How To: Set Up Google's Project Fi on Your iPhone

Set Up Google's Project Fi on Your iPhone

Google's next-gen cellular carrier, Project Fi, is making waves across the mobile industry. With super-cheap plans starting at only $30, and the ability to connect to millions of Wi-Fi hotspots across the globe, it's tempting many users to make the switch from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless.

The lone drawback is that Project Fi is only officially available for Google's own Nexus and Pixel phones. But if you're a die-hard iPhone user, you don't have to miss out on all of the savings, because you can actually get Project Fi to work quite well with almost any iOS device—you just have to do a little setup beforehand.

There are, however, a few quirks after setting Project Fi up on your iPhone, and we'll get to those as well below. So make sure to read through the entire guide before deciding if Project Fi is right for your iPhone or not.

Step 1: Make Sure Your iPhone Will Work with Project Fi

First up, you'll need to find out whether or not your iPhone is carrier-locked. If this were the case, your phone would refuse to connect to Project Fi's network, even if it was technically capable of doing so. If you bought your iPhone from Apple directly, there's a good chance it's unlocked. If you bought it from your carrier, you will probably have to unlock it. To learn more about carrier-locked phones and what needs to be done to get one unlocked, read through the following guide:

Aside from that, you should be aware that iPhones are not capable of switching between Project Fi's three underlying networks, which are Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. Instead, any iPhone you use with Project Fi will be limited to only the T-Mobile network, so that's something to keep in mind. I'd recommend checking T-Mobile's coverage map before proceeding, just to make sure there's good coverage in your area.

Step 2: Purchase a Project Fi SIM Card

Once you're certain that your iPhone will connect to Project Fi's network, and that you'll get decent service, you'll just need a Project Fi SIM card. To get one, simply sign up for Project Fi, then make sure to choose "Bring a Pixel or Nexus to Project Fi" when asked to select a device. You won't really be bringing a Pixel or Nexus to Project Fi, of course, but this is how you can order a standalone SIM kit that you can use with your iPhone.

Step 3: Find a Friend with a Nexus or Pixel Phone

To activate the Project Fi SIM card, you'll need to insert it into an officially-supported device. This only needs to be done once, after which you can use the SIM in your iPhone, so you can simply borrow a friend's phone if need be. Nonetheless, you must have access to one of the following phones:

  • Nexus 6
  • Nexus 5X
  • Nexus 6P
  • Pixel
  • Pixel XL

Step 4: Activate Your Project Fi SIM

From here, simply insert your Project Fi SIM card into any Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Pixel, or Pixel XL. Once you do that, you'll see a notification prompting you to finish activation (there's no need to restart the phone or install any additional software). Just swipe down from the top of the screen to view the notification, then tap it to begin.

From here, you'll be asked to choose a Google account to associate with your Project Fi SIM card. Since this is probably your friend's phone, select "Use a different account" here, then enter your own Gmail address on the following screen. In the future, you'll be able to use this login info to view and manage your Project Fi account from a web browser (there is no Project Fi app, obviously, for iPhone).

After that, simply follow the on-screen prompts, then hit "Continue" when you make it to the "Welcome to Project Fi" screen. From here, you'll see details about your account and plan—once you make it to this screen, you can take the Project Fi SIM out of your friend's phone.

Step 5: Remove Your Google Account from Your Friend's Phone

After registering your SIM card on your friend's phone, your Google account and password may automatically be saved to their device. Since you probably don't want them to have access to this information, it would be a good idea to remove the account from their device at this time.

To do that, open the Settings menu on your friend's phone. From there, scroll down and select the "Accounts" option, then choose "Google" from the list.

Select your Google account, and on the following screen, tap the three-dot menu in the top-right corner, then choose "Remove account" to delete your login info from their phone.

Step 6: Connect Your iPhone to Project Fi's Network (Option 1)

Next, simply insert the Project Fi SIM card into your iPhone, then restart the device. When you get back up, you should already be connected to the Project Fi network. However, one issue is that you won't be able to send MMS messages to your non-iMessage contacts. So just to make sure everything's working properly, you should take this time to adjust your phone's APN settings.

Head to the Cellular menu in Settings, then make sure the "Cellular Data" option is enabled. From here, choose "Cellular Data Options," then tap "Cellular Data Network."

Next, you'll have to manually enter a few values into the provided fields. So copy the information below exactly as it's typed (leaving the "[leave blank]" fields blank, obviously), then enter it into the fields on your iPhone.

Cellular Data

  • APN: h2g2
  • Username: [leave blank]
  • Password: [leave blank]

LTE Setup (Optional)

  • APN: [leave blank]
  • Username: [leave blank]
  • Password: [leave blank]

MMS

Once you're done there, head back out to your home screen to save the settings, then restart your device. When you get back up, your iPhone should now be properly connected to the Project Fi network and capable of sending MMS messages.

However, some users have reported that these settings do not resolve the MMS issue in their local area, so if that's the case, you may want to try a second set of connection settings that I'll outline below.

Step 7: Connect Your iPhone to Project Fi's Network (Option 2)

If the above settings did not fix the MMS issue with Project Fi on your iPhone, there's a second set of APN values that you can try. So for this one, head to Settings -> Cellular -> Cellular Data Options -> Cellular Data Network again. After that, enter the following information exactly as it appears:

Cellular Data

  • APN: epc.tmobile.com
  • Username: [leave blank]
  • Password: [leave blank]

LTE Setup (Optional)

  • APN: fast.tmobile.com
  • Username: [leave blank]
  • Password: [leave blank]

MMS

Finally, exit to your home screen, then restart your iPhone. When you get back up, check to see if MMS is working. If it is, then you're all set to go. Otherwise, if MMS is still not working, you should revert the above settings to those found in Step 6, as the h2g2 APN options are Project Fi's official settings.

Downsides to Project Fi on an iPhone

While Project Fi can definitely save you a lot of money on cell service, it's worth noting that there are a few drawbacks with using Google's network on an iPhone.

First, iPhones cannot switch between Project Fi's underlying Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular networks, which means that your coverage won't be quite as good as it would be if you were using a Pixel or Nexus device. However, your iPhone will connect to T-Mobile's cell towers via Project Fi, and that's the strongest of the three networks anyway.

Secondly, the MMS issue is a big one. If neither of the above APN settings worked, you won't be able to send picture messages to friends who don't use iPhones. iMessage and regular SMS messages will still work as usual, though.

Thirdly, the iPhone we tested on was not capable of using the "Personal Hotspot" feature while connected to Project Fi. We tried several fixes, but were ultimately unable to get the feature working. This could be a deal breaker if you use your phone's Wi-Fi tethering capabilities to provide internet access for a tablet or laptop.

Finally, Wi-Fi calling will not work if you make the switch to Project Fi. This means that if T-Mobile has poor reception in your area, you may not be able to make or receive calls, as you won't be able to fall back on your home internet connection.

Conclusion

Even though Project Fi is slightly handicapped on the iPhone, it's still a very cost-effective network, and your reception will always be at least as good as it would be if you were on T-Mobile. The potential for saving money is very high with Project Fi, as we found that you'll pay less than the average monthly cell phone plan as long as you use fewer than 7 gigabytes of data each month.

However, considering all of the quirks, Project Fi might not be the best low-cost carrier for iPhone users. For one thing, you're limited to T-Mobile cell towers, so you're losing half of the benefit of Project Fi—its ability to connect to Sprint, T-Mobile, or US Cellular towers.

Without that multi-network switching, Project Fi becomes a run-of-the-mill MVNO, and there are tons of these to choose from. For instance, T-Mobile's own MetroPCS could be a better option for a lot of folks, as their 3 GB plan with unlimited talk and text costs only $40/month. That would give you the same reception and signal quality that Project Fi offers on an iPhone, but it wouldn't come with any of the drawbacks listed above.

Of course, Project Fi could still be the right solution for some iPhone users—particularly if you use less than 1 GB of data every month. If that were the case, you'd be paying less than $30 for service, and there aren't any cell service plans that can beat that price.

Aside from the cheaper plan, what was your primary reason for switching to Project Fi? Let us know in the comment section below.

Cover photo and screenshots by Dallas Thomas/Gadget Hacks

7 Comments

iPhones purchased from Apple, Verizon and sprint are capable of using GSM and CDMA networks. So if that's the case could you force roam on sprints network if T-Mobile is down? like near aviation bases??

You can't force your none official Project Fi phone (aka iPhone) to use any CDMA network like Sprint or Verizon even if it technically supports them. The reason being it was never activated on those networks to begin with. When you are activating Project Fi sim in official Google Phone it also activates that phone for access on Sprint network.

this site was referenced on multiple other sites.
https://apn.gishan.net/

look up your phone manufacturer, model, and service provider. make sure you look at the correct phone model. the settings for each phone are slightly different.

Great guide I used your guide many months back to get Project Fi for traveling. Aside from some quirks, it works pretty good. You can also install Google Hangouts on your iPhone for Voicemail and Text. If you want to read my experience of using Project Fi for 5 months, I wrote a post on it.

Have had no luck getting mms to work. Has anybody else had any luck? I can neither send not receive them - although it appears to try. In both cases I either get (or send) an sms message that starts with MMS: xxxxx

Using the second method (T-mobile APN) I can send MMS to android, but cant receive. Any idea why? Also, how come you dont have the "-" in t-mobile for the first few URLs?

I activated my own SIM on a Nexus 5x that I purchased, but was unable to activate a second line on the device. I'm guessing the "use a friend's google phone" trick will only work if their phone doesn't also use Fi already.

One of the other benefits to Fi is the ability to request additional data-only SIM cards, which can be put into any unlocked device: iPads, iPhones, other tablets, etc. These SIM cards draw data from the same pool, rather than having their own minimum charge monthly.

Lastly, international travelers pay the same $10/gb in many countries, meaning you can skip the huge fees from other carriers, and also skip trying to sort a local SIM when you are bouncing around tiny countries in Europe, or border hopping on other continents.

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