two data plans @ $30/ea (unlimited, and 3GB). I also have a fixed rate, zero interest payment plan for my Nexus figured into the bill @ $35/mo. In all, the bill comes to $205/mo, after the bullshit taxes and fees they add on @ $20/mo.

To switch my phone to Project Fi, I would have to not only pay off my phone, but also convert my wife to a single-user account on AT&T. They don’t have any lower data plans in the GB range, It’s $30 for 3GB or $20 for 300MB – complete shit, when a plan like 1GB, or even 500MB would ensure she never ran over. But no, we pay $20 for a shittance of a data plan and risk overages, or we pay $10 more for an excessive data plan beyond what she would reasonably expect to use.

With these crappy limitations in mind, I broke everything down to show the cost of basically transitioning her to a single-line plan, and putting myself on Project Fi, keeping the cost of my device figured in, since I will have to pay the $35/mo either to AT&T or back into my savings. (Click the image to enlarge)

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Comparison of AT&T Family plan with 1 unlimited data plan, vs the Google Fi + AT&T single-line plan
Comparison of AT&T Family plan with 1 unlimited data plan, vs the Google Fi + AT&T single-line plan


When you look closely at the numbers, it’s basically charging me $10 more to have unlimited messaging on Fi. That $10 is the Fi Basic plan ($20) split between the two main features (talk, text) – it’s not an optional thing, I just did it that way for clarity. And that one spot is where the difference lies. We’re both always paying $30 for data, we’re always paying $60 total for voice, and I’m always paying $35 for my phone. The difference is the cost for messaging goes to her account, and I pick up an additional charge for messaging on my Fi account.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Doing this breakdown really forced me to take a look at the numbers, and not jump at the hype surrounding being an early adopter. The only financially beneficial features of Google Fi (credit against unused data, free tethering) don’t offset the financial cost of having to abandon the currently held family plan and unlimited data plan I currently have with a large carrier, especially when I don’t pay for them currently (like tethering).

If I were on a single-line plan with AT&T, as I used to be long ago, I would have a 200-text limit, the same voice plan, and same unlimited data plan. But the total bill for just myself would be around $80, not much different from what I’d be getting with Google Fi. The difference would be trading up for unlimited voice and text messages. Personally, though, in my last phone bill, I literally used 5 minutes of voice. The month before that: 4 minutes.

I use my phone as an unlimited data connection for my Pebble Time watch, Google Glass, and when the need justifies the effort, as a mobile tethering device after I root and mod it. I communicate via Google Hangouts, Inbox, Facebook Messenger, and corporate chat services (flowdock, etc). Occasionally I send SMS messages, but the last bill hit 167, and I thought I was doing quite a bit of messaging.

My wife, however, is starting to make a dent into our 5000 rollover minutes I’ve accumulated over the years of never talking on my phone, and is racking up nearly 600 SMS messages a month, but not using more than 0.5GB of data. She would benefit from these types of unlimited plans, but she doesn’t have a Nexus 6 (and barely accepted her iPhone 5C upgrade from a dumb flip phone in 2014).


So there you have it, not cost-effective enough to get me to go from a family play with unlimited data on one line, to dual single-line plans with no unlimited data on any lines. If there were only one single line on one single plan, then it still would only be marginally cost-effective. However, the other setbacks of having to use or lose my Google Voice number, and what that means for my actual phone number might still prevent me from making the switch.

By [[Neo]]

I am a web programmer, system integrator, and photographer. I have been writing code since high school, when I had only a TI-83 calculator. I enjoy getting different systems to talk to each other, coming up with ways to mimic human processes using technology, and explaining how complicated things work.

Of my many blogs, this one is purely about the technology projects, ideas, and solutions that I have come across in my internet travels. It's also the place for technical updates related to my other sites that are part of The-Spot.Network.

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