Wi-Fi Bandwidth: A Lot to Like About Share and Share Alike

Carl Weinschenk
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A creative implementation of Wi-Fi—one that has been in use for years in Europe—is gradually making its way to the United States. The idea is to enable home or small business access points (APs) to be partially used by the person controlling the device and partly by unknown outsiders.

The owners are rewarded by getting more bandwidth and/or gaining access to other APs in the same way visitors accessed theirs. GigaOm reports that a startup called Karma has been using Sprint’s WiMax network to offer such a service. The story maps out Karma’s plan:

Karma, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), has struck a wholesale deal with Sprint to start selling a 4G hotspot that taps its growing LTE network, according to CEO and co-founder Steven van Wel. The details of the device haven’t been worked out, van Wel said, but Karma is hoping it will connect to Sprint’s new Spark network, an amalgamation of Sprint’s three LTE systems that can support speeds over 50 Mbps.

In late September, Karma announced that it was working with GroundLink, a New York City car service. The story explains that Karma starts its customers with 100 MB of connectivity, and adds another 100 MB each time somebody else connects to their access point.

The shared—some call it “social”—bandwidth idea is not new. Yesterday, The New York Daily News posted a profile of Fon. The story says that the company now is active on 12 million hotspots, mostly in Europe and Japan. At this point, the story says, there only are about “few dozen” Foneros—as participants are called—in New York City. The story doesn’t offer figures for the rest of the United States, but says that about 3 million exist in the United Kingdom.

The interview was conducted with Fon U.S. CEO Nina Sodhi. She said that the company is looking to partner with a U.S. telecom provider to gain traction. Users must buy a $59 Fonero router and supply the bandwidth. They, in turn, are allowed access to other Foneros.

The concept is solid enough to generate interest from Comcast. Techlicious reported early last summer that the cable operator is working on the idea:

The concept is quite grand: Comcast's 20 million customers’ home hotspots dramatically increase the range of the company’s existing public Wi-Fi network in densely settled cities. A look at Comcast’s public Wi-Fi map in Los Angeles shows most of the city already covered in red dots, putting 3.82 million Angelinos within walking distance of a hub.

The cable industry is increasingly banding together to make commercial hotspots available to subscribers of other consortium members. This simply takes that concept to the home owners’ level. The story says that it is free to Comcast subscribers and available on an hourly ($2.95) or monthly ($19.95) basis to non-subscribers.

Comcast customers can use any of these public Wi-Fi networks for free as part of the monthly subscription. If you’re not a Comcast customer, you can buy an hour of Wi-Fi service for $2.95 or an unlimited month for $19.95.

At this point, sharing bandwidth in this way is not done widely. But it could be in the future. Clearly, it will be one of the tools in the tool chest as network providers seek to make the roiling world of unlicensed spectrum a bit more efficient and manageable.

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