Google Fi is a wireless network operated by Google that originally focused on low data usage, but recently expanded into unlimited plans. Now the carrier has a new “W+” feature to help expand network coverage.
As spotted by 9to5Google, Google has quietly published a support article explaining a new W+ network feature. “When you’re in a covered area,” the company says, “you’ll be connected to the W+ network. W+ uses select secure, high quality Wi-Fi networks to improve your mobile data connection. W+ is available in areas where coverage can often be low, like certain airports, malls, or stadiums. Coverage will expand over time.” You’ll see a “W+” icon in the status bar when the feature is in use.
If you have a Google Pixel phone running Android 12 or newer, your phone will connect to W+ networks wherever available, which are actually public Wi-Fi networks. The effort seems to be based on Orion Wifi, which Google’s Area 120 division announced in 2020 as a way for public venues to sell Wi-Fi capacity to cellular carriers — similar to how companies like AT&T and Verizon sell network coverage to MVNOs like Boost Mobile or Mint Mobile.
Of course, using public Wi-Fi networks to improve mobile coverage is nothing new. Xfinity Mobile, a mobile carrier operated by Comcast/Xfinity, has “millions” of secure Wi-Fi hotspots across the country (mostly broadcasted from Xfinity home internet routers) that phones automatically connect to when available. AT&T also has many public Wi-Fi networks available to some AT&T customers.
However, unlike Wi-Fi hotspots operated by Xfinity and AT&T, Google Fi W+ networks actually counts against your monthly data cap — just like mobile data. That means the only benefit for Fi subscribers is improved coverage wherever a W+ network is available.
Google’s support article doesn’t say if the owner of the Wi-Fi hotspot can observe your network traffic, but the company said in 2020 that the underlying Orion technology “cannot access users’ Internet traffic.” You can turn off W+ by opening the Settings app and navigating to Network & Internet > SIM > Google Fi > W+ Connections.
Source: 9to5Google, Google Support
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