Google Nexus device owners can get a little taste of Google's experimental Project Fi service without dumping their current wireless carrier.
Google said Tuesday that the Wi-Fi Assistant technology used as part of its Project Fi service to automatically and securely connect devices to free public Wi-Fi hotspots will be available to all Nexus device users, regardless of the cellular network they use for service.
Project Fi is an experimental wireless network that Google started in April 2015 that uses a combination of cellular coverage from T-Mobile and Sprint and local Wi-Fi networks. The service accesses more than a million Wi-Fi hotspots to provide inexpensive wireless Internet connectivity. When Wi-Fi isn't available, it uses cellular networks from Sprint and T-Mobile to provide service.
A key aspect of Project Fi's service is technology that seamlessly switches between public Wi-Fi networks and the cellular networks without the user doing anything to set it up. When a user is on Wi-Fi, Google encrypts the connection, ensuring that data transmitted over the free public Wi-Fi network is as secure as a cellular connection.
Now Google is allowing all Nexus users, even if they aren't Project Fi subscribers, to benefit from it. This allows anyone with a Nexus device to conserve their monthly cellular data by offloading their usage to Wi-Fi. While many wireless customers are already using public Wi-Fi hotspots, Google's Wi-Fi Assistant automates finding and signing on to the Wi-Fi hotspots. It also makes using open Wi-Fi networks more secure because it automatically encrypts the connection.
Simon Arscott, project manager for Project Fi, said finding ways to incorporate technology developed for Project Fi into products made for the mainstream wireless market is all part of Google's plan.
"We built Project Fi as a testbed for innovative ideas," he said in an interview. "And we saw this as an opportunity through our Nexus product line to bring it to even more users."
The feature is available to Nexus devices running Android Lollipop 5.1 and higher software. This includes the Nexus 4, 5, 6, 5x, and 6P smartphones, as well as Nexus 7, 9, and 10 tablets. Users can turn the feature on or off. When the feature is enabled, it will connect to the same public Wi-Fi hotspots that Google uses as part of the Project Fi service. The software will test the connection and if it's good enough to use, it automatically connects the device to that Wi-Fi network via an encrypted connection to ensure security.
Wi-Fi Assistant is available on Nexus devices in the US starting Tuesday, and it will be rolled out to Canada, Mexico, UK, and Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and their associated territories) during the coming weeks.