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Google's experimental wireless service will work with tablets too

Google gives folks enrolled in its Project Fi service the option to add cellular-enabled tablets at no additional charge.

Google's cheap, alternative wireless service, called Project Fi, is taking another step to shake up the mobile industry.

Google won't charge Project Fi subscribers a fee to add tablets to their plan.

Josh Miller/CNET

Google on Wednesday will let Project Fi subscribers with cellular-enabled tablets such as the Nexus 7 and iPad Air 2 hop on its service. All they need is a SIM card, or the tiny piece of plastic that lets your device connect to cellular networks, the company said in a blog post on Tuesday.

Project Fi delivers wireless service via a combination of cellular coverage from T-Mobile and Sprint and local Wi-Fi networks. The addition of tablet support is a sign of Google's growing ambitions in the wireless business and reflects its push for change in the industry. The Mountain View, California, company has also been experimenting with features like a seamless handoff between a cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

The move also means more choices for customers as Google expands the service to additional devices, including ones made by rival Apple. Project Fi offers consumers who want broader coverage for their tablets -- say, away from home or a coffee shop with a Wi-Fi hotspot -- a cheaper alternative to traditional cellular wireless plans. Those plans often charge customers an extra fee just for the privilege of connecting a tablet.

"As the number and variety of connected devices continues to grow, so should the number of wireless options," Laura Holmes, the senior product manager for Project Fi, said in a blog post Tuesday. "We'll continue to experiment with creative ways to make accessing wireless from your connected device as easy as connecting with your phone."

Google won't charge Project Fi subscribers a fee to add tablets to their plan. All customers have to do is order an additional data-only SIM and put it in their device. Customers then pay $10 per gigabyte of data used each month. As with phones on Project Fi, it will be able to connect to T-Mobile when not near a Wi-Fi network. But unlike the phone version, the tablet won't be able to access the voice network.

Customers with AT&T or Verizon plans typically pay $10 just to add their tablet to an existing family data plan, which could cost $100 or more depending on the amount of available data and number of users.

The data-only SIM card for Project Fi will work on five tablets to start, the Nexus 7, Nexus 9, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4 and Galaxy Tab S. The tablets have to already work with a cellular network, and must contain a slot for a cellular SIM card. Apple's iPads and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S are the first non-Google devices to be able to use the service, with Google previously restricting it to its Nexus phones.

There are other limitations. Tablets that use the data-only SIM card cannot be used as a mobile hotspot for other devices. These SIM cards are only available to Project Fi subscribers, who also subscribe to the $20-a-month voice and text service. Google is allowing customers to connect up to nine devices with a data-only SIM to a single account.