If you’ve ever used mobile WiFi through a major wireless service provider like Verizon, AT&T, Spring, or T-Mobile, you know it’s not always the most cost-effective experience. The problem with mobile data from a legacy wireless provider isn’t so much bad service, since the advent of 4G, connection speeds are generally quite good, rather, the problems come with users trying to use their desktop or laptop computers like they normally do while using a cellular connection. The reality is, laptop-style browsing generally is more data intensive than mobile browsing, and thus using a mobile WiFi connection on a laptop or desktop can tend to lead to overages with data plans usually carrying just a few gigabytes of data month before overage penalties kick in.
One company is hoping to change the typical mobile WiFi experience, however, by introducing two new elements: Pay as you go, and getting rewarded for sharing your WiFi with others.
The company is called Karma, and it is a product of the tech incubator Techstars NYC in 2012. Karma sells a mobile WiFi device to customers for $79, and includes 1 GB of bandwidth with a new account. After that, customers pay $14 for each gigabyte of bandwidth they use. That means that a user who previously used mobile WiFi through a legacy provider and had a 5 GB a month plan who used 8 GB one month but just 2 GB the next month would not see penalties for overages and not waste bandwidth when going under, rather, they’d simply just pay for what they use over time.
The pay-as-you-go model is prime for this type of browsing, but Karma — as its name hints at — throws an additional twist into its efforts to disrupt the mobile WiFi market by giving users an incentive to share their connections with others. When Karma users let others connect to their devices, they get 100 MB of free bandwidth (the person who connects to the device also gets 100 GB free and will be prompted to create a Karma account when they log in.) Essentially, if Karma explodes as a business, there could be thousands of Karma hotspots around the country allowing people to connect to networks and generally find more connectivity in their communities.
Karma runs off of Clearwire’s existing 4G networks, and as a result is available in more than 80 cities in the United States. Details about whether Karma is available in your city can be found here.