Karma Serves Up $50 All-You-Can-Eat Data Plan

Karma Mobility last week unveiled Neverstop, an all-you-can-use data plan for its mobile hotspot.

There are no data caps, and the service, which runs on Sprint’s 4G LTE network, is available in more than 450 cities in the United States.

For US$50 a month, customers get unlimited data minutes at speeds of up to 5 Mbps for both downloads and uploads.

When LTE isn’t available, the hotspot runs at CDMA speeds. Download speed then is 0.6 to 1.4 Mbps, maxing out at 3.1 Mbps; upload speeds range from 0.35 to 5 Mbps.

Customers can use three devices online at one time, and they can cancel the plan at any time.

Users get $1 in credits or 100 MB of free data when they let others share their hotspot.

Karma offers apps on iOS and Android for the service.

“This is peace, love and free WiFi, and I’d say it’s one of those things where the concept sounds OK, but that’s it,” remarked Mike Jude, a Stratecast program manager at Frost & Sullivan.

“For most people, a smartphone with hotspot capability may be enough,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

About the Hotspot

The hotspot offers up to eight hours of battery life and 220 hours of standby time. It has a range of up to 100 feet and weighs 2.3 ounces.

The hotspot box is priced at $149, and users can switch between Karma’s Neverstop and Refuel pay-as-you-go plan.

The latter, which is more for occasional users, is priced at $14 per gigabyte, or $9.90 when bandwidth is purchased in bulk. It offers download speeds of 6-8 Mbps, maxing out at 25 Mbps, and supports six to eight devices. Unused data is rolled over forever.

The hotspot is an LTE +3G EVDO device operating at 2.4 GHz.

“Many of today’s LTE networks are congested and do not perform that much faster when loaded with many users,” said Philip Solis, a research director atABI Research.

“This is probably not LTE-Advanced with carrier aggregation and may use a relatively narrow band of spectrum,” he told the E-Commerce Times

Most of the market is moving toward using the 5-GHz band with 802.11ac or 802.11ac Wave 2, but “all WiFi devices support 2.4 GHz, and if the top mobile speed is around 5 Mbps, then 802.11n is more than adequate,” Solis remarked.

The hotspot box supports LTE CAT3 and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi at 2.4 GHz.

It can’t replace traditional call and text services, so users will still need a cellular plan or to use apps such as Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to receive calls over WiFi.

Value Over Speed

“This is a value offering,” remarked Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. “It won’t be the fastest, but it appears to be one of the least expensive.”

The 5-Mbps speed “is typically closer to what you actually get, and, for a plan like this, you likely won’t get the fastest speed anyway,” Enderle told the E-Commerce Times.

The Karma hotspot “might be adequate for things like e-books or simple Web surfing,” Frost’s Jude remarked. If it’s a tad slow, people will make do. “Airplane WiFi is pretty bad but usable if you absolutely have to, so speed is situational and depends on what you want to do.”

There is a security risk, because, while LTE is pretty secure, WiFi is pretty open, Jude said. That could leave both the hotspot owner and users piggybacking on the device open to being hacked.

Whether the hotspot will take off in the market remains uncertain.

“Everyone with a smartphone has a portable WiFi hotspot,” Jude pointed out, “so, unless I had a bunch of devices I needed to connect, I’d find the added expense of this thing hard to justify.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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