A couple of weeks ago, I looked at a Yahoo column expressing doubt that 4G cellular hotspot company Karma could continue to run its Neverstop unlimited-bandwidth program at the 5 MBPS rate it had at launch—allowing people to use their Karma Go routers with up to 3 devices at a time to do whatever they wanted as long as bandwidth was capped to 5 MBPS.

At the time, I figured that Karma must have used the data it had already gathered on how its routers were used to set a limit it could live with. A lot of people don’t use much in the way of bandwidth at all, and might be paying for more than they’re using. And 5 MBPS is pretty slow overall, so how much data could people really use at that rate?

It turns out I was too optimistic, as the answer to that question is actually “quite a lot.” One of TeleRead’s Neverstop users posted a letter he got, and The Verge has some additional coverage. Karma has found a number of users have been using the service to its limits—effectively setting it up as their primary home Internet. As a result, Karma is looking at throttling the bandwidth cap back further—possibly to as low as 1.5 or 2.5 megabits per second.

[Karma CEO Steven] Van Wel says that a small percentage of its Neverstop customers have racked up usage in the hundreds of gigabytes, and that 59 percent of ones that responded to a survey said they use Karma Go for their home internet. Some have even found ways to bypass Karma’s captive portal system, which is designed to prevent the use of home video streaming devices such as Apple TV or Chromecast and gaming systems like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Van Wel says that the service was never designed for these use cases, and if it is just used for mobile internet access from a phone, tablet, or laptop, the usage rates would not be excessive. The company is currently looking for ways to prevent this kind of activity without having to cut off service to these users entirely.

This captive portal system would also be what limits Neverstop users to three connections at a time. Either way, it’s trivially easy to bypass with a range-extending bridge router, so if the captive-portal nature was actually intended to be a way of limiting bandwidth usage, as opposed to just making sure people can log in with their own distinct accounts to access their individual bandwidth allotments, it wasn’t very well thought-out.

It’s also worth noting that saying the service wasn’t designed for such use cases as connecting gaming systems is a reversal from what Karma had previously said in its FAQ—effectively that if customers could figure out how to make such a device work with a captive portal login, they were welcome to do so. But then, they were probably referring to the Refuel plan that was all Karma offered at the time, in which people paid for every gigabyte they used and would thus have their own incentives to keep usage down. Going to “unlimited” changes the nature of the service considerably.

As Karma explained at the outset, Neverstop wasn’t intended to replace users’ home Internet—it was just meant as a way people could do as much lightweight mobile browsing and streaming as they wanted without having to worry about running up against an arbitrary cap. These kinds of bandwidth-intensive uses—Van Wel’s letter also referred to people binge-watching Netflix in HD all day, or backing up their hard drives over the Internet—were not the sorts of uses for which the service was intended. Effectively, Karma’s all-you-can-eat buffet was overrun by people who snuck in doggy bags.

As much as we would like to imagine that the Internet is the same however you get it, there is still a divide between hard-wired and mobile Internet. Trying to use the mobile Internet in the same way as you would use hard-wired is a recipe for trouble—especially for the people who are providing the mobile Internet.

So, unfortunately, Neverstop is going to have to slow down to keep on providing service, meaning that it may not be as good a deal for its users as it originally seemed. But on the other hand, this doesn’t affect me—I had already decided to stick with the “Refuel” plan, in which I pay per gigabyte for the bandwidth I use. As long as I buy my bandwidth only when they run their buy-one get-one sales, I get it at $5 per GB, which is half the cost of Project Fi’s 4G bandwidth. This makes it my best possible deal for cellular Internet—but I’m certainly not planning to try to use it to replace my landline Internet!

And Karma is still as good a deal as it ever was for people who aren’t high-bandwidth users—especially those who mainly read and surf, rather than stream high-definition video or music or make big uploads or downloads. Since e-books and blog posts and the like are usually not bandwidth-intensive, they probably wouldn’t even notice a difference.


  1. @Chris: Great post. I was writing something similar, and you beat me to it with good, honest commentary. If this means Karma doesn’t want to be a sponsor or advertise here, then so be it. Of course, I still hope the company will. But not at the expense of the integrity of our news coverage.

    Along the way, speaking of sustainability, I continue to hope that Karma will discourage its customers from posting comment spam—an unwitting assault on the current ad-dependent business model of the TeleRead blog. It’s fine for Karma users to mention links so they can collect free data credits. It is not fine for this to happen again and again so the links become spam. Some Karma customers posted TeleRead comments that were nothing more than links. This is virile marketing at its worst.

    If Karma cares about good journalism and the public interest, then it needs to pay for exposure—in the form of ads or honestly labeled sponsored content—that does not organically come about through the usual posts reflecting genuine enthusiasm of the kind that you and I have for the service. Yes, I’ve now tried Karma and agree with your upbeat assessment. Right in the middle of I-395 here in Northern Virginia, my Karma speeds have reached something like 17Mbps. Costs for 1GB of data without an expiration date was a reasonable $14. Thanks to Karma I could get more work done while accompanying my wife to her medical treatments last month. Karma has some great stories to tell—just so it does not unrealistically raise people’s expectations. TeleRead, for one, will not allow possible Kamara ads to use the word “unlimited” unless the company can do better than it has so far. Meanwhile there is plenty to like about the $14 service and perhaps later about the $50 one after Karma has made suitable adjustments.


    P.S. Via Google, we may end up with Karma advertisements anyway. If I see any with “Unlimited,” however, I will block the ads. I encourage readers to report any “Unlimited” offenders to me in case I myself don’t notice them.

  2. David Rothman wrote: “This is virile marketing at its worst.”

    Dave: Your entertaining new term for this type of marketing (“virile marketing”) is excellent. It might even go viral. (I know that “virile” was probably a typing/freudian-slip error, but that is sometimes the way new terms are created.)

  3. @Garson: Ugh, yes, “viral,” not “virile.” Thanks for the catch (and your wit). But I guess it is “virile” if we take some liberties and the word in this context can suggest “too aggressive.” 😉

    I encourage all TeleRead community members to report errors, major or minor.

    Meanwhile happiest of New Years, Garson!


    P.S. We’re probably much better than most blogs in the typo department. Meanwhile you might enjoy this commentary from Inc. on proofing skills vs. creative ones.

    [Note: I edited out a sentence or two, lest Garson think I resented him for reporting the error. Just the opposite. TeleRead is not budgeted well enough to employ copy editors, but in effect we certainly have some good ones from the ranks of our community members.]

  4. @David, You’ll remember though, as soon as I noticed your comment that there had been enough ref links, even when I had a legitimate tip concerning a domain name, I requested my post edited not to contain it. It sits nicely under the “My Website” place in my profile where it was solicited.

  5. @Kelly: Hey, if nothing else, I appreciated your understanding of the need for an edit (or at least your consenting to one). The tip on taking out domain names to point to Karma links was useful. The actual link, in my hardly infallible opinion, was not. The real villain here was Karma, not you. It should remind link commenters to refrain from overkill. So glad you’ve joined the ranks of our commenters on various other matters. Enjoy the new site, which perhaps will go live tomorrow once we’re past the Murphy’s Law stage!


    P.S. I still worry about comments vanishing during the site move. But Josh, our Web guy, will do what he can.

  6. I bought this Karma Neverstop, before I did I asked about high data usage because I have been on two other “unlimited” plans through Millenicom then later Mitel. One plan unlimited=75gb or less, the other was use as much as you want. When I asked about 100+ gb per month usage I was told, “…there is no limit as to how much data you can use, and we won’t throttle you either. Now, there is a limit of 5Mbps in terms of speed…” I also asked about my using my ps3 because we mostly watch Netflix at home through it. In this message I also told them “We use our current hotspot as home internet” and they told me to give it a try it may or may not work with the built in ps3 browser. To me it feels like a real bait and switch they say you can do all these things, some will even be able to use it as their sole internet then they change their entire site and sent something to the vurge claiming we abused the service by using it exactly how you told us we could.

    I did wait to see how they would handle the situation before I canceled my service and requested a refund. I would have stayed it they kept it unlimited with 2 or 3 Mbps. After a month of speeds topping out at 1.2Mbps they first claimed to be listening to the customer survey then said even without the extreme users they could not sustain unlimited usage so they changed it from unlimited to 15gb. 15gb is no where near 100gb and they made it sound as if they knew early on they couldn’t handle unlimited which only ran 2 months. I’m not sure how that can be explained unless they assumed a certain percentage of customers would stay making it worth the bad press which they attempted to spin anyways.

    I was pretty mad about the whole thing so I kept up with their amazon listing, blog post and twitter replies for a while but after I switched I did get a little bored of it. I checked their blog today, they have now removed all blog post comments from the entire site. They said something on twitter about closing it due to abusive/threatening comments being left on their blog. I didn’t see any previously unless you count people trying to organize mass complaints or class action lawsuits.

    To sum it up they were dishonest with me about shipping times, acceptable usage, their testing speeds, their plans for change to the unlimited plan and now I just hope they don’t intend to play games with my refund.

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