Update Pay Monthly Mobile Wifi Review – Hotspot Karma Wi-Fi Modem lets you get unlimited free mobile data to share the love, but protecting your privacy is up to you.
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Update Pay Monthly Mobile Wifi Review
Want cheap cellular data? How about some free mobile data too? Karma Mobility offers both, with a social twist. MVNO joins the ranks of unconventional wireless companies like FreedomPop, which is offering affordable cellular data over Clear’s soon-to-death WiMAX network. But in addition to its prepaid data basket, Karma asks you to pay for it up front by leaving your hotspot open all the time. The more you share, the more you earn, and there’s no limit to the amount of data you can get. If that sounds like mobile nirvana and you can bypass some security flaws, the $99 Karma Wi-Fi Hotspot could be your ticket to unlimited data.
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On a hardware level, the Karma Wi-Fi hotspot is nothing new: it’s a renamed version of the Clear Spot Voyager we first saw nearly two years ago. FreedomPop uses the same model for the Freedom Spot Photon hotspot (on Amazon) (Opens in new window). In short, it’s a sleek and very portable device that looks pretty good hotspot-wise. It transmits Wi-Fi 802.11b/g only in the 2.4GHz band and supports up to 8 simultaneous connections. Inside is a 1,830 mAh battery, which is good for about 5 hours of continuous streaming over 4G.
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For now, Karma uses Clear’s 4G WiMAX network, which is more or less a leftover network from before the widespread deployment of LTE. It covers about a third of the US population and offers speeds that easily surpass 3G, but are no match for LTE networks. You’ll want to check the Clear coverage map (Opens in new window) to see if you’re in an area with service. In my test in midtown Manhattan, the Karma Wi-Fi hotspot averaged 7.05 Mbps down and 1.88 Mbps up, which is significantly faster than what we saw with FreedomPop’s Foton (4.3 Mbps down and 0.0 Mbps up). 9Mbps).
Karma says it has plans for an LTE upgrade, which is a good thing since the WiMAX network is slated to shut down sometime in 2015. Representatives for the company said they are considering a possible trade-in program or deep discounts when the switch network falls. , but could not provide any details. With that in sight, I’d love to see Karma take a similar approach to FreedomPop, offering Photon for free with an $89, fully refundable security deposit as long as you replace your hotspot with the LTE version.
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When you first purchase Karma Hotspot, you will need to select an initial data set to pair it with. Karma offers 2GB for $28, 5GB for $50, and 20GB for $180 to start with. That data never expires and there are no excess charges as the service only stops when you run out of data. There are also no monthly fees or service contracts. After that, you can add additional data bundles as you see fit: 1GB/$14, 5GB/$59, or 10GB/$99. FreedomPop offers 500MB of free data every month, and additional data can be purchased for $0.02/1MB, which equates to $20 per 1GB. Virgin Mobile, which also operates Clear’s WiMAX network, offers hotspot Overdrive Pro for $59.99 on plans $5 per day for 250MB, $25 per month for 1.5GB, and $55 per month for 6GB. Unused data doesn’t roll over month to month to FreedomPop or Virgin Mobile, which is one of Karma’s strengths: you only pay for the data you want, and keep it for as long as you need it. Gigabyte for gigabyte, Karma also offers the most competitive rates among the three comparable services listed here.
The most interesting aspect of Karma’s service is its data sharing concept, which is called social bandwidth. Each Karma hotspot broadcasts a fully open Wi-Fi network, meaning anyone nearby can log in, create an account, and enjoy about 100MB of free Karma. For every person who joins your hotspot you also get an extra 100MB gift, which is added to your data set and never expires. Best part? There is no limit to how much data you can get. FreedomPop offers 10MB for each friend you refer, but is capped at 500MB per month, and that data will be lost after the month ends. This is where Karma really shines, but it’s not uncompromising.
For starters, you have no choice but to leave your Karma Hotspot unsafe all the time. You can change the SSID to one of three presets (one with your name and the other two with free wifi ads), and I highly recommend changing it from the default. As the security experts here explained to me, open Wi-Fi networks are one of the main targets of bad parties. Not only can they monitor your network activity, but by creating fake networks with identical SSIDs, they can trick users into connecting to their network, giving them unrestricted access to the data being transmitted. Anyone using the hotspot must be signed in with a Karma account, and company representatives say the hotspot uses a technique called client isolation, which helps prevent abuse. Karma says there’s no way to add a password at this time, and only recommends that users stick to encrypted web services that use SSL or use a VPN service while connected. My guess is the average user won’t have the knowledge or motivation to do this, and Karma doesn’t make the security risks very clear on their website.
Also, sharing your Wi-Fi with up to 8 users can put too much pressure on the limited bandwidth you get. On a good day in a wide-coverage area, the 7Mbps speeds we saw should be enough for anyone to use. But add seven simultaneous connections and things can start to slow down. And with no way to control how many people connect, chances are you won’t get the speed you pay for. It’s a give and take here, and for many, the potential for nearly unlimited data may be worth it. In my test, I only had one stranger connect to my hotspot, and that included a 30-minute stint at a crowded Starbucks in midtown Manhattan.
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You can manage your Karma account on the company’s website, or you can download free apps for iOS and Android. All three options show how much data you have left and who has joined your network. But only the web portal and iOS app show how much data you’ve earned and allow you to buy more data. Android application is limited to check your data balance. Also, there are no access point management or network administration tools.
I’m not sure I would consider this a bug, but in testing I found that you can log in and create an account via Karma Hotspot using a fake email address. You can only register one account per device, but if you work in an office with unlimited wireless devices at your disposal, like here at PCLabs, you can easily collect GBs of data by registering fake email addresses on multiple devices. And even if you don’t, I can imagine less conscientious Karma users hanging around physical stores and signing up fake accounts using display devices. Bad karma be damned, there is potential for abuse here.
I really like the idea of Karma. Its unique prepaid data has no expiration date, and its low rates are perfect for occasional use on the go. The social bandwidth aspect is also commendable, and the allure of almost unlimited free data makes it even more appealing. However, WiMAX is on its way out, and with no clear path for LTE hardware upgrades, the initial $99 fee for a hotspot seems a bit high. I’m also skeptical about the security risks involved in connecting to an always-on Wi-Fi network, and I’d bet that most users won’t take the necessary steps to protect themselves. Despite these drawbacks, Karma’s on-demand data and free bonuses make it an attractive option for users on a budget.
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Prior to joining the consumer electronics team at , Eugene worked for the local news station NY1 doing everything from camera work to screenwriting. He grew up in Montclair, New Jersey and graduated from the University of Virginia in 2010. Outside of work, Eugene enjoys television, loud music, and generally making healthy and responsible life decisions. Telstra 5G
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