Google is expanding eSim reach beyond Fi

With connectivity taking a more prominent role, Google has tied more partnerships to support eSim on the Pixel 3, taking the business into international markets.

While the eSim functionality on Pixel 2, claimed by Google to be “the first major smartphone with eSIM”, only worked on Google’s own MVNO, Project Fi (now Google Fi), the internet giant just announced it has built more support for eSim on its new Pixel 3 phones. The partners listed in the Google statement included Sprint in the US, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone in Germany, EE in the UK, and Airtel and Reliance Jio in India. Also included are Truphone and Gigsky, two MVNOs that operate in multiple markets.

After Apple threw its weight behind eSim with its latest products, projections of the penetration of eSim have been raised. ABI Research now predicts 420 million eSim compatible phones will be shipped by 2022, 100 times higher than the four million sold in 2017. Established mobile operators may still view eSim with suspicion, as it makes churn so much easier. But, like new technologies in the past, from VoIP to OTT services, it would be hard to hold back the tides of progress. Moreover, it does force operators to be more innovative and customer centric, in addition to helping improve operational efficiency. On the other hand, consumers will benefit from the flexibility and easy roaming arrangements that eSim enables.

This trend has certainly been embraced by MVNOs too. Ralph Steffens, CEO of Truphone, one of Google’s partners, said in a statement, “This new technology signifies a massive shift in the telecommunications industry. It’s having an impact on everyone from phone providers to chipset manufacturers to mobile network operators. But most importantly, it directly impacts businesses and consumers by offering them more flexibility over their mobile connectivity.”

Pixel has never been one of the best sellers, and Google needs to get the whole Android ecosystem behind it to build the eSim momentum. To this end Google is rallying the Android OEMs.

“To enable a consistent and simple experience across the ecosystem, we’re also creating a program that allows Android device makers to build eSIM-capable smartphones. We look forward to continuing our work with our partners on the potential benefits of eSIM—whether that’s getting you connected to a phone, watch, tablet, or laptop—in the future,” Google said in the announcement.

Google’s MVNO is here to stay

After launching the MVNO service in 2015, Project Fi has trundled along without any real fanfare, but a rebrand of the service suggests it might get a bit more attention over the coming months.

It has become somewhat of a rite of passage for Google, but dropping the ‘Project’ part of the name is a sign the service or product has graduated out of the labs. Loon had the ‘Project’ label dropped a couple of months back, and now it’s starting to look like a genuine business, so perhaps this snippet of news is something we should pay attention to. The MVNO is perhaps being given more official status on the Google family tree. Project Fi has been rebranded to Google Fi.

“Starting today, Project Fi is available on more phones: our plan now works with the majority of Android devices and iPhones,” said Simon Arscott, Director of Project Fi at Google. “And since we’re officially expanding our device support, we’re making our name more official, too: we’re now Google Fi.”

We doubt this service will be able to offer any material competition to the MNOs of the US, though it will certainly be a nuisance. Google’s previous ventures into the world of connectivity have not been fruitful, Google Fiber was hardly a roaring success, though this is a company which likes to back ideas with potential. And it certainly isn’t scared about pumping cash into concepts some would easily dismiss. Just looks at Maps or Loon, how many companies would have stuck with these ideas for so long as they swallow millions. Maps has now developed into a money making machine, while we love the potential of Loon.

In Google Fi, the team has the opportunity to do something brilliant again.

The interesting aspect of Google Fi is its affordability, simplicity and the fact it genuinely seems user centric. In researching this article, your correspondent went on the FAQs, played around with the various products and talked to a customer service agent in the instant chat function. The website is simple and easy to use. It seems genuinely user centric, much in the same way GiffGaff is in the UK. On the product side, these are tariffs which are designed to be simple.

In the UK, GiffGaff allows you to choose a data bundle, which can be altered at the end of every month dependent on your usage. Even when you use all your data, there are no penalty fees which some will dread, you are just prompted to renew your bundle a couple of days early. With Google Fi, the process is slightly different, but just as simple. You pay $20 for unlimited SMS and voice, and then $10 for every GB of data you use, with the bill capped at $60. Yes, it could be cheaper, but don’t forget this is the US where tariffs are incredibly expensive, however like GiffGaff it is simple and flexible, just what today’s consumer is demanding.

Today’s announcement not only rebrands the service to make it official and here to stay, but also expands the number of devices which it is compatible on. The service is now available on ‘most Android devices’, not just the ones which Google sells, but also the iPhone.

MVNOs are never going to take over the US, that is not the way the industry is structured, but with a well-known (and mostly liked) brand and adventurous markets with big budgets, it could certainly make an interesting business.