Google Fi will begin rolling out end-to-end encryption for phone calls soon, starting first with Android devices. Google Fi is a prepaid MVNO carrier that uses the T-Mobile and U.S Cellular networks. It switches between the two on the fly based on which has a stronger signal in a bid to offer the user the best experience at the time.
Google Fi has two main plans—a $20 plan that charges $10 per gigabyte of data used and an unlimited data plan for $60 per month with a hard throttle at 22GBs. That’s for one user. For a family of four, the cost changes to $17 per line plus $10 per gigabyte or $30 per line on the unlimited data plan. In both cases, Google offers a higher tier that offers 100GB of Google One storage and access to data-only SIMs (for tablets and smartwatches). With Google Fi, all of those plans can be used abroad at no additional charge, as long as the location is within Google’s 200+ list of supported countries.
According to Google, Fi is also now preparing to launch support for end-to-end encrypted phone calls. The new support will begin rolling out in the coming weeks and beginning with Android phones. Google has not yet explained when the same support will make its way to iPhone users. It’s also worth noting that, in addition to both devices being Android phones, both will also need to be using Google Fi in order for the call to be encrypted.
The change will also result in some minor adjustments to the user experience as well. For example, Google explains that once an end-to-end encrypted call has been connected, both callers will see a lock symbol on the screen to confirm the extra protection along with an “Encrypted by Google Fi” message. In addition, those making the call will be presented with “a unique ringing tone” and will see the lock symbol on the screen before the other person picks up. While the move by Google is a step in the right direction that will hopefully help encourage more carriers to support end-to-end encryption for phone calls, the experience is going to remain limited for now, due to the restrictions on operating system and the need for the call to totally take place over Google Fi’s network.
In general, many people are already using text-based messaging and VoIP services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and FaceTime Audio to stay connected with each other, most of which are also end-to-end encrypted. These newer internet-based services tend to offer better voice quality for calls, and enable higher quality picture and video messaging. Still, Google adding end-to-end encryption for phone calls is a nice benefit for those that still make and take phone calls.