Google’s in-house incubator project, known as Area 120, has spawned some highly successful products such as Google News and the Cardboard VR headset. However, one Area 120 product was announced in 2020 that didn’t garner much publicity at the time – perhaps due to a certain global pandemic – but that has been a substantial perk to customers of Google’s own MVNO phone plan, Google Fi.
I am, of course, referring to the Orion Wifi project, which lets businesses sell their Wifi capacity to cellular carriers to help them improve their coverage in large venues, such as malls, airports, or stadiums. This strategy results in an additional income stream for the businesses selling their wifi connection without investing in new equipment and improved coverage for Google Fi customers.
According to 9to5Google, Google Fi started a trial of OpenRoaming, whose members would sign up and make sure their network interoperated with one another’s. This enabled automatic roaming and onboarding devices on a participating network when the coverage was insufficient. Additionally, during the trial period, having one’s phone automatically switched to one of these networks didn’t count against one’s data cap.
Now that the trial period is over, Google has rebranded this service as the “Google Fi W+ network,” which only works on Pixel phones running Android 12 or up. The way it works is that when you’re in range, your phone will automatically connect to W+, except when one of your saved Wifi networks is nearby and available. If a “W+” logo appears in your network settings and your status bar, you will know you are connected to this network. Additionally, connections to the W+ network now count against your normal data usage, a move that Google justifies since W+ is considered an extension of Fi as they’re picking up the tab for it.
As a former Google Fi customer, I consider this move a plus. Public Wifi hotspots are incredibly unreliable and sometimes even dangerous. At least, this way, you know your phone is connecting to a vetted network that will provide a better connection than if you were using 3G or 4G. This is also a feature you can opt out of temporarily or permanently. In either case, Google Fi customers with Pixel devices now have an additional option when cellular coverage is just not cutting it.