Desperately Seeking Subscribers

Desperately Seeking Subscribers

Tim Kridel

Metricom should be the hottest thing going. Its Ricochet service delivers mobile wireless data at 128 kilobits per second, a rate that most other service pro- viders won’t deliver for years. “They’ve significantly understated the speeds that the network will actually produce,” adds David Chamberlain, a senior analyst at Probe Research. “My guess is that folks on sparsely populated systems are seeing throughput far higher than what’s being advertised.”

That’s part of the problem: Metricom is having trouble getting customers to sign on for service. Although 2,500 people signed up for the new 128-kbps service in its first month, 400 subscribers bailed between Q2 and Q3, and no one seems sure exactly why.

Metricom spokesman Brad Shewmake suspects that some of those losses might be people who discontinued their older 28.8-kbps Metricom service in anticipation of the 128-kbps service’s debut.

Still, analysts remain bullish. Lehman Brothers projects 600,000 net adds for Metricom this year, for a year-end total of 640,900. Growth had been hampered by Metricom’s determination to do it all: support, marketing and billing. Those tasks now fall to resellers, including GoAmerica, UUNet Technologies and WorldCom.

Metricom does have some competition on the horizon. One potential competitor is ArrayComm’s i-BURST tech- nology, which promises rates starting at 1 Mbps. But widespread commercial deployment probably won’t begun until 2002, at the very earliest.

Another potential rival emerged last week: Mitsubishi Materials’ SWIFTcomm. That service promises data rates up to 20 Mbps even when the user is traveling at 100 mph. The service uses a cellular-like network of transmitters scattered throughout a metropolitan area, an architecture similar to Metricom’s. Mitsubishi promises a U.S. debut by the end of this year.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in The Net Economy.