Blog Post

Why it just might make sense to share your mobile bandwidth

Internet access for all would benefit society at large; so much so that individuals should be able to share it as they see fit. That was the takeaway from a panel discussing the future of mobile networking at the GigaOM Mobilize 2013 event on Thursday. Unfortunately, that’s not how the traditional network operators provide access, so what can the industry do?

Plenty, actually, provided that people have incentives and easy ways to share their mobile broadband. Steven van Wel, CEO of Karma, said not to think of this as sharing bandwidth but rather, sharing access to the internet. That’s exactly what his company provides: A hotspot that provides internet access to others nearby. And the more a customer shares their hotspot access, the more free data they get in return.

Micha Benoliel, co-founder and CEO of Open Garden agrees and his company offers a similar solution. But it’s not hardware. Instead, Open Garden is an app that lets you share your connection. “This will make mobile broadband ubiquitous and broaden availability. In New York recently, I couldn’t get coverage with either of 2 phones. That sucks! 2014 should be the year of sharing internet data.”

That may be a lofty goal, however. “Roughly 2 billion people are connected now,” said Sascha Meinrath, VP and Director, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. To get the remaining 5 billion people connected it will take more than capital expenditures; it will take sharing efforts, Meinrath said. “Just Imagine the benefit to society for everyone to have access.” It sounds worth it to me, even if the carriers aren’t interested in rewarding me to help them get more people on their networks.

Check out the rest of our Mobilize 2013 coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

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A transcription of the video follows on the next page

20 Responses to “Why it just might make sense to share your mobile bandwidth”

  1. David Hoffman

    I have had the benefit of shared internet access through shared WiFi connected to DSL or Cable HSI and I have shared with others in a similar manner. But if my ISP starts enforcing the ridiculously low monthly usage cap, I may have to stop. I suspect that is true for many people. The existing monthly usage caps from many ISPs are way too low to allow significant sharing. I do suspect that cable ISPs will eventually significantly increase their monthly caps as DOCSIS 3.0 deployments are fully implemented. DOCSIS 3.1 should allow for even larger monthly caps. Having a limited capability guest SSID with no passcode should become easier to set up with the newer gateways and routers, even as you protect your main WiFi access. I set mine to allow WWW browsing fairly easy, but make watching HD video from the WWW a very slow process.

  2. Barry Davis Jr

    For me personally, I have no desire or plans to share the access I pay for since no one else helps with the bill, there are no discounts for doing so, and none one else is rushing to share anything with me. I am not a charity, I am not the government, I am not a social welfare project, and I don’t care what your circumstances may be. If others want to do it more power to them, but don’t expect me or attempt to require me to participate.

    • gr8bkset

      @Barry, I think the benefit of sharing is that you extend your network such that when you are in an area where you don’t have access, but are part of the sharing network someone else with access will share with you. One extension of this idea would allow you to share if you are not near your data limit… or give you credit, the more you share. Its kinda like roaming without going thru the phone companies.

      • Barry Davis Jr

        I can see the benefits of that, my issue with some ideas are presented more of a redistribution of resources vs a co-op such as a farming co-op. As much as I would like to help distribute my resources to those that have none, my struggle for what I have does not leave me with much. One must wonder if life was easier with barter.

  3. sharing internet is really cool. but we should not feel a need to use third party services to do so. just a couple years ago in any US city it was very easy to find open hotspots, these days nearly everything is locked with a password. if people are concerned about leaving themselves open to a hackers attack or someone overwhelming their broadband there is an easy solution, use a newer router with a ‘guest’ SSID that creates a separate subnet and limits bandwidth to a set amount that will not interfere with your own ability to have a fast stable connection. thing is most of the ‘quest’ connection i see these days have password on them as well as the main connection.

    we do not need any third party apps or services to share internet. if you want to share open your router for password free entry and encourage other to do the same.

    • I think some of you are missing a point here. Sharing is a necessity for 2 reasons:
      1. in developing markets it is a way to enable people who cannot afford to have a permanent cellular connectivity to go on the Internet. Software growths faster than infrastructure and smartphone penetration is booming. These smartphones can be turned easily into small cell towers with software like Open Garden.
      2. In the US only 10% of the spectrum get efficiently used because of the way it has been allocated. Sharing of bandwidth when operated at the level of the device can double this capacity instantly with no investment in infrastructure.

  4. The biggest difficulty, in Europe anyway, would be the change in the law to allow this to ever happen. Under the various Telecommunication acts, the subscriber of the service is liable for anything that happens.

    Things like Karma are a nice idea but with the insane crackdown on copyright infringement it’s not worth the hassle.

  5. Monkey Carrier

    This is retarted…the 2 billion that have access? They have access because it’s there….and were not talking about “I walk past this skyscraper, under a bridge everyday to get my double-double mocha-mocha nonfat latte with skim milk and caramel, and I seem to lose service on BOTH my phones! Oh-em-gee” kinda service. We’re talking about having access at all, because you A) don’t even have electricity much less a computer, and B) have the desire and cultural susceptibility to such luxuries.

    The remaining 4.5 or 5 billion don’t have access because most dont even have basic infrastructure. Sharing your internet with your driver while you’re too busy showering to watch Netflix in your Hampton hills mansion may be a noble idea, but it means nothing.

    And if you’re on stage at some convention and conference, and your the CEO of some company that talks about the important of ‘net access, and you’re referring to the neighbor walking the dog past your perfectly landscaped front yard, you’re obviously confused, and in the middle of a midlife crisis. Because this isn’t a problem! Just walk an extra block, after you got your mochadoublecaramelwhatever, and you’re problem’s solved.

    Here’s the reality. The people who don’t have access won’t benefit from any altruistic sharing–because there IS no one to share with them! They don’t have access because of where they live!

    So if you want to get them access, the only way is via either a massive public infrastructure project which will create a public utility too costly to maintain, or an intervention via local, state, or federal level that financially incentivizes doing so. But both of these options (which are the only options) are a joke. Because these areas don’t have access for a reason! They don’t have access because there aren’t enough people in these areas that want, or can afford access to make installing the tubes ‘n pipes financially worth it.

    Even if there was some way to subsidize the construction of a rural fiber initiative, the maintenance costs would be far higher than the service costs, making sure that the subscription plans are so high, that nobody will want the service in the first place.

    Burying some fiber or copper along a 100 mile stretch to a town-near-you with a population of 500 doesn’t make for a financial success story.

    As soon as the technology is available to allow for rural broadband, and the price is reasonable, this problem will solve itself. Until then, it’s stupid to even discuss this, and it’s ultra stupid to discuss it on stage. It’s even ultra-stupider/2 to base a company decision on it–unless, that is, you’re not really concerned with providing access to those who don’t have it, like you say you are. If, for instance, your company can somehow make money off of a sharing initiative by providing even more access to those who already have it….

    • Colleen Kayter

      Excellent points! These people are definitely living in a universe with a 10-foot diameter, with very narrow ideas of priorities.

      I admire Bill & Melinda Gates, who have taken the bazillions made from technology and they’re spending it helping children get access to food, medicine, and education in places where the next meal is far more important than the next hot spot, where access to AIDS medications is far more important than access to the internet.

      Information is a lovely thing to share, but let’s focus on helping people live before we worry about helping them live the same way we do.

      • What you should realize is that people in emerging market will soon all have a smartphone in their hands. If there is no Internet, then there is no opportunity to convert these devices in the fantastic opportunity they represent to improve access to knowledge and develop the local economy.

        Have you been in Kenya? You would be surprised. Payments are made using SMS and smartphones. These devices with Android now cost close to $50.

    • The way wireless Internet is distributed has to evolve. Heavy infrastructures made sense when wireless antennas had to use towers, Now every home broadband can share access through a small cell and every smartphone can also be turned into a small cell.

      No one knew how accessing Internet from a phone could be before Apple introduced the iPhone. The same way distributed architectures, peer-to-peer technologies, mesh networks will enable the same revolution for accessing the Internet or enabling people to grow their own local Internet.

      • David Hoffman

        That is hopefully coming as the pico cells and nano cells get better. Instead of requesting permission to build a 500 foot tall tower, you can use existing infrastructure. Hundreds of small low power cells put up on telephone poles, electric utility poles, and street light poles can significantly reduce the number of low signal locations in a given area. Now combine that with TV White Space utilization and the 11 channels of 5Ghz WiFi. With that, you can deploy quite an comprehensive outdoor network.

    • David Hoffman

      There are newer solutions arriving for rural areas. Fixed location TV White Space operations combined with traditional microwave towers should be able to bridge some gaps in rural areas.`Investments in fiber optic smart grids for electric utilities can allow the use of multiple strand fiber optic cables for adding Points of Presence(POPs) closer to the rural communities or even bringing FTTH in stages to rural communities. I can attest to the fact that there are fiber optic cables run by the traditional telephone and cable companies running through rural areas that have no access to DSL or cable internet. I know of one that sits less than 100 meters from dozens of houses with no wired internet service. As the cost of FTTN or FTTC equipment falls and the equipment size decreases, it may be possible to install less electric power hungry and smaller sized cabinets and nodes in these areas using those fiber optic cables. Yes, it would probably be after 2020 for many areas, but it should be doable.

    • Norton 231

      All of which is part of a broader social problem that has nothing to do with this article. Unless you’re on some one-person crusade to save the world, then you should understand that this for those who can afford the access right now. It is not stupid to discuss this issue at all. Get off your high horse, OK?

  6. Frederik Lipfert

    I actually find this topic really interesting and I do like what these guys are trying to do. If you can’t get coverage in NYC how is it supposed to be any good anywhere else. There was a lot of talk about having city wide Wi-Fi networks but that’s not even working properly in San Francisco. The closest we are right now is Starbucks. And there internet speeds are terrible! You never get more than 1 Mbps down, and let’s not even talk about upload speeds. I’ve kinda been tackling this problem from a transparency standpoint. Helping people find fast Wi-Fi with an app called SpeedSpot that let’s users test and share internet speeds. Basically crowdsourcing fast Wi-Fi hotspots. I hope more transparency for users about what hotel to stay at or what coffee shop to go to should help make sellers offer better and faster connectivity. And think of how it would be in not so connected countries. If you could know where to go to get a decent connection to watch mooc courses or tutorials could really have a big impact. Anyway, thanks for covering this Kevin. Hoping to see more on this topic in the future.