The Internet’s Gatekeepers can do better (January 18)

Another internet company took an unlimited plan and added asterisks to it. This time, it’s Karma Mobility.

We made a mistake. We modeled Neverstop usage to be much higher than usage on Refuel. But we never anticipated that some customers would use over 1,000GB a month.

They aren’t the first company to choose to throttle mobile data after a certain usage threshold, and they won’t be the last. But time and time again, these companies obviously overpromise, or there’s something horribly wrong with the whole cellular industry and the way mobile data works.

In the company’s blog post, they note that some users were burning through 1000 GB of data, something they never envisioned happening on cellular hotspot. Certainly, that is a lot of data, and video presumably contributes most of that. I would imagine that if even a small percentage of your users are using 1000 GB of mobile data that you wouldn’t be able to make money overall unless you had a massive customer base.

However, the infrastructure associated with cellular data is the hardest part. It doesn’t make any sense why the cap they would need to put in place would be so restrictive (they set it to 15 GB, before slowing speeds way down). If 1 TB is abusive on the system, then set reasonable limits. But if you’re selling a mobile hotspot company, and you’re pledging unlimited usage for customers, 15 GB is just not enough for a month.

The Internet is composed mainly of video these days, traffic-wise. You need to expect that most users will want data, and cellular companies have been pushing 1080p and UHD screens into users hands for the last couple of years. This kind of computer is going to use more data than even the best iPhone could in 2008.

When I was working outside my home last year, I consumed most of my media on the way to and from work, and sometimes while listening to music or podcasts at work. I used between 35 and 50 GB consistently for several months doing that, and I was not doing any kind of tethering or downloading of massive amounts of media. I used WiFi when I was at home, and I just went about my day normally. I wasn’t even trying to use massive amounts of data (although I was a proud nerd when I saw how much I’d used).

If you offer or are planning to offer an unlimited plan, but want to set limits to prevent people from using a terabyte of data per month, that’s fine. But make sure your limits aren’t unreasonable, because people are using your product to connect to the internet.

15 GB is incredibly low use for a mobile hotspot in a month. If you want to set reasonable limits, start off at 500 GB (half of what you considered “abusive”). If your network or business can’t handle that traffic, you’ve obviously made some miscalculations in offering “unlimited usage”. Even a limit like 100 GB would still solve customers problems while keep usage ‘reasonable’. We’ve seen internet companies make this same mistake again and again, but nobody seems to offer a useful solution outside of companies who keep people on restrictive grandfathered unlimited data plans (like the ones I’m on).

I use a lot of data, I’m not doing anything nefarious, and I want to keep doing that. Nobody wants to get throttled, and slowing down the internet for your biggest customers is not a good experience for anybody.

If you need a new generation of network to be able to cope with internet traffic like fiberoptic networks have been doing for a few years now, let’s work on that. But the solution to the internet’s biggest customers isn’t “use less”, it’s figuring out ways we can all coexist with more.

The Internet is awesome, and everybody deserves to be able to access it at full speed on an unlimited plan.

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