Instant Analysis: Alphabet, Inc. to Add iPad Support to Project Fi

Google now lets data-only tablets use Project Fi.

Evan Niu
Evan Niu, CFA
Dec 16, 2015 at 8:00AM
Technology and Telecom

What happened?
Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google has now announced that Project Fi will support data-only devices such as cellular-equipped tablets. Launched earlier this year, Project Fi is Google's push into the world of mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, except that Project Fi uses wholesale bandwidth from both T-Mobile and Sprint, combined with Wi-Fi to broaden its coverage footprint. In addition, Google only charges users for the data they consume, refunding unused data at the end of each month's billing cycle. Google charges a flat $10 per GB.

Initially, Project Fi supported only Google's own Nexus devices, which inherently limited the appeal since Nexus devices represent a fairly small portion of the broader Android camp. Yesterday's announcement is important because the company has now expanded device support to tablets, notably including Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPads.

Specifically, Google says that it has verified that the Nexus 7, Nexus 9, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, and Samsung Galaxy Tab S all work with Project Fi, but it says that any unlocked device using a data-only SIM that supports T-Mobile's GSM network should work.

Does it matter?
The addition is unlikely to be financially significant for either Google or Apple. Project Fi is one of Google's many side projects that has disruptive potential, and it only broadens the appeal of iPads, since it gives additional choice when choosing a cellular provider. 

In a way, this move could be viewed as an extension of Apple's own Apple SIM strategy, which implements network-switching technology to allow users to dynamically switch between carriers if they choose to. This flexibility particularly comes in handy for international travel. But Apple SIM is still reliant on what plans the carriers offer, since the service isn't being purchased on a wholesale basis and then being resold under a new brand, as Project Fi is.

If anything, adding tablet support to Project Fi potentially commoditizes carriers slightly further, since it potentially allows tablet users to tap into the disruptive potential. In practice, Project Fi will probably remain a tiny niche within the wireless industry.