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Wireless Networks

Wireless Wide Area Networks - Metricom Ricochet

Metricom has announced that it will discontinue its service immediately because of financial problems and poor acceptance of its 128 Kbps service. (August 2001). 

Metricom’s Ricochet Wireless Data Network - See Credit protection news as of July 6, 2001
Metricom started offering 28.8 Kbps wireless Internet service in the Silicon Valley and Seattle, Washington State in 1995-96 time frame. It was, at that time and continues to be now, the fastest wireless Internet access service. It was an enigma because it offered unlimited wireless Internet access at $29.95 per month – functionality, cost and speed that nobody has matched so far. The only future competition is from 3G networks. Yet the adoption of Metricom has been very slow.

For almost three years, the network languished for reasons that defied common understanding. Then in early 2000, it got some interest from Vulcan Ventures and MCI WorldCom (300 million each) that allowed it to offer its second-generation implementation (128 Kbps on download and 56 Kbps on upload) in 11 cities and 15 airports by September 2000. It also announced plans to expand the service to 41 cities in 2001.

Frequency Band
Metricom’s wireless data network operates in free unlicensed ISM frequency band around 900 MHZ and 2.4 GHz. Therefore, it does not have to pay to FCC for buying spectrum license. It is a packet-switched network technology – ideal for data but not for voice.

Facts About Metricom (As of Dec 2000 and obtained from Metricom web site)

Headquarters: San Jose, CA

Employees: 500+

Founded: Founded in 1985, Metricom became a public company in 1992 NASDAQ:MCOM). In November 1999, MCI WorldCom and Vulcan Ventures each purchased shares of Metricom preferred stock for $300 million.

Company Profile: Metricom, Inc. is a high-speed wireless data company. With its high-speed Ricochet mobile access, Metricom was the first company to offer wireless Internet access on notebooks in conventional mode I.e. non-WAP or true-HTML without any modification. Founded in 1985, Metricom has spent more than 15 years on the development of its MicroCellular Data Network (MCDN) technology. That experience has enabled Metricom to develop the fastest wireless mobile data networking and technology available today. Ricochet has been operating since 1995 at speeds of 28.8 kbps. The new Ricochet, delivering end user speeds of 128 kbps, is available in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Minneapolis St. Paul, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco and 15 airports nationwide. These areas join the Washington DC and Seattle 28.8 kbps service areas, allowing Ricochet users to take advantage of the freedom of wireless mobility on a nationwide basis. Coverage will continue expanding and is targeted to reach 46 markets in 2001.

Customer Profile: Metricom targets the expanding mobile workforce marketplace, which is estimated to reach over 50 million workers in USA alone by 2002. While both large and small enterprises are target markets, major emphasis is on medium and SOHO businesses.

Network Overview: Ricochet is based on a digital packet-switched network incorporating spread spectrum radio frequency (RF) transmission and standard IP. The network consists of radio transceivers (Microcellular Radios) mounted to streetlights or utility poles, Wired Access Points (WAPs), which collect and convert the RF packets for transmission to the wired IP network backbone. The small radio transceivers are integral to the Ricochet network, allowing users to send and receive data from Ricochet wireless modems anywhere in coverage areas that currently include 14 markets and 15 airports nationwide. Ricochet operates within the license-free portion of the radio frequency spectrum and features Metricom’s patented frequency-hopping mesh architecture.

Ricochet Services: With the new service, Metricom has changed its business model and no longer sells directly to the end-user. Rather Ricochet is available through a growing list of Ricochet Authorized Service Providers. These include GoAmerica, Juno Online Services, Inc., Wireless WebConnect and WorldCom. Ricochet is always-on, reliable, high-speed mobile access at a flat rate price, allowing mobile professionals to stay connected to their information 24/7.

Ricochet Wireless Modems
Supporting all Ricochet services are Metricom’s unique wireless modems, allowing the freedom and flexibility to connect from wherever you need to access data. At less than a pound, Ricochet modems are truly portable and allow mobility by simply plugging into the serial or USB port on PC or Macintosh computers.

Revenue and Subscriber Success
The following table shows revenue and subscriber growth during 1997-99. The company did not release year 2000 figures.

Growth Snapshot












MobileInfo Comments and Advisory: Metricom has several advantages over its competitors. Most important, apparently, is its use of unlicensed and free band. However, this advantage may also be its greatest weakness in so far as FCC may decide, in future, to restrict its use in future. This is an unlikely scenario because it will affect several sub-industries. However, it does hang as a threat to a network operator who may be interested in acquiring Metricom. Secondly, its microcellular radio hardware is cheap. But the only supplier of this radio hardware (base stations, etc.) - Lucent for now, may not have enough incentive to reduce its prices because of lack of competition and higher costs from lower production levels. Also the area of coverage of each cell is low. No other wireless network carrier seems to have adopted this technology. One major reason for this lack of interest on the part of wireless carriers is the absence of voice capability – an assured market and absolutely necessary requirement for these carriers.

Special Note July 6, 2001 - Metricom filed for protection from creditors. See the news item. 

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