Google Fi will stop activating non-VoLTE phones in January, and encourage customers with older phones to upgrade with a $100 credit provided they purchase a new phone from the Fi store and activate it before December 31st, 9to5Google reports.
Google’s hand is forced in the matter. Customers subscribe to Fi, but as an MVNO, Fi actually piggybacks on T-Mobile and US Cellular’s networks to provide coverage. Since T-Mobile has already announced its own plans to phase out support for non-VoLTE phones starting in January 2021, Fi has to as well.
VoLTE stands for “Voice over LTE”, which is the handling of phone calls over LTE data rather than older 3G tech. VoLTE calls are typically clearer, with fewer drops in connection, though they’re completely unavailable to older phones that only use 3G radios and even some early LTE models as well. Google stopped activating 2G and 3G phones August 4th of this year according to the Fi FAQs, but requiring VoLTE all but assures 3G’s days are numbered.
There’s no hard date for the end of 3G service at Fi, but it is coming, and until Google makes an official announcement, your best bet is to look for when T-Mobile ends its coverage. T-Mobile gained a lot of sway over what Fi can offer when it purchased Sprint, giving it control over both of the biggest networks Fi relied on.
There’s actually a couple cheap options on the Fi store that could serve as a quick fix. We like Google’s Pixel 4a, which normally sells for $349, but there’s also options that you could get for less than $100 with Google’s current holiday promotion.
Upgrading to better cell service is a long term good for the usability of phones, but it is an inconvenience to customers. Verizon already made its change a while back, phasing out elements of 3G services in favor of LTE and 5G over time. AT&T and T-Mobile’s plans are a bit more abrupt. There’s an intense focus on upgrading to 5G that seems to be motivating all of this, which is especially inconvenient because around 30 million Americans still used 3G exclusively as of 2019. Unless customers are able to upgrade, they could be left behind.