International Roaming Next Steps (I’ll try Project Fi)

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A couple of weeks ago I published a roundup of international roaming options that I was considering: International Roaming: AT&T / Verizon vs. Project Fi vs. T-Mobile vs. Sprint vs. SIMS vs. Hotspots.  In that post I said that I was going to try out Sprint’s solution since I could get it for a year, for free.  Readers piped in with advice which completely changed my mind.  I’m going to try Google’s Project Fi.  Here’s a summary of what I learned from readers:

What readers said about T-Mobile…

A number of readers reported being very happy with T-Mobile.  This surprised me, especially after reading this post from Live and Let’s Fly where Matthew complained that T-Mobile’s data service didn’t work at all for him during recent trips to Germany, Italy, and Spain.  He decided to switch to Verizon where he’ll pay $10 per day for high speed internet when abroad.

Readers also pointed out that T-Mobile’s local coverage may be better with newer phones (a neighbor of mine had reported terrible coverage, but maybe he uses an older phone).

What readers said about Google’s Project Fi…

Quite a few people vouched for Project Fi.  And, I learned a number of key details:

  • Project Fi can be used with an iPhone, but not all Project Fi features are available when you do so
  • If you have a regular Project Fi account, you can add data-only sim cards for free.  These will use the same data allotment from your primary account.  For example, on a one-user account, you are charged $20 for phone service plus $10 per Gigabyte of data usage, and overall data charges are capped at $60 per month.  By adding additional sims, you may increase your data usage, but the monthly charge shouldn’t exceed $80 plus taxes for both phone service and data (assuming I understand this correctly).
  • Cell phone coverage should be better with Project Fi than with most alternatives since Project Fi automatically picks the best service from three different networks:  Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular.
  • If you want to use Fi just for international roaming, you can easily pause service for up to 3 months at a time.  When the 3 months are up, you can easily pause service again.  Only when traveling, then, is it necessary to pay for Fi.

What readers said about Sprint…

  • International data is too slow to be usable, but you can add high speed data for just $5 per day
  • Many phones don’t work with Sprint
  • The one year free plan (which I was planning to go with) no longer supports using your phone as a hotspot

In general there weren’t many up-votes for Sprint.  The thing that really killed Sprint for me is finding out that the one-year-free plan doesn’t support using your phone as a hotspot.

Other reader suggestions…

  • A number of people argued for the local-sim option (which I discussed briefly in the original post)
  • Experiences with SkyRoam were mixed
  • And some people suggested I look into other options:
    • FreedomPop
    • Three-UK “Feel-at-home” roaming Sim card
    • Truphone’s prepaid SIM
    • Pokefi hotspot
    • GlocalMe (via Twitter suggestion)
    • Huawei hotspot (via Facebook suggestion)

I decided to try Project Fi (hey, that rhymes)

The only reason I hadn’t previously gone with Project Fi is that official support is limited to a handful of specific Android phones.  I was aware that it was possible to use Project Fi with iPhones, but I had also read that you have to have (or borrow) a Project Fi phone in order to activate service.  Worse, Google explicitly does not support Fi’s use on iPhones.  And while Google’s Pixel phones get very good reviews, I wasn’t ready to jump out of the Apple ecosystem.

But, it turns out that getting a brand new Project Fi capable phone is actually really cheap.  At the time of this writing, Project Fi is selling the Moto G6 phone for only $199, plus they’re throwing in $50 of Fi credit!

Even better, by using a referral code (which I found in the comments of this Doctor of Credit post) to sign up for Project Fi, I got an additional $20 of credit.  If you’d like to use my referral code, we’ll each get $20 credit after 30 days of service.  Here’s my link: https://g.co/fi/r/96C5W4 (thanks!).

My total cost for a new phone and $70 of Google Fi credit was only $199 plus taxes (there were no shipping fees for ground shipping)

What I’ll do with Project Fi and my new Android phone

I signed up for Project Fi service by porting my Google Voice phone number rather than my usual cell phone number.  The reason is that I want to keep my AT&T service for a while in order to compare it to Fi and to use it as a backup if I have any trouble with Project Fi.

With the Moto G6 Android phone I’ll be able to compare Fi service on a supported phone to Fi service on an iPhone.  That will help me decide, long term, whether to switch entirely to Fi or to just use it for international roaming.  If the latter, I could imagine carrying around the G6 just as a hotspot when traveling.  While the G6 is far from tiny, it’s at least a lot thinner than my fat SkyRoam device.

My fat SkyRoam device pictured between an iPhone Plus and an old iPhone 5c

I also plan to order free data sims with Project Fi.  This way, when traveling internationally with family, I could either swap their SIMs with these so that they’ll get international high speed data (assuming their phone has been unlocked), or I could bring along a few old phones or SIM-insertable hotspot devices so that each traveler can carry their own.

I’ll follow up in a month or two to report on how it’s going.

Note: Please don’t comment with referral codes.  The conversation here should be about best options for international roaming.

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