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Project Fi vs. T-Mobile vs. Verizon and My Pursuit of the Perfect Phone Service Solution

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In my piece, Apple vs. Google and My Pursuit of Technological Perfection, I chronicled my decision to purchase the new iPhone XS Max to replace my Google Pixel 2 XL even before the Pixel 3 launch on Monday, October 9th – with the caveat that I reserved the right to change my mind.

Barring a truly blockbuster rollout by Google, I’m pretty sure that that I’m going to stick with the iPhone because of the apps and seamless integration with my MacBook and iMac.

Now that I’ve pretty much settled on the hardware and software, I needed to figure out my phone service situation, in advance of full activation of the Dual Sim Dual Standby feature by Apple and the wireless carriers with the official rollout of iOS 12.1.

I will be able to use at least two services at a a time from the same or different wireless companies. I currently have plans with Project-Fi, T-Mobile and Verizon.  Of these three who which one(s) will slide into my two available SIM spots.

I travel extensively so the most important factor for me is seamless high-speed world-wide service without breaking the bank.

Project Fi
Google’s wireless service is actually a really good bargain if you only have one line and don’t use a lot of data or if your data usage fluctuates a lot. Their base price for a single account is $20 for unlimited calls and texts, plus $10/GB of data usage up to 6GB after which data is free up to 15GB. At that point your data will be throttled unless you want to pay the $10/GB after 15GB. So your max bill will be $80 per month under this plan.

I have a business plan with T-Mobile so that’s not why I opted for Project-Fi.  I chose Google’s MVNO because their data rates are the same if you’re in London, KY or London England. As I mentioned, I travel internationally regularly and have enjoyed the free unlimited international data that is available through my T-Mobile One plan but the data is at 2G speed. Good for email and light surfing but not much else.  They do now have a T-Mobile One plus plan that doubles the speed of the regular One plan for up to 3G speeds, but that’s still not that fast.

So I can spend a month touring Europe with one of my clients, like I did this summer and pay no more than $80 and not have to think about international data plans or speed.

My Project-Fi number is a coveted (212), NYC area code, which is a big deal for me in my line of business – the music industry.

When I am in the States I don’t use my Project-Fi plan at all, but still have access to calls and texts for my main 212 number because of the Hangout app. It allows me to forward my calls to another number and still text and make calls from any device or browser (more on that later.)

So for most of the year my Project Fi bill was $20/month.

But given my penchant for complicating things in pursuit of perfection and/or simplicity, I threw a curveball into my Project Fi situation.

My son lives in London and gave up his US phone number a couple of years ago, so I added him to my plan. I got him a US number for an additional $15/month, bringing my base bill to $35/month. The data is still $10/GB but the max threshold moved from 6GB for just me to 10GB combined for both of us.

Like me, my son has a Google Pixel 2 and doesn’t activate Project Fi through the eSIM. He uses a UK based wireless service physical SIM and uses Hangouts.  As a result, my bill was $35 when in the States and now was as much as $135 when traveling. I was in essence paying for an extra 4GB of data in order to have my son on the plan.

Last night I figured out a way to have my cake and eat it too. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first let me outline my other cellular service situations.

T-Mobile Business Plan
I’ve been with T-Mobile since they first started offering free unlimited 2G international data. This was truly a lifesaver, because a few years ago when traveling abroad you either waited for Wi-Fi, paid through the nose or just turned your phone off.

But like everything else in life, we always want more, right? So 2G wasn’t enough. I wanted more, hence the aforementioned Project-Fi.

I also had a (212) VOIP landline when I lived in the NYC area.  As I said, that area code is coveted so I didn’t want to give it up, so I ported it to T-Mobile. I didn’t connect it to a phone, instead I just forwarded it to a virtual assistant service – eVoice.

eVoice
The former VOIP (212) number pre-dated my (212) mobile number. It is the number that has been associated with my business since it started, so I had to find a solution that would allow for people to call and be routed to the proper person (my wife or me)-  eVoice to the rescue. I forward the T-Mobile to the toll free number that we were assigned to us when we setup the service and voila, we were in business.

Verizon
One of my clients actually purchased my Google Pixel 2 XL on his Verizon Business Plan. It was really a trade-in-kind, because I got him a phone on my T-Mobile plan.. When he activated the phone for me, he let me pick an area code. NYC is my favorited city in the US and San Francisco is a very close second, so I chose a (415) area code. In one very quick transaction we expanded our offices from the Big Apple to Silicon Valley.

Verizon isn’t really a contender here for international high-speed data. They sell day-passes that give you high speed data up to 512/MB and then 2G speed after that.  Not much better than T-Mobile who doesn’t charge extra.  However, Verizon service in the States is more ubiquitous than T-Mobile and they’re fast too.

Google Pixel 2XL Setup
The Pixel has a dual sim setup, an eSIM and a physical SIM, unlike the new iPhones the Pixel is an either/or situation as opposed to a both/and. You have to choose. You can switch on the fly, but that’s cumbersome. The eSIM only works with Project Fi so I had my (212) mobile number setup there but not active. Instead I used the Verizon (415) as the primary number. I forwarded my Project Fi number to that number so my calls came through with no problems.

If I wanted to make a call from that number I just needed to make it from the Hangouts app instead of the regular dialer app. Not a big deal, but it can be inconvenient. Plus, you can’t use Google Assistant to make calls because at the moment it can only make calls using the regular dialer.

iPhone XS Max
As I explained in the previous article, the main reason that I considered the new iPhone was to use the phone and texting from my Project Fi account on one SIM and the data from my Verizon SIM. Technically Project Fi doesn’t work with iPhones, but there is a workaround.

The benefit would be to switch the Project Fi SIM to both calls and data when traveling abroad and just calls and texts when home.

With that in mind I came up with a hair brained scheme at 2AM last night on how to as I mentioned above, to have my cake and eat it too.

Have My Cake and Eat it Too
Project Fi has another extraordinary benefit for their a la carte data plans. You can a data-only SIM and use it in your devices and the data simply counts against your allotment – 6GB for a single account. So if you use 10GB on your tablet and 5GB on your phone you only pay $60 the 6GB max and get high speed data for the whole 15GB no matter where you are on the planet.

So last night it occurred to me that I could kick my son off my plan, port my (212) number back to T-Mobile, have him sign up for a single plan and then order a data-only SIM on his plan that I could use in the physical SIM slot of my iPhone. That way I would pay a max of $60 for up to 15GB of high speed data when traveling abroad.

iPhone XS Max Setup
So when iOS 12.1 is officially rolled out and the wireless providers fully support the Apple eSIM I will have the following setup:

In the States – Physical SIM – Verizon (415) ; eSIM – T-Mobile (212) – Can use either data plan depending upon where I am at and who has better service.

Internationally – Physical SIM – Project Fi (data-only) ; eSIM – T-Mobile (212) – High speed data with phone and texting capabilities

Langniappe – an unexpected or indirect benefit
In researching the best way to unwind my Project Fi family plan,  I re-discovered Google Voice. Google Voice has many of the benefits of the Hangouts app, but as a free service. As either a stroke of pure inspiration or as a direct result of sleep deprivation, I ported my former VOIP (212) number from T-Mobile to Google Voice at 2:35AM last night.  My wife and I get most of the same benefits of eVoice along with the capability for  both of us to send and receive texts and calls from the number using the Google Voice app on our phones.

Google Voice also has the extra added benefit of international calling rates that are as low as $.01/min as opposed to the $.20/min of T-Mobile and Project-Fi.

So let’s recap.

What have we learned?

1) I have way too much time on my hands

2) Going back to the iPhone XS Max allows me access to the apps and software that seamlessly integrate with my new MacBook and iMac

3) I have way too many wireless plans and now have a virtual bi-coastal company even though I moved back to my home state of KY a few years back

4) The new Dual SIM Dual Standby feature of the iPhone XS affords me the ability to take full advantage of true international high speed data while also giving my son access to a US plan in the UK.

5) I can replace my virtual assistant service with Google Voice for free.

6) At any given time I can be pretty much anywhere on the planet and enjoy high speed data, text or make a phone call from my Silicon Valley office, my two NYC satellite offices or my vacation home in Hawaii (I have an 808 area code DIGITS number from T-Mobile, but that’s a whole other story – my late mom is Hawaiian)

I’m sure that your eyes are glazing over by now, but my hope is that at least one person can benefit from the sickness in my head.

Hopefully this can help unlock some of the secrets of solving simplex and complex technology and phone problems for that solitary someone.

About the author

Andre Kimo Stone Guess
Andre Kimo Stone Guess

Andre Kimo Stone Guess is a writer and cultural critic from the Smoketown neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. He was VP and Producer for Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York and CEO of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Pittsburgh. He now runs GuessWorks, Inc. with his wife Cheryl.

Educated Guesses A Blog Full of Guesses