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RovAir raising cash for on-demand mobile broadband service

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Five-year old company RovAir is trying to raise money to help it launch a new business model that provides on-demand mobile broadband access for as low as $1 per hour.

RovAir Ondemand would offer pay-as-you-go cellular broadband service like how Wi-Fi hotspots do for wireless broadband in fixed locations. RovAir's pitch is that it can switch on a customer's 3G USB stick or personal hotspot modem for use with a mobile broadband account only when needed and then switch it off. Customers would pay no membership fees or sign any long-term contracts.

RovAir has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign with a goal of raising $45,000 that the company says will help it to complete a Web-based platform to provide automatic activations and also provide connections "down to the hour or even for just minutes at a time."

The five-year-old company is not an MVNO but rather "a logistics company that takes underutilized data, and "shares" it with those that need a short-term connection," said CEO and Founder Thomas Dolan in a letter to editors at FierceWireless. Comparing his company to Airbnb and Zipcar, Dolan said RovAir's business model fits into "The Sharing Economy" category, otherwise known as "Collaborative Consumption."

RovAir's plan is to buy up standard data card accounts that it can sublease to customers, according to AllThingsD, which said Dolan claims to have made an arrangement with Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) that will enable RovAir's business vision to come to fruition. RovAir did not provide specific details of the arrangement, which Verizon also declined to discuss with AllThingsD.

Instead of offering an ambiguous amount of megabytes per session, RovAir will charge by time used, which is easier for most consumers to understand. AllThingsD said RovAir expects to charge about $1 an hour for its shared service.

To use RovAir's service, customers will need to bring their own 3G data USB sticks or personal hotspots or buy a refurbished device from RovAir for less than $50. The company says it will also rent out mobile broadband devices.

Three years ago, RovAir sought grant funding through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for its 3G broadband modem card rental program. The Massachusetts company even garnered a letter of support from Sen. John Kerry, (D-Mass.)

RovAir's pitch differs from that of certain startups that are also offering low-cost mobile broadband connections. For example, FreedomPop, NetZero Wireless and Karma are all MVNOs running over Clearwire's (NASDAQ:CLWR) WiMAX network that offer limited free-tier service and charge for higher-megabyte tiers.

Karma's Social Bandwidth approach fits into the trendy collaborative-consumption model in that the MVNO encourages customers to share Karma bandwidth with the public via a mobile hotspot's Wi-Fi signal. The customer whose hotspot is used for the login gets rewarded with 100 MB of free usage.

For more:
- see this AllThingsD article
- see RovAir's Indigogo campaign

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