Right now, you are one of two types of people. You either have a Karma Go 4G WiFi hotspot and are curious about how to get the most benefit out of it, or you don’t have a Karma Go and wonder why you might want one. I’m writing this guide for both of you. If you have a Karma Go, I’m going to give you some tips on ways to make the best use of it. If you don’t have one, who knows? Maybe once you see what you can do with it, you’ll want to go ahead and get one yourself.
It’s possible you might not even know exactly what a Karma Go is, but that’s okay—I’ve got you covered, too. The Karma Go is a pay-as-you-go 4G wireless hotspot from Karma, using Sprint’s LTE 4G network to provide service. It has excellent coverage in most US cities, and pretty decent coverage in the corridors along interstates and other major highways. But the big thing that’s special about the Karma is the way its service works.
Sharing is Caring
Karma is not like traditional MiFis or other hotspots in one key respect. With other hotspots, you have the ability to set any network name you want to, and you have the ability to impose a password so that you’re the only person who can use them. But Karma operates on an affiliate and referral principle, or what some might uncharitably (and inaccurately) call a “pyramid scheme.” Karma wants to sell its service not just to you, but also to anyone within range of you—and you get to reap some benefits.
Karma routers are always set to public. You have a login you use to access the bandwidth you buy—but other people can use it to access bandwidth they buy, too. Effectively, you’re a walking freemium hotspot—people get 100 megabytes of bandwidth free for signing up, then they can buy more if they want to. And you get 100 megabytes free for each new person who signs up through your router, too. They don’t even have to buy anything—they just have to log on. Up to 8 different devices can be connected to your router at a time.
This does have one slight drawback, in that your own personal connection to the router is not encrypted the way it would be if you had a router password. While other users can’t access your computer, it’s possible they could sniff any unencrypted packets going over the network and see what you’re doing. But then, they could do the same if you were using any unsecured WiFi network, such as the free WiFi at a Starbucks or a McDonalds.
The bright side to this is that unsecured WiFi has been around for so long that most websites that deal with confidential information, such as email services, social networks, or your bank, encrypt their web pages so that even a packet sniffer couldn’t make sense of them.
Still, if you want to be sure nobody can sniff anything that you’re doing, you might want to invest in an inexpensive VPN (Virtual Private Network) service. Don’t use a free one, or one of those that offer a ridiculously cheap “lifetime membership,” but there are a lot of reputable services around that run just a few dollars a month.
Don’t misunderstand: your “freeloaders” are not actually “stealing” anything from you. They might make your connection a little slower, but it’s fast enough already that you’d never notice the difference unless you’re doing a lot of high-bandwidth streaming or downloading—which you probably should save for a connection where you aren’t paying by the gigabyte anyway. They’re not drawing on the bandwidth you’re paying for; they’re buying their own. It’s not a zero-sum game. Basically, you’re providing a hotspot where no hotspot was before, and you’re getting a little free bandwidth yourself out of it. If that kind of plan doesn’t appeal to you, this probably isn’t the right service for you.
This kind of router can be especially handy if you tend to travel in groups a lot, like taking road trips with buddies. Now you can provide WiFi to your friends while you travel, but not have to worry about them using up all your bandwidth streaming music or downloading the latest episode of Arrow. They can pay for their own damn bandwidth—and they can earn you 100 MB of your own the first time they sign on.
There’s another, more lucrative way you can pick up some ready cash from Karma membership, which is getting people to buy routers of their own. When you sign up, you get a referral URL—mine is https://yourkarma.com/invite/chris44844—that other people can use to save $10 on the cost of the $150 router. When they do, you earn $10 in Karma credit yourself.
You can share this URL with friends or complete strangers, post it to social networks or a blog, or even put it on your business card if you like. It doesn’t matter who uses it, but anyone who does earns you $10.
You don’t get this credit in actual cash, of course, but it does linger on your account to use against future bandwidth purchases. Get enough of them, and you might not have to pay for your own bandwidth for a long, long time. I’ll talk more about that later.
Here are my general tips for how to get started with your Karma. I’ll assume you’ve already followed the quick-start instructions for getting it set up and installing the app on your smartphone or tablet. Here are some other things you should do.
- Choose your network name. Under your Karma account settings, you’ve got several possible network names to choose from. Assuming that you do want to earn free bandwidth from people jumping on your network, I would recommend picking the one that says “Free WiFi from Karma.” It’s simple, easy, and pretty clear. Anyone who sees it pop up in their available networks list will know exactly what it means. If you choose one of the ones that says “Free Karma from [name]” you’ll just end up confusing people. “What’s free karma and why would I want it?”
- Get a USB battery pack. If you’re going to be using your router a lot, you might want to add a little extra battery power to extend the life, so you don’t have to worry about running out of power all day long. This is especially important if you’re going to be staying in one place for a while. Even name-brand battery packs like Anker are cheap these days. You can also get a plug-in adapter, but you can’t always rely on having an outlet handy. If you get one of those bags that has a battery pack built in, even better—you’ll have a place to carry your Karma Go, your tablet, and any other accessories that isn’t your pocket.
- Set the felt pouch aside. The Karma Go comes with a nifty little grey felt pouch to carry it in to protect it from other things in your pocket, but you should keep the Karma outside of it—while you’re using it, anyway. It’s a nice pouch, very protective, and good to keep it in when you’re not using it, but that Karma Go gets pretty warm while it’s in operation, and the pouch is like putting it in a little winter coat. I don’t know whether it would actually overheat, but better not to risk it.
- Buy bandwidth at the right times. Every few months, Karma runs a buy-one-get-one sale on bandwidth where you can get double the usual amount of data for your money—20 GB for $99 instead of just 10. If you can wait, it’s best to save your money or referral money for one of those sales, then splurge on bandwidth to make it last longer.
Work That WiFi
Here’s my advice for getting the most new WiFi users to build up more bandwidth.
- Run your Karma all the time. This is why it’s a good idea to have that USB battery pack I mentioned. The more you run your Karma, the more likely people are going to be to hook onto it, even if you’re not using it. You never know when or where someone might need some WiFi and there you are. (Of course, you might feel a little guilty if you look down at the smartphone app and see they connected ten minutes ago, when you were blocks away, but hey—at least you got their 100 megabytes.) If you do this, you probably should make sure your devices are set to download updates only when you tell them to, so you don’t accidentally use up your bandwidth downloading that new version of Angry Birds or the next Android update.
- Go where the WiFi isn’t. Have you ever been somewhere that had a lot of people, and seemed like it might be a good place to hang around and work for a while, or that you otherwise had to spend time in, but you just couldn’t get a WiFi signal? If so, odds are a lot of other people feel the same way. Well, guess what? Now that you have a Karma Go, you can—and you can let other people, too. Restaurants, public transit stations, even public transit en route, these are places other people might appreciate having a connection. (If you’re an Uber or Lyft driver, this is a great way to snag a little extra bandwidth and let your customers check their mail while you’re en route.) Convention centers where the commercial WiFi is super-expensive and there isn’t any native free network might be another good bet—especially if you’re attending a convention there yourself.
- Don’t be shy. This is one you might have to work on. If you see a lot of people around you on smartphones, don’t be shy about speaking up and saying, “Hey, I’m offering free WiFi.” Or, if you want to be a little sneaky, you could exclaim, “Hey, there’s a free WiFi network here!” like you just discovered it; that might help.
- It pays to advertise. If you really want to toot your own horn, you could consider ways of notifying people that you’re offering signal. You could just put your Karma Go out on the table in front of you, of course, but few people would recognize what it means. Some people have suggested making a little “Free WiFi” sign they could stand up. Another idea might be making yourself a custom T-shirt! You could do it through a local T-shirt shop, or even all by yourself with iron-on transfer printer paper and an iron. In large block letters: “I’M BROADCASTING FREE WIFI, ASK ME HOW.” If they were smart, Karma would partner up with Café Press or some other online T-shirt company to make shirts like that with the Karma logo on them. (Are you listening, Karma?) You may have to be careful about this in places that prohibit soliciting, though.
Refer Routers for Fun and Profit
Here’s how you make the big money—or at least enough to cover bandwidth for a while.
- Write down the referral URL. The save-$10-on-a-router URL is handiest for plugging online, but it’s just as easy to hand it off to a stranger you meet in person if you have it handy. If your handwriting is legible, you could simply scribble it on the back of a business card as you need it—or if you believe in being prepared, you could even have business cards made that list it. Google “free business cards” and you’ll find a template you can use, then print it out on cardstock and cut it yourself, or have FedEx Office do it for you. Or use an online outfit like VistaPrint to order a few hundred at a time. They’ll be handy to have in person.
- Look for your customers. If you’re doing the WiFi sharing thing I mentioned above, and your smartphone says someone has hooked on, try looking around and see if you can figure out who it is. Your app will give you their first name, so you can approach them and say, “[Name]?” If they act all surprised you knew who they were, you found them. Maybe say you’re glad to see they’re using your free WiFi, explain how the program works, and hand them a card in case they want to buy their own hotspot. (Or don’t, if they look like the sort of person who might bite your head off for interrupting them. You’ll have to use your own best judgment.)
- Plug it to Uber, Lyft, and taxi drivers. If you use a ride-summoning service, make sure you have a card with the URL handy before you summon, and while you’re en route, talk to your driver about Karma. A lot of ride services are big on their drivers offering their patrons little amenities, like bottled water or a USB charger to hook their phone to. Karma would fit right in with that—100 MB isn’t a lot of bandwidth, but it’s perfect for someone wanting to check their email or social networks during a ride across town. And each person who takes advantage of it would give the driver 100 MB of free bandwidth. Give them a card with the URL and explain about the savings and the referral bonus. (Who knows, they might even put the URL on a card themselves and give it to their passengers.)
- Don’t forget food trucks, farmer’s market booths, tradeshow booths, etc. Anyone who comes in contact with large numbers of people for short periods of time is a natural use case for the Karma Go. Their customers might just be around for a few minutes but could want to check their email and social networks while they’re there. The customers might never use up that free 100 MB, and the proprietor of the food truck might never even have to buy bandwidth of his own what with all of it that he gets from customers. Print up or scribble down your referral URL on the back of business cards and take them where there are lots of these people and pitch it to them—but wait until they’re not dealing with actual customers and don’t make a pest of yourself! If they’re not interested, they’re not interested. Just thank them for their time and move on.
- It pays to advertise. Figure out other little ways of sharing the URL around. If you’re at college, or somewhere else there are lots of bulletin boards, maybe make one of those little sheets with tear-off strips with your URL on them so people can save $10 on you. Translate it into a QR code and put it on the poster so people can scan it. Who knows? You might get some nibbles.
- Share the URL socially. If you’re on social networks, go ahead and give the URL a share every so often. You might as well; maybe you have some friends who would be interested—especially if Karma puts bandwidth on sale at 50% off the way they sometimes do. Don’t spam it too much, and don’t expect too much to come of it. But you never know, maybe it might.
- Put it online—in the right places. One thing you see without fail on any article about Karma (probably including this one) is people leaving their own referral URL in the comments. It’s a little silly—after all, if you’re going buy a router and give someone a referral bonus for it, you’re more likely to use the link provided by the person who wrote the article you’re reading—but they do it anyway. I suppose they might as well; after all, it takes so little effort to leave a comment, if even one person takes them up on it they get well paid for it. But a better way might be to be the person writing the article, instead of the person leaving the comment. Why not review your Karma in your own blog or LiveJournal, or even for something with wider distribution such as Medium or the Huffington Post? Be sure to use lots of key words so that search engines pick it up.
The Karma Go seems like just the right hotspot for people who like to help other people, and who aren’t too shy about letting others know what they’re offering. Not only is it fast Internet for yourself, it can provide fast connections for up to seven other people, too, and you can pick up extra bandwidth and extra cash for being part of it.
Of course, like any referral scheme, the referral bonuses will only accrue so long as there are plenty of people out there who would want one and don’t have one yet. But that’s all the more reason to get in on it early. And even after the referrals taper off, you’re still getting fast Internet pretty cheaply, so why worry about it too much?
(This article is cross-posted between Medium and TeleRead. Please feel free to check out the other site and see if there are any useful comments there!)