I get this question a lot. And it's understandable: fundamentally, Karma is a mobile hotspot, and so is a MiFi. They both get you on the internet by bridging a cellular connection to a WiFi connection. So, what's different? Not much, really. And, also, everything.

The word "MiFi" is actually just a marketing term, a trademark of Novatel Wireless in the US, introduced in 2009 when Novatel shipped the MiFi 2200 on Verizon. The MiFi was a breakthrough in size, simplicity, and style for mobile hotspots. As my colleague at the time Chris Ziegler wrote in his review for Engadget: "The MiFi is drop-dead awesome in basically every meaningful way..."

The word "MiFi" is actually just a marketing term

The MiFi brand went on to become a sort of "Kleenex" for mobile hotspots. There are many other hotspots from other brands, but they're often referred to as "MiFis" colloquially. Verizon has introduced its "Jetpack" brand and AT&T has "Unite," but neither has nearly as much traction. The original MiFi defined what a mobile hotspot could and should be, and earned its rightful role as the "Kleenex" of our space.

But somehow, along the way, MiFis and MiFi competitors became absurdly complicated. The original had a power button and an LED. New devices have touchscreens, buttons, menus and other complications. As the logical culmination of this complexity, Sprint recently introduced the LivePro, a hotspot / Android tablet / projector. I prefer to believe the LivePro is an elaborate, expensive joke, created by Sprint as a sort of social commentary on consumerism and rapid upgrade cycles. If it's not, we're probably doomed as a culture.

Sprint's incredible, improbable LiveProSprint's incredible, improbable LivePro

In the meantime, all these features not only make hotspots difficult to use and ugly to behold, they distract from the core purpose of why we wanted hotspots in the first place: to get our other devices online. The problem is that mobile hotspots are sold like phones — carriers want you to buy a new one every couple years to make sure you re-up your contract and keep paying them huge monthly fees. And so, like phones, hotspots must have more features every year, and larger screens, and now, apparently, a projector.

Karma makes the hotspot about you and your data, not the device and a contract

Karma, and the forthcoming Karma Go, take a back-to-basics approach. Like the original MiFi, there's just one button: the power button. Anything fancy you want to do — like check your data usage, or see who's connected — is much better suited for our online dashboard and mobile app.

But in a more fundamental way, Karma makes the hotspot about you and your data, not the device and a contract. The business model of a carrier is to sell service plans for devices. Need an extra device? Add an extra plan. A carrier wins when you sign on the dotted line and promise to pay them a monthly fee for the next two years, no matter how you use the device.

Karma flips this on its head. With Karma, you buy data, and can use that data with any Karma device, and any*one*'s Karma device. The data is connected to you as a person, not to a chunk of plastic and a contractual agreement. Karma makes money when you buy more data, which means Karma succeeds when you truly find Karma useful. We're introducing Karma Go soon, with LTE, so that you can use the internet faster and in more locations.

Yeah, it's not a MiFi, and it doesn't have a projector, but we still think it's pretty good idea.


About Paul Miller

That guy who left the internet for a year