'Social bandwidth' MVNO Karma crosses 50K subs, jumps onto Sprint's LTE network

Karma, an MVNO that launched in December 2012 offering customers the ability to share data connections, plans to support Sprint's (NYSE:S) LTE network starting next year. The company also announced it now has more than 50,000 customers.

karma mvno sprint lte hotspot

Karma's current hotspot

Karma launched on Clearwire's mobile WiMAX network, and currently offers service on that network, but in an interview with FierceWireless, Karma CEO Steven van Wel said that the company's first LTE hotspot device will come out sometime in the first half of 2014. He didn't provide a more specific date. He said the company hopes to retain its current device and data pricing when it moves from WiMAX to LTE. Karma will use Simplexity to access Sprint's LTE network.

Van Wel said he is not certain if Karma's LTE device will support all three of Sprint's spectrum bands (800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz), but that it will "definitely" support 2.5 GHz. Van Wel said the device might also support an LTE band that is for outside of the U.S. market, since Karma wants to eventually expand internationally.

Karma currently offers a $79 mobile hotspot device and 1 GB of free WiMAX bandwidth to get users started on its service. After that first 1 GB data allowance is used up, Karma allows its customers to buy data as they go, charging $14 per GB. (With 7 GB of data included, the price  of the hotspot device jumps to $149 and with 20 GB it jumps to $279.)

Using a Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) account, Karma users can earn free 100 MB chunks of data by allowing other people to log onto their hotspot's Wi-Fi signal.

Van Wel said Karma passed 50,000 customers a few weeks ago and is "a few months away from 100,000." He said that to date a combined 10,000 gigabytes of data has either been earned by Karma users from sharing their connection or used by people who have connected to Karma hotspots.

Karma isn't the first Clearwire MVNO to shift to Sprint's LTE network; FreedomPop recently made a similar move. Sprint this summer acquired Clearwire and its massive 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings, and plans to deploy a nationwide TD-LTE network on those radio waves during the next few years. Sprint launched LTE on its 1.9 GHz spectrum earlier this year, and is working to expand LTE to its 800 MHz and 2.5 GHz licenses via its new Sprint Spark technology.

Unlike fellow Sprint MVNOs FreedomPop or TextNow, which evolved from data-centric business models to include voice and handset service, van Wel said he does not see Karma following that path. "We want to give people an easy, fast way to give people access to their data," he said. "It allows us to execute extremely well on just that one aspect of getting people online."

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