MAXED out on your phone's data plan? Stuck in a dead zone? Your neighbour can help. A new app lets users share mobile internet connections with anyone around them, helping the data-starved avoid roaming charges and steep overage fees.
Called AirMobs, the app shares a phone's data plan with others through the phone's Wi-Fi signal. For every kilobyte shared, AirMobs awards a data credit that can be used later.
"The idea is to extend the principle of 'give and you shall receive' to create an incentive for people to share their data plan," says Eyal Toledano at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who developed the app.
AirMobs aims to help users avoid high charges by connecting to the internet via the phones around them. In places where perhaps only one carrier has coverage, it can provide connectivity for all.
"You can use your credit in an area where you don't have a connection," Toledano says. "Maybe the guy next to you has great coverage."
Users can choose how much of their data plan they share. AirMobs runs in the background, regularly checking the phone's battery life and the strength of the cellular connection. It also detects movement, as the signal is more stable when the phone is stationary. When conditions are right, the Wi-Fi transmitter switches on automatically, and others can then connect.
Toledano says he has successfully tested the system within MIT, but he is hesitant to release it to the Google Play Store for fear that cellular carriers will object.
Bill Menezes, an analyst at Gartner in Denver, Colorado, agrees that's a danger. "Verizon Wireless, for example, specifically prohibits resale of its services to a third party," he says. "The question is how they would enforce it against an app like this."
"If networks decided to collaborate and let all devices roam freely, AirMobs would be less needed," Toledano says. "But where operators aren't collaborating, user-to-user collaboration can fix the situation."
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