It seems "pay as you go" means one thing to mobile carriers and something else to the rest of the human race.
For instance, my Pay As You Go mobile service with Verizon means buying more service every month whether I need it or not. Sure, there's no contract, but failure to buy minutes in any month means my phone will be disconnected and all my accumulated minutes wiped clean.
Other carriers have similar ideas about pay-as-you-go. What they all share in common is monthly payments. It seems to me that true pay-as-you-go should allow you to buy service for a flat amount and only buy more when you need it — whether that be next month or next year.
That's the model the year-old service Karma uses.
"We try to be clear and simple and honest," said Karma COO Robert Schouwenburg, and that certainly is the case with Karma.
To get started with the service, you must buy a mobile hotspot from Karma for $99 and two gigabytes of data for $28. Subsequent data purchases can be bought in multiples of 1GB for $14 each.
Once you buy the data, it's yours until you use it — without any time restrictions. "If you buy 10 gigabytes today and use two gigabytes, when you turn on your hotspot in however many months, you'll have eight gigabytes to work with," Schouwenburg explained.
Karma also has an interesting twist that lets you add data to your account for free. When your hotspot is on, it's open for anyone to use. Anyone with a Karma account can connect to the Internet with it, and so can others without an account. These new customers can set up an account on the fly and when they do, they and you receive 100 megabytes of data for free. That's enough data for one or two hours of Web surfing.
When Karma launched, strangers desiring to set up a Karma account also needed a Facebook account. That limitation has been removed and you can now sign up with just an email address.
More the merrier
No one accessed the hotspot during my time with my Karma, so I didn't receive any data bonuses, nor was I able to see if the hotspot's performance took a hit as more users began to use it. According to Karma, the hotspot can handle up to eight users without performance degradation.
"We have traffic-shaping software on the hotspot, which insures that everyone gets a fair share of the bandwidth available, and I have never seen a problem with too many people connecting and my connection was too slow," Schouwenburg said.
When someone connects to the Internet through your hotspot, data usage is charged to their account, so you don't have to worry about them eating into your data reserves. That can be useful for families. Each family member can have their own Karma account, but you only need to buy one hotspot.
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