If you’re tired of the big U.S. mobile phone companies (aka Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile), you may want to consider two very strong contenders: Google Fi and Republic Wireless 3.0.
Below is my review and comparison of the two mobile phone service providers.
I am a current customer of both Google Fi and Republic Wireless. I have been with Republic Wireless since the beginning and am a more recent Google Fi phone company (formerly Project Fi) customer starting in July 2016.
I currently have two mobile phone lines on each service–my wife and I mainly use Google Fi, and my kids are on Republic Wireless phones.
At the moment, I’d say Google Fi is the better option – especially because it supports more phones (Android and iPhone) and has additional connectivity options, particularly when traveling internationally (no “roaming” fees in 120 countries).
I also prefer Google Fi, because it has built-in security in the form of a virtual private network (VPN) when you’re accessing service via WiFi. This is important because it will give you more confidence that your data isn’t being stolen when using public WiFi hotspots (eg – at the airport).
Right from the start, I’d like to say that neither Google Fi, nor Republic Wireless are perfect for every mobile user.
Google has a helpful tool to help you determine if this sort of service will meet your needs and save you money (or more importantly–whether it won’t!):
Take the Google Fi “fit” quiz to find out if Google Project Fi is the right choice based on your current mobile needs. Just answer a few questions about your usage habits and typical location, and it will help you to know if the costs and Google Fi coverage will work for you.
Pro Tip: If the Google tool tells you that Fi phone service isn’t right for you, then the Republic Wireless service probably won’t be right either.
Service coverage generally isn’t an issue for U.S. customers of either carrier, the main question is whether or not you’ll require more than the tipping point of data to make it worth it. In most cases, if you can commit to connecting to WiFi as often as possible, you can make the switch to Fi or Republic worthwhile. Much of the time, service is better over WiFi anyway, so it’s really a bonus.
BTW, if you decide to go with Google Fi, please use my “refer a friend” code. After you’ve been on the service for 30 days, you’ll get a credit for $20, and so will I! The Google Fi coupon code/promo code is EM35EF or you can just follow this link.
You should see something like this at the top of your screen:
This is valid for single accounts (not group/family plan accounts) and may expire (they have extended the deadline for this program, but haven’t stated a new end date–but if the link works–and it will tell you immediately that it did, then you WILL get the credit. It is definitely still in effect as of May 2020, and looks like it will continue for now.)
What Do Google Fi and Republic Wireless Have in Common, and What’s Different?
- Android Phone Support: Both companies offer service on GSM Android-based phones. In general, Google Fi works with most Android phones, while Republic Wireless supports a more limited list. Having said that, you’ll want to use a good quality phone with these services. There is a list of recommend phones that include Google’s Pixel phones, Moto G Stylus and Moto G Power lines. At the moment, the lowest cost phone offered new from Google Fi is the Moto G Power, a decent phone for $199.
- iPhone Support: Google Fi supports iPhones. This is exciting news because it opens the door to cheaper service for all users-not just on Android. Most iPhones should work fine on the service. Unfortunately, iPhones don’t support network switching for now.
- Google Fi (by way of the Google Store) will take trade-ins for certain phones and give you credit for it to use for your Project Fi bill. Credits range from around $25 to $125.
- Both companies allow you to purchase a phone from them or bring your own unlocked phone. Republic Wireless has a more limited list of bring-your-own options.
- Both companies allow you to make calls and send text messages over WiFi. Both try to save data by connecting you via WiFi when possible. Google Fi has the added advantage of built-in VPN security over WiFi. This means there’s less worry about hackers snooping your data when you’re using WiFi in public places because it will be encrypted.
- Both companies are month-to-month, no contracts. Stop service at any time.
- Google Fi service automatically routes your calls and data on one of three 4G LTE networks (Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular), depending on which has the best connection when you place a call or use data. It will support 5G on Sprint’s network as it rolls out, provided your device can accommodate 5G. On the other hand, Republic Wireless is only on T-Mobile’s network.
- Both companies offer very competitively priced data plans. The real savings come into play when you use WiFi for calls, texts, and data as much as possible. Google Fi offers an unlimited plan.
- You are more likely to have better mobile call quality with Project Fi than you are with Republic Wireless, but I have had very few problems with Republic Wireless’ call quality in recent years. If you are placing calls on a decent WiFi network, either provider works great.
- Both companies offer the option of monthly payments/financing on the phones they sell.
- Republic Wireless plans start at $15/month and Google Fi’s plans start at $20/month. These are the base prices to keep your line activated and make calls and send texts via WiFi — you’ll be charged more if you use any mobile data. (Which can be avoided by using WiFi for data when possible.)
- Data on Republic Wireless is cheaper than on Google Fi, however, Google Fi’s “flexible plan” billing model is much more, well, flexible since you only pay for the data you use–and you only pay to the penny. In other words, although they quote $10/gig, they only charge you for any fraction you actually use when you select this plan–you don’t have to pay for an entire gig.
- With Republic Wireless, you will know exactly how much you will be billed at the end of the month based on which plan you select. With Project Fi, you will know the base costs, and then the actual bill depends entirely on how much data you use. Google’s “Bill Protection” feature puts a cap on the monthly charge and amounts to an unlimited plan.
- Google Fi has an “unlimited plan.” It is a great deal if you use lots of data. The most an individual will have to pay in a month is $70. For that price, an individual on the plan will get 22 gigs per month of high speed data without throttling and without paying anything more. If you exceed 22 gigs, but don’t want to be throttled you can opt to pay an additional $10/gig.The same deal exists on the family/group plan…but for instance the most two people would have to pay is $120/month. There are additional savings for each person you add to the plan.Here is a table with pricing as of September 22, 2019:You also get free calling to over 50 countries included in the unlimited plan. Google One membership with 100 gigs of Google Drive space is also included.
- Republic Wireless requires you to upgrade your plan when you hit your data limit. You can upgrade and downgrade your plan up to two times per month. This is a bit of a pain. You also must pay for the entirety of the amount of data in the plan you select no matter what portion of the data you use.
- Republic Wireless does not have a family or group plan, Project Fi has a “group plan’ with very competitive rates, convenient “bill splitting” features if you’re sharing with friends, and data plan sharing. This can be an especially great deal for members of your family who don’t use alot of data…and the bill splitting is very innovative.Google Fi will let you pause a member of your group’s data usage or pause their service completely. On Republic Wireless, you can downgrade a user’s plan to not have data, but you can’t really pause their account yourself (although you may be able to do this by contacting customer service).
- If you purchase your phone from Google Fi, you can enroll in their “Device Protection” insurance plan for about $5 – $7/month. I highly recommend this, as it has been hassle-free help for me on three occasions including one where a $300 phone was dropped in water. In the event something goes wrong with your phone it’s will be replaced with a refurb for around $60 – $90. If your screen is broken, you can take it to a local retail shop and have it fixed for around $20.
What’s So Special About These Two Mobile Phone Carriers?
They have some great selling points and great phones in common. As mentioned earlier, I am a customer of both of these services, so I wanted to share some insights for people trying to figure out if Fi or RW is right for them and whether or not they should dump the usual suspect mobile carriers and save money. (The answer is probably YES!)
Below is a review of some of the feature differences between the two mobile phone service companies:
What are the Phone Options for Google Fi and Republic Wireless
Republic Wireless and Google Fi get the best performance with certain pre-selected Android phones. Importantly, Google Fi allows you to use an iPhone, Republic Wireless does not.
When you sign up for either of these companies, you’ll either have to bring your own phone (which, in the case of Republic Wireless, will need to on their list of approved phones) or purchase one from the company.
The phones they recommend are generally among the higher-end phones. If you purchase a phone from either company, it will come “unlocked” — it will be yours to take with you should you ever decide to move to a different phone company. This is good to know as it is often not the case when you buy a phone from other carriers.
Likewise, if you buy your own phone (or if you already had one that’s compatible), it will need to be “unlocked” for it to work. If you are purchasing a new phone, just be sure that not only is it a compatible model, but that it is an unlocked phone.
If you have a compatible phone that you purchased on a plan through AT&T, for example, it may not be unlocked. You may or may not be able to get AT&T to unlock it for you, depending on your contract. You’ll have to call and ask to be sure.
Both Republic Wireless or Google Project Fi will provide you with a SIM card that you’ll need to install to use their service.
Google Project Fi Phone Options
At the moment (as of May 2020), Google Fi supports most Android phones. Their recommend phones are the Google Pixel (1 – 4 / Pixel 3a), LG ThinQ, Moto G6, Moto G Power, Moto G Stylus, certain Samsung phones, OnePlus, iPhone, and the Moto X4. These are venerable phones.
As you may be aware, the Pixel 4 phone is now the flagship phone of the Android operating system and has some fantastic features-I am a HUGE fan of this phone (EXCELLENT camera, fast response, waterproof, very good all around and perfect for Fi–follow this link and click SHOP to see the discounted Fi customer price).
If you need a cheaper option, I am also impressed with the cheaper version of the Google Pixel 3 (Google’s previous flagship), the Pixel 3a. It is a bit slower, and has a plastic body (NOT waterproof), but also has an excellent camera, just like the Pixel 3’s.
Generally speaking, if you have a Pixel 2, 3, or 4, you’ll get a monthly software update from Google–You will always have the latest release of Android–a truly a nice feature, rather than waiting and hoping that your phone will get an update…a chronic problem due to a combination of phones and phone companies.
The Moto X4 and Moto G7, and the newer Moto G phones are also well regarded and certainly have a lower price point than the Pixel phones. Although having said that, you may want to look at the refurbished Pixel phones on Amazon.
Along those same lines, you can purchase these phones from Google when you sign up for service, but you should double-check the price on Amazon just to make sure you can’t get a better deal — here are some links to refurbished older Pixel phones: Google Pixel, and Google Pixel 2.
You can finance the phones when purchased on Google or Amazon. Having said that, a compelling reason to purchase the phone from Google is their trade in program that is applicable to certain phone models and includes a Google Fi credit of varying amounts depending on the age and condition of the trade.
I have bought several phones through Google Fi’s store and have had good luck that way. It definitely does make it a little bit easier than bringing your own phone.
A Word About Google Fi Device Protection
The Google Fi device protection will cost you $5 to $7 per month and covers things like: cracked screens, spills, and device malfunctions.
If something goes wrong they will replace your phone with a new or refurbished similar phone. I have used the service once when the battery was failing on my Nexus 5x. It was quickly replaced with a refurbished identically configured phone. There is a deductible to consider.
See the table above for example costs for device protection and the deductible you’ll have to pay if you get your phone replaced using this service. Note that you can only sign up for device protection if you buy your phone from Google.
Bring an Additional Data Only Device to Google Fi
Google Fi will allow you to add a free additional “data only” SIM card to your account. This will let you share your data plan with another device (without any additional monthly fees!) So for example, you could have your main SIM card in your Google Pixel phone, and then put the data-only SIM in an iPad. Whatever the device, so long as it’s able to use a compatible SIM card, and it is “radio compatible” with T-Mobile. You would not be able to use the phone’s dialer with this option and there is no tethering.
Here is a list of devices they have verified are compatible with the free data-only SIM card:
- Android tablets running 7.0 or higher with LTE bands 2 and 4 (US versions)
- iPads running iOS 10 or higher with LTE bands 2 and 4 (US versions)
- Samsung Galaxy Tabs S2 or newer (US versions)
- Nexus 9 LTE (US versions)
- Sony Xperia Z4 (US version)
Other devices not on the list could work, if they are unlocked and radio-compatible with T-Mobile (GSM Radio) and they have the right sized SIM slot. For example, I have heard of people using it with their iPhone 6.
You can just order one and try (it’s totally free! You don’t even have to pay for shipping.) if you think you have an unlocked device that will work. Just remember there will be no calls or texts through the normal channels (although you can certainly replace the regular dialer and text messenger with some other app for example, What’s App, Viber, or Skype…). Note that you might potentially need a “nano SIM to Micro SIM adaptor” for some devices.
Republic Wireless Phone Options
Republic Wireless is compatible with lots of phones, but they only allow you to use specific models, and there is no iPhone support yet, although it is available in beta, so coming soon. Having said that, the list of choices are fairly substantial and that gives you more freedom if you’re bringing your own unlocked phone that is on their short approved list. Below is a list of a few of the phones they are currently compatible with (The model number IS important!).
I have included a link to Amazon.com for each phone. You are likely to find the phone cheaper on Amazon than on the Republic Wireless site, in some cases $50-100 cheaper–especially for the Moto G, since Amazon is selling it at a discount, but it includes some relatively innocuous advertising.
At any rate, as long as the model numbers match, you will be able to use it on Republic Wireless–just be sure it is unlocked and double check the model as sometimes these links get switched out to different products on Amazon’s end, and I can’t control that:
- Moto G Stylus (XT2043-4) – Amazon
- Galaxy S20+ (SM-G986UZKEXAA, SM-G986UZKAXAA, SM-G986UZAEXAA, SM-G986UZAAXAA, SM-G986ULBEXAA, SM-G986ULBAXAA) – Amazon
- Samsung Galaxy Note 10 (SM-N970U1K1XAA) – Amazon
If you already have one of the above phones and want to check to make sure it’s compatible, you can just download, install, and run the Republic Wireless app from the Android app store. It will tell you if your phone is compatible.
At this writing Project Fi also offers insurance on the phone, Republic Wireless does not. Insurance is something Republic is said to be working on.
Multiple Mobile Networks and WiFi in Use
One very cool feature of both Republic Wireless and Google Project Fi is the way they can move seamlessly between wireless networks, and they can also place calls/send text on WiFi networks.
Google Fi has the upper hand here, as it can make use of 3 major US mobile phone networks: Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. Whichever network is providing the strongest signal is the one that your call will be routed on. It does this in real-time, so if you should move to an area where one of the three providers is giving you a better signal your call will switch networks and you’ll be “none the wiser.”
Republic Wireless utilizes just one network–T-Mobile (actually, they don’t tell you, but they hint that it’s the one that has the best 4G LTE network.)
The Seamless Handover Between Phone and WiFi
Both Republic Wireless and Project Fi will allow you to seamlessly switch over to and away from a WiFi connection. This is REALLY handy. Especially if you live in a place where there just isn’t really any strong cellular signal (or if, for example, you work in a basement that has WiFi, but no mobile signals get through).
If you’re connected to a WiFi hot spot, you don’t incur any data charges and you can use voice, data, and texting as you would on the mobile network. Did I mention how great this is? 🙂
If you place a call, and then move away from your WiFi network, your phone is going to seamlessly jump on to the wireless network, assuming one is available.
Google Fi also keeps a database of hundreds of open WiFi networks that it can automatically connect to. When it does, it always uses an encrypted connection to protect your calls and data. It seems to work very well and saves you money.
The Data Plans and Costs
Depending on your situation, you will probably find that you’ll save money using either one of these companies, when you compare them to AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon.
The Cost of Google Fi
Google Fi has two basic plans: Unlimited and Flexible. You can choose which one you’d like and switch between them at will–the change takes effect on the next billing cycle.
The Flexible Plan on Google Fi
The formula for pricing is something like: Google Fi Monthly Payment = Base Cost of $20/month + data used & international calls + phone insurance (optional) + taxes, fees (in my case $3.62 in October 2016 for a single line to be exact–see sample bill below).
Google’s FAQs state “Taxes and government surcharges vary by service address, but are normally between 10-20%. For example, if your monthly bill is $40, the taxes on your statement could be between $4-8.”
If you’re paying for your phone on a monthly basis, that fee would also be charged on your monthly bill along with device protection fees if you are enrolled.
Google Fi “Flexible Plan” is really a pay-as-you-go offering. They do give you benchmark “data plans” but really, at the end of the month you’re only going to pay for what you actually used as far as data (down to the megabyte). This is a bit hard to grasp, because we’re so used to phone companies that charge you the minimum of your chosen data plan and then charge you for additional data as you go, but in specific large blocks of data. This is not the case with Project Fi.
When you sign up for Google Fi on the Flexible Plan, you will “choose a data billing plan,” but really it’s just to give you the idea of what you will be spending each month. That might sound scary, but it works–especially with their bill protection feature.
Even though you signed up for a plan, they charge you by the megabyte. To put this more specifically, Google currently charges a base of $20/month to keep the service activated for voice and texting, then they charge $10/gig of data used (plus a monthly fee). In reality though, if you only used 350 megabytes in a month, you would be charge $3.50 for data, not the whole $10. So you are always charged for just what you used, no matter which plan you select.
Project Fi’s help explains signing up for a data plan on their network this way “You’ll always pay for what you use, so changing your data budget is like setting a goal. We’ll send you alerts as you get close to your budget.” They go on to explain that “With Project Fi, you’re charged $10 per GB for data. If you use more data than your budget, you’ll be charged for the exact difference–at the exact same rate. If you use less, you’ll get credited for what you don’t use. ”
If you really need to have no more than an exact amount of data used, you can use your phone’s “set mobile data limit” features to set a hard limit. This way, when your phone notices you’ve reached a certain data threshold it will shut off its mobile data usage.
Pro Tip: I’d recommend the Datally app made by Google to control your data usage in any case.
The Unlimited Plan on Google Fi
The Unlimited Plan is a pretty good deal. At the moment, an individual line on this pays $70/month. A family of 4 would see a bit of a discount, paying $45/line. This includes 22 gigs of high-speed data. After that you will be throttled.
The Unlimited Plan also includes free international calling to 50+ countries and a subscription to Google One with 100gigs of Google Drive space.
Traveling and International Calls on a Google Fi Plan
An important, and notable feature of Project Fi is that if you travel to any of 135+ other countries, your data plan will still be in effect–you won’t be charged any extra (beyond the regular $10/gig if you’re on the Flexible Plan and nothing additional on the Unlimited Plan), and you’ll be able to consume data, just as you did in the USA. I recently traveled to Italy, France, Spain, Ukraine, and Germany with my Fi phone and had success with calls, text messages, and data. This is a great feature because you don’t have to worry with purchasing a local SIM card or anything like that.
Once I got to a new country, it took a few minutes, but I’d get a message from Google Fi confirming my phone had been registered in the given country, and then I could make calls, send texts, and use data. For more details and to see the list of countries that are in Project Fi’s plan, click here.
Note that although your data costs will be the same as they are in the USA, expect to pay 20 cents per minute for calls. Assuming you have a US phone number, WiFi calls within the USA and abroad would be free, and beyond that, if you’re calling another country, the same international calling rates would apply.
If you are wondering, yes, you can send text messages to other countries from Google Fi phones–I have texted to Germany and Ukraine without problems.
A Word About Groups and Families on Google Fi
Google Fi offers a group plan/family plan. Each additional line above the initial primary line is $15/month, and then the data is shared at the same rates mentioned above.
If you have younger kids and want to be able to control their data usage, you’ll want to use Google Family link app. It lets you set limits on the child’s phone including which content they’re viewing but you can also create settings and alerts for data usage that the youngster can’t tamper with.
One great feature of this group/family plan is the bill splitting/”repay” feature. “Fi plan members can repay group plan owners for their share of the monthly bill directly through the Google Fi app. No need to pull out your calculator—Project Fi will handle the math. Reminders, payments, and tracking are all just as simple.” That means it’s a bit easier if you’re sharing an account with friends or roommates, everyone can easily pay their share of the wireless bill.
The Cost of Republic Wireless 3.0 Plans
Republic Wireless has a base cost of /month. This base cost includes no data, and doesn’t include things like taxes and fees, phone payment plan, etc. But if you own the phone outright, that is a great starting point. For college students who are near ubiquitous WiFi, that could truly be all you need. Plans go up from there. Most people will need a data plan, and with Republic Wireless, you get 1 gig included for $20/month. Not bad.
Here is a chart (as of 8/6/2016) that shows how the rates increase with more data. You will find these rates turn out to be lower cost than Google Project Fi. See below for a direct comparison.
Republic Wireless allows you to switch plans via their app whenever you want, so if you hit your limit or need to cut back, you can do that at will. It is important to understand that unlike with Project Fi, you can’t just keep using data beyond your selected plan. The data will stop when you hit your data plan limit. At that point you can upgrade to a higher plan through the Republic Wireless app, and you will immediately have more data at your disposal.
On the other hand, if you then want to downgrade again, you can request it, but it doesn’t take place until the beginning of the next billing cycle. (I think you can just do this immediately after you upgrade, so you won’t have to wait an extra billing cycle to switch back down). With Republic Wireless, you still get billed for the entire amount of your data plan, even if you don’t use it.
A Word About Using Google Fi and Republic Wireless with Kids
If you have children and those children have a phone, you’ll probably have concerns about their data plan usage. The question will be: how can I restrict my child or teen’s data usage so that they don’t cause the parents to go bankrupt. Here are a few thoughts on this:
- With Republic Wireless, it’s a simple matter – you just select the amount of data you’re okay with and that’s what you’ll be charged — provided that your kid doesn’t upgrade their plan themselves–a possibility, but definitely a deliberate action, and one you may be able to restrict (see Family Link bullet below)
- On Google Fi, there is no “hard stop” on data usage. It will let you keep going, and you’ll be charged until you hit your plan’s threshold for unlimited data. After that there will be no further charges. So if you have a kid who uses lots of data, there is no line where the data will be “gone.”
Having said that, they do have two features that are useful in cases where you need to control your family member’s data usage.
First, you can set a data usage “alert” at whatever amount you think is appropriate. So for example, if you think you’re child should only use 1 gig per month, you can choose that amount, and you and your child will receive an alert when they hit that benchmark.
Second, you, as the account owner can sign in to Google Fi and pause the data for your child’s account. So if you’re on the ball, you can sort of control how much data is used. Depending on your child, the alert itself might be enough for them to curb their data usage.
- On Android devices, you can setup the “Family Link app.” Family Link is a free Google app that allows you to control all aspects of your kid’s phone usage.
Family Link doesn’t specifically let you control they amount of data they can utilize, but it would allow you to restrict their ability to access certain apps. So this may be a way for you to stop them from adjusting the phone’s settings. It definitely lets you restrict the amount of time kids can spend using specific apps.
I don’t know much about it, but there are similar apps for iPhone/iOS.
- I think it is worth mentioning again that both Google Fi and Republic Wireless are built on the idea that you’ll use WiFi as much as possible — including for sending text messages and making phone calls. Therefore, in many situations that other mobile phone companies would have you using data from the data plan, these two companies stand out since they save you from this where possible.
Comparing the Cost of Republic Wireless vs Google Fi
In short, although there are some nuances to this, Google Project Fi is slightly more expensive than Republic Wireless. It really depends on how you intend to use the service which of the two would be better.
Base Plan (No data) cost
Republic Wireless: $15/month (no group/family plan at this time)
Google Project Fi: $20/month first line, $15/month additional group plan lines
Republic Wireless: Depends on the amount of data. All plans already include unlimited voice & texting: 1 gig $20; 2 gigs $25; 3 gigs $30, etc. (as of 8/6/2016). You DO have to pay for unused data.
Google Project Fi: Base Cost of $20 PLUS the data costs (but only for the exact amount of data you use): $10/gig. So a one gig plan would be $30/month; 2 gig plan would $40/month, etc. +taxes, fees, etc. I am in Maryland, and I paid $3.62 in taxes and fees on my October bill (see below).
Google Fi Sample Bill
Here is a sample bill from Google’s Project Fi for one line in October 2016… and if you’re wondering about Google Fi taxes and fees, there is a breakout (again for October 2016 in Maryland! It might be somewhat different in other states):
You can’t go wrong with either of these phone companies. Both offer great service and operate with very decent phones. Google Fi has the power of additional phone networks, encrypted WiFi, international data, phone replacement insurance/device protection, etc, but Republic Wireless gets the job done at slightly lower costs. Since there are no contracts with either company, you can leave and take your phone with you at any time — you just have to finish paying for the current month and you’re done.
You can certainly try Project Fi and if you don’t like it, you could switch to Republic Wireless (assuming you are using one of the compatible phones that work on both mobile services!). The hardest part would be changing out the SIM card in your phone (which isn’t that hard, but can be kind of a pain if you’re a bit ham fisted like me.)