Recently, some SMS/text messages sent by Google Fi subscribers were arriving as strange Chinese gibberish — with the occasional emoji thrown in for good measure. Tests confirmed that the problem seemed to be caused by an encoding issue, likely exclusive to Fi messages sent to Verizon subscribers. Google tells us it has since rolled out a fix for the problem.

A screenshot of a sample message from one of our readers.

Reports for the issue started yesterday (6/8). For those affected, some SMS messages sent from Google Fi subscribers arrived as strings of Chinese character gibberish, as depicted above. However, the problem appeared to be inconsistent, and some messages arrived unmolested. The issue may have occurred more frequently for messages that exceeded the character limit for a single SMS message (around 160 characters), but even shorter messages were affected. Reports seemed to indicate the issue was specific to those on Verizon receiving messages from Fi subscribers. The length of the Chinese gibberish varied significantly, and it seemed that RCS/chat messages were not affected. In all cases, a translation of the Chinese messages prove to be unintelligible:

Google Translate attempting to decipher the Fi SMS gibberish.

Based on our own tests, the issue stemmed from an incorrect encoding/decoding of the original message. Messages were being sent in UTF-8 encoding, but being decoded in UTF-16BE. Re-encoding and decoding the messages in the correct UTF-8 format showed their original content.

A screenshot of a customer service rep claiming Google is aware of the issue. 

Google informed us at around 9PM ET that the issue with the carrier partner (we assume Verizon) has since been resolved. Google Fi subscribers no longer have to worry that their text messages will arrive as weird, long messages loaded with Chinese characters.

Problem solved

Google has informed us that this issue has been resolved, and our coverage has been updated with this information.

  • Thanks:
  • Phillip