Back in September of 2020, Google’s internal Area 120 incubator introduced Orion Wifi to let public venues sell Wi-Fi capacity to cellular carriers. Google Fi is now using this approach to expand coverage and calling it the “W+ network.”
Orion Wifi and OpenRoaming
In mid-2021, the MVNO started a trial of OpenRoaming wherein subscribers are connected to “Google Fi Wi-Fi” hotspots to “give [them] coverage in more places.” Notably, when it was in testing, this didn’t count against your data cap. I personally encountered this at an airport last June.
Orion Wifi’s pitch to businesses operating public areas is that they get a “new revenue stream” from their existing network and it’s “free & easy to turn on Orion Wifi monetization” without “new hardware or software required.” Google at launch said “Orion cannot access users’ Internet traffic.”
What is Fi’s W+ network
The Google MVNO last month exited that trial phase and now calls it the “Fi W+ network.” This appears in your Pixel’s status bar and Settings app as “W+” and the cellular indicator (rough approximation below of the icon seen below) — despite being Wi-Fi.
It’s currently only available for Google’s first-party devices running Android 12 and newer with automatic connection when you’re in range. The company told us that your phone is performing real-time analysis to ensure you’re getting a high-quality connection. Meanwhile, Fi “never automatically connects when one of your saved Wi-Fi networks, like your home network, is nearby and available.”
These “select secure, high quality Wi-Fi networks” are meant to “improve your mobile data connection” in areas where cellular coverage is lacking. This includes certain airports, malls, and stadiums, with availability expanding over time. It comes as Google last October stopped automatically connecting Fi users to (new) public Wi-Fi networks.
Notably, W+ “counts against your data cap for the month” and is treated as normal data usage despite the actual network technology being used. This is because Google considers W+ to be an extension of the Fi network and this verified connection to be better than the low-quality Wi-Fi connections you encounter. Behind-the-scenes, Fi is presumably paying for the Wi-Fi connections, so it’s somewhat akin to premium hotspots that you’d otherwise have to directly pay for.
In an effort to offer our users the best mobile data connection possible in more places, Google Fi has begun automatically connecting users on Android 12 or up to the W+ network where available. This includes select secure, high-quality Wi-Fi networks to give our users coverage in more places where cell signal has traditionally been low, like airports, malls and stadiums.
How to turn off Google Fi W+ network
That said, you can return to a cell network at any time by disabling Wi-Fi.
You can more permanently turn off and opt-out of the W+ network by going into Settings app > Network & Internet > SIM > Google Fi > W+ Connections and toggling off that preference. I’m already seeing it on my Pixel 6 Pro today, but Google says the capability is still in the process of rolling out as most users do not have it yet.
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