(Credit: Google/Alphabet)

While Google's ambition to bring wicked-fast fiber Internet to the masses has faced serious industry machinations, Project Fi has remained robust and generally free of legal challenges. With Fi, Google consolidates T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular coverage into a single service, and users pay $20 for basic calling and texting, then $10 per gigabyte of data. The data that you don't use gets applied to next month's bill.

But mobile carriers are tough to compete against, so Google has sweetened the pot further with various perks over the years. In particular, when connecting to public Wi-Fi, Google would automatically route you through a virtual private network (VPN), to help secure your connection.

SEE: A buyer's guide to virtual private networks (VPNs) in 2018

Today, Google announced that it's extending this free VPN option to your cellular connection as well, giving you around-the-clock protection from people trying to snoop on your data packets, no matter how you're connecting your phone to the world.

This is important because your digital privacy isn't what it used to be. For example, there's the law passed in March 2017 that lets Internet service providers (ISPs) collect your browsing history and sell it to advertisers without your knowledge or consent.

Then there's basic Internet usability erosion, thanks to the federal elimination of net neutrality rules. Without net neutrality, an ISP -- which in this case includes a mobile carrier as well as the cable or DSL internet you may have at home -- can decide how fast or slow your connection should be, based on what website you want to connect to.

However, in both scenarios, your traffic can be protected by a VPN, because it creates an encrypted tunnel that your ISP can't snoop on. Instead of Comcast or Charter seeing you connect to Google, Facebook, or YouTube, it will only see that you're connecting to a VPN.

Where you go from there is between you and your VPN provider -- and many advertise a "no logging" rule for maximal privacy. However, the free VPN services are generally sketchy junk, so you may need to fork out $5 to $10 a month for a good one -- unless you have Project Fi.

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So what's the catch?

Granted, Project Fi doesn't work with all phones. In fact, it works with very few, and iPhones are officially not supported at all. This is largely due to the special LTE radio that your phone needs to talk to Project Fi's chosen cell networks, which use both GSM and CDMA.

These are like Xbox and PlayStation: very similar, but still incompatible. Even though they're both game consoles, you can't use an Xbox disc with your PlayStation, and you can't use a GSM phone on a CDMA network. Project Fi phones, however, can seamlessly switch between both technologies -- right in the middle of a call, if need be.

Due to its $10-per-GB pricing, Project Fi is not great for people who use a lot of data (though you now get gigabytes 6 through 15 for free before the fees start kicking in again). But if you have a compatible phone and you're not streaming videos all day, Project Fi is definitely worth a look.

Its selection of Fi-friendly phones are also currently discounted for the holiday shopping season (except for the recently released Pixel 3), and they're advertising zero-percent financing, and up to $435 back for trade-ins. So if you've fallen out of love with both your phone and your carrier, it might be time to make the switch.

Takeaways

  • Google's Project Fi mobile carrier now offers a free VPN connection to compatible phones, around the clock.
  • A VPN can prevent your Internet connection providers from spying on you -- and current law allows them to sell your browsing history without your knowledge or consent, and to put you in a slow lane if a given website isn't paying tribute to your ISP for the privilege of delivering content.
  • However, Project Fi is compatible with a limited number of phones, and iPhones are not officially supported at all.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.