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Metricom's Ricochet Network Will Go Dark 105

cloudscout writes "According to this blurb at Go2Mac, the end is finally here for Metricom's Ricochet Network. Employees are being given one week severance. Now who is going to fill this vacuum? CDPD just doesn't cut it."
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Metricom's Ricochet Network Will Go Dark

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    The slashdot software must've forgotten who I am, but I do remember registering. To identify myself, I go by the user ID 'reikiman' at the motley fool web site, have the email address davidh-at-7gen.com, and have been working with the Internet since 1987 (or so). I've also been invested in Ricochet since September 1999, until recently happily so and assuming that funding would come along to pull the company out of its situation.

    There are so many details to try and talk about. I've been following developments very carefully for a long time, and there were many smart people who got fooled by this into losing lots of money on the stockn [not that we didn't do our homework to understand the company, because we did in spades, we just misunderstood the managements incompetence and also had too much trust in Paul Allen to fund the company again after he had done so on two previous occasions] Oh, and we must also remember the Metricom employees, some of whom have been there since its founding in 1985, who were dumped with one weeks worth of severance pay while the upper management and "restructuring team" are being paid huge salaries for the next 6 months.

    First off .. the list of debts hanging over Metricoms head. The biggest one is a totally bogus claim from Worldcom for future circuits that Metricom might have needed. It should be tossed out, but the company never contested it. If this were tossed out then the assets would be greater than liabilities and there would be no need for bankruptcy.

    Next .. In the beginning of July they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, under which you are supposed to come up with a restructuring plan to get the company working again. By the time of the court hearing in late July (26th?) the tune had changed to where the management was going to put the company up for auction, and would be accepting bids between Aug 1 and Aug 16, and then on the 16th would be a real multi-round auction. Supposedly the company would be sold as a "going concern", which for a company of this sort you'd want the patents and network operations all in one company. Actually the WCS spectrum the company owns seemingly can be sold off and not do any harm to network operations, and it seems that WCS spectrum should be quite valuable (maybe $1.5 billion) and would go a long way towards paying the companies debts. Instead that spectrum is claimed by Metricom to have a value of $1.5 million, what they paid in the auction where they got it. In any case, now in a hearing on Aug 1 (about 1 weekk later) the company has decided to go immediately to liquidation, selling everything piecemeal. WHAT HAPPENED TO "GOING CONCERN"? WHAT HAPPENED TO RESTRUCTURING?

    So, what happened? There are a lot of theories that we (a group of shareholders) have been piecing together and throwing around. One is that the CEO Tim Driesbach had put together an ambitious plan to build the network in 46 U.S. cities by the end of 2001, and that the main investors had urged the company to do it. Unfortunately in putting that plan together, TD put into the contracts some iron clad commitments to buy equipment and supplies regardless of whether the buildout went as planned or happened more slowly than planned. In other words, once the company decided to slow the buildout pace, they were still committed by contract to buying equipment as if they were building at breakneck speed.

    Secondly, Worldcom was in the process as a major investor and was supposed to have been selling the service and supposedly had 2,000 sales people selling it who were all excited about the prospects. TD, the then CEO, said so. Turns out, according to statements made in court last week, that they stopped selling the service last winter but nobody ever told anybody that they had broken their resellers agreement.

    The price for the service, $75/mo, is on the high side but I think they priced it to be similar to DSL prices and also giving it a bit of a premium because it's mobile. At that level it's a lot cheaper than doing the same level of data transfer through cell phone "internet" (which is charged by the minute, not monthly). However, they did experiment with different pricing ($39.95/mo for either 64kbps speed, or $39.95 for 128kbps but limited to one urban area) models beginning in May, and that produced quite a jump in new subscribers (I saw a claim of a 1000% increase in subscriber rates in San Diego where this special price was run). It was a case of too little, too late I'm afraid.

    Somehow .. even after 5+ years of being involved with this company, after having pulled it from the brink two times previously, Paul Allen didn't have the balls to stick to his vision of funding the development of the Wired World, and dropped this company like a hot potato. And just when it was on the brink of greatness ... this special promotion was going to be rolled out across the whole company, and would have lit a fire under the subscriber numbers -- because at that price it is competitive with DSL, and a heck of a lot easier to install and run. Rather than a 2 month torture to get DSL running (I've been reading http://www.dslreports.com), getting Ricochet running is little more than taking the modem out of the box, installing drivers, plugging the modem into your computer, and logging in to the network.

    The general opinion in our investors group is that the company was purposely killed, so that the cellco companies could go back to gouging everybody with per minute charges especially when 3G stuff comes out in, oh, 3-5 years from now. Just think, a wireless internet technology that today delivers the speed 3G is promising for some time in the future when it finally works, and it's being dumped. Bleah.

    Note the timeline of events ... at the beginning of July "restructuring" ... at the end of July "sale as going concern" ... one week later "liquidation for scrap prices". Does this not smack of a plan for a certain agenda? Yeah, I'm a disgruntled shareholder who has an axe to grind, but I'm really being as objective as I can be about this. I did get overly caught up with the stock, and got blinded to the warning signs. At the same time there were plenty of hints that funding would come along and things would be fine, but these hints turned out to be lies made by management.

    - David

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I got some facts for you shareholders, a former employee that was too smart for metricom I am. This is from the days when they actually were the ISP.

    Their modems and network never really got the redesign that they had touted. Since it's inception it was a known fact that the ricochet and its network were capable of 128kbps.

    Kaitlin Imes was the one that showed me the commands to do this if you need a name to chek my authenticity. Anyways continuing down my story.

    The network rate was determined by the poletop BPS. They started slow, at like 4800bps per poletop in the beginning. Now your asking, well if it were 4800bps then how did they offer 28k service? Glad you asked that.

    Assuming each customer is within the range of several poletops, you could multiplex between poletops to get the desired throughput.


    4800+ 4800+ 4800+ 4800+ 4800+ 4800=28000bps

    It was a known and discussed fact that customers would get below average performance if there was any less than 6 poletops around. Here was your reason.

    So instead of taking investor money over the last 6 years and placing it into R&D, Right of way, and Manufacturing, they spent it all on a big new building. I remember one little fuck, well lets not go there, I am posting anonomously after all.
    Bottom line is they never improved anything other than make the radios cooler looking. Oh whats that everyone wants 56k now? We just turn up those poletops a bit and tell everyone how innovative we are. Oh whats that now they want 128kbps? Yeah thats the ticket, we'll just turn up those poletops and start charging more.

    Every ricochet customer has had the wool pulled over his or her eyes in my opinion.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 02, 2001 @03:34PM (#2174980)

    (with apologies to Paul Simon)

    When I think back on all the crap I read on Slashdot
    It's a wonder I can think at all
    And though my frequent links to goatse.cx
    Haven't hurt me none
    I can read the writing on the wall

    You give us those nice fast downloads
    You give us the warez and Napster
    Makes you think all the world's a fast freeway, oh yeah!
    I got a Sony laptop
    I love to look at ... photographs
    So Mama, don't take my Ricochet away

    If you took all the sites I read
    When I was "working"
    And brought them all together for one spell
    I know they'd never match
    one brilliant round of trolling...
    And everything looks worse on DSL

    You give us those nice fast downloads
    You give us the warez and Napster
    Makes you think all the world's a fast freeway, oh yeah!
    I got a Sony laptop
    I love to look at ... photographs
    So Mama, don't take my Ricochet away

    Mama, don't take my Ricochet away

    Mama, don't take my Ricochet away

    Mama, don't take my Ricochet away

    Mama, don't take my Ricochet
    Mama, don't take my Ricochet
    Mama, don't take my Ricochet (away)

    Mama, don't take my Ricochet
    Mama, don't take my Ricochet
    Mama, don't take my Ricochet (away)

    Mama, don't take my Ricochet
    (Make your boy just pay and pay)
    Mama, don't take my Kodachrome (away)

  • Now we can only *imagine* what a Ricochet-based wireless Beowolf Cluster would have been like...

    While Ricochet is obviously a poor choice for networking in a cluster, a bunch of boxes with ricochet radios in close proximity will still talk to each other even if the retransmitters and other pieces of infrastructure are down -- they just need to use peer to peer mode, that works in proximity with all ricochet devices, even ones where it's "disabled" (so retransmitters don't route it).

  • UUNET is a Worldcom company. Worldcom is Ricochet's biggest creditor. Hmm....


  • You'll notice that a lot of those debts are in the form of future business revenue that hasn't been realized yet. These won't be met if they go out of business. If those numbers are real, then many of those creditors still have an incentive to keep things running.

  • Yes, but the ricochet doo-hickeys get a couple of miles normally in a city.

  • Right, but I got 200+k/sec with a ricochet setup in front of a crowd here at a NYLUG presentation.

    It is amazing. I really hope it survives as it has more then made back the money I've put into it on my consulting gigs.

  • I called them several years ago about buying their stuff to create a local version and they wouldn't even condescend to talk to me. Maybe if they weren't so anal about how they rolled it out they would have had a chance. F*** 'em.
  • Wonderful idea, unfortunately Palm is hurting right now also.

    But imagine the possibilities for Palm. Many pundits feel that wireless messaging (often suggesting the RIM Blackberry as the example) is the next killer app. If Palm could pony up the capital (it is an auction, might be going for pennies on the dollar) and even better, keep expanding it, they might be able to come out shining. Who else might buy it? Other Telco / Wireless types? They're having a hard time right now as they stand on the brink of 3G with no compelling need in sight. MS? Maybe they'd position it for CE just as Palm could use it for the Pilots. Add on a bonus 'MSWireless' subscription to MSN and you've got some possibilities. AOL? Are they doing anything in this area? 'AOL Anywhere' kind of thing?

    Its too bad, too, as we would have been able to use something like ricochet here in Vegas.

  • I've used the Richochet network - it did the job, i.e. quite cool. To bad they couldn't make it for the long haul.
  • My technical director has one. Using MapQuest on his laptop while driving down the freeway in his (rented) convertible was cool.
    Sadly the frequency they use isn't available for the same use in the UK, so he can't use it even in peer-to-peer mode back home. (Being low power spread-spectrum devices, the chances of them actually causing interference or being detected in use are small, but it's still not worth it).

  • by wesman ( 6993 ) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @03:24PM (#2174990)
    I have had a Ricochet for 4+ years and every time I pulled it out in public everyone wanted to know about it. Seems that they never told anyone about their service.

    I expect someone like Worldcom to puck it up and use that to get into wireless in this country since the Sprint deal fell through. Plus they already offer it as a reseller.

  • >Under the protection of Chapter 11, the Company
    > will seek to restructure its operations and debt
    > obligations while maintaining the operation of
    > its wireless network

    Their "debt obligations" add up to nearly a billion dollars. They have about 50,000 subscribers. Even if they got every subscriber to prepay for ten years of service they probably couldn't meet their debt.

    Maybe I just don't understand business, but,
    the numbers just don't add up for me. If they add up for some banker, more power to him I guess.

  • by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @05:30PM (#2174992)

    > They currently have 50,000 customers, most of >which are at high-speed.
    > Are they losing money every month? If so, WHY? >If not, why couldn't a company come in, buy their >assets
    > from auction, and start making money?

    They are nearly a billion dollars in debt. You can't look at their assets without looking at their liabilities. The service is US$75-80 per
    month, and at just 50,000 customers, how will they
    ever get out of debt?

  • On my GPRS phone tethered, I get 1 channel (9.6) same as my cdpd modem. But my multiple-channel GPRS modem should be here shortly. (example 6x = 57.6) http://www.novatelwireless.com/pcproducts/g100.htm l [novatelwireless.com] (With compression, I've seen upto dsl type speeds)
    The comments are my own, not my employer.
  • But bluestar gave more notice.... well... IF you even got A letter from them. Many of the customers of the company I work for never got any notice of them going dark, we were lucky to find out the day after they posted notice to their website... and let them all know... several are on isdn for a few weeks till a T1 can be pulled in, one I have to go put on a modem tommarrow.....
  • Who will fill this vacuum?

    How about <a href="http://slashdot.org/articles/01/01/04/132120 9.shtml">Starbucks</a>? Ever try to meet a friend at one of those these days? I mean, you can't just say, "Let's meet at the Starbucks." You have to be pretty specific... "It's the one next to McDonalds, next to the GAP, next to Starbucks, next to... oh... DOH!"

  • Yikes!

    I run a amateur radio packet network here in michigan and it is nowhere near that cost. My "pole units" small 5 watt digipeters that I have 6 of cost me about $10.00 per month for all of them to run... this is a cost of replacing gell cell batteries. Location is 100% free as is the 110V power that uses 10 watts at it's peak, but usually 3 watts. The network link is a linux box, costs about $30.00 a month for parts.

    Granted I'm 9600 BPS, but my power and space requirements are very close to theirs.. Sounds like they got raped by location rental and power providers.
  • the drivers are very open source...


    how would you like it? release the source code to the modems?
  • Yeah but $10.00 per pole mounted repeater? It costs less that $1.00 per pole for rent (including electrical 100Volts that draws less than .1 amp) from the electrical company here. (I know I asked about renting pole space for 30 poles from the Ambulance company to the dispatch center for a simple network audio connection... I was quoted the above at $0.95 per pole.. $3.00 per pole per month if my equipment used up to .4 amp... they quoted out of the cable-tv rates)

    So either in California everyone rapes everyone else in pricing and rent or they placed the boxes on the wrong poles (city owned are the most expensive while electrical are cheapest).

    Granted there is some maintaince, but from what I see of the cable-tv boxes that are far more complex and able to get damaged by lightning easier... I'd bet that the repeater boxes got installed and then never touched again.
  • Even if I had wanted to continue the 28.8k service, it was still $30/month, even though there were plenty of cheaper 56k diakup services available, and they required 1 year pre-payment. Forget it.

    Give us a break. So there were cheaper 56k dialup services. Were they wireless?

    I pay 27.50 + tax for 9.6kbps CDPD service. I'd have killed for 28kbps wireless at $30/mo.
  • Re: "If Metrocom had done its own internet service and received double the revenue I believe that would presently be on its way to profitability." Actually they were a direct ISP for their original narrowband service but switched to a reseller model for the 128K service.
  • Just read it in the Wall Street Journal: "Metricom Inc., the struggling operator of Ricochet, one of the largest networks offering wireless Internet access in major cities across the nation, plans to discontinue its service ahead of a proposed auction of all its assets. [...]"
  • If every airport, starbucks and business class hotel in the US deployed 802.11B I suspect there would be practically no need for 3G, Ricochet or the rest.

    MobileStar [mobilestar.com] has been doing that for a while. They have 802.11b access points at Starbucks, airports, and hotels. I travel back and forth between Dallas and Houston, two of the covered cities, and I'm mighty tempted by their plans, but the prices are too high. It's $30/mo for local unlimited, or $60/mo for national unlimited. If it worked at my college campus [uh.edu], then I'd be sold. Otherwise, I'm praying for Richochet to make it through.
  • Yeah, but I think it might still be true... Here's some more information from their "Chapter 11 FAQ" (http://www.ricochet.com/about_us/investor_relatio ns/faq010702.html) [ricochet.com]

    What is Chapter 11 and what does it mean? A: Metricom has voluntarily asked the courts to provide it protection from its creditors while it works out a repayment plan. The plan is then voted on by its creditors and submitted for the court's approval. This allows Metricom to continue to operate, provide services and consider its options for the future, while working out payment plans with its creditors.

    Is the Company being shut down? A: No, Metricom continues to operate, and we are all striving to maintain the technology and services so prized by our partners and many loyal Ricochet users. We believe that our wireless Internet access product is viable and we believe that today's filing is the best means to preserve this asset moving forward.

    So it sounds to me like they won't be turning off the wireless modems if they can avoid it. But I do wonder what's going on with the acution. It'd be kinda hard to continue to operate a wireless network if you sell all the pieces of it.

  • Hmm... They've been blanketing the TV airwaves around me latley. Surprised they weren't doing this nationally.
  • by livitup ( 27795 ) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @03:13PM (#2175005) Homepage
    According to thier site they're just 'restructuring' and 'service will continue'
    http://www.ricochet.net/news_events/media_center/p ress_releases/2001/news010702.html [ricochet.net]

    Other interesting tidbits for those to lazy to click thru:

    • Under the protection of Chapter 11, the Company will seek to restructure its operations and debt obligations while maintaining the operation of its wireless network
    • The petition allows Metricom to continue its operations and to explore financial alternatives, while working with its creditors to restructure its debt obligations.
    • "It is clear to me that Metricom's wireless Internet access product is viable and that its Ricochet service offering provides the fastest mobile wireless communications solution on the market today,"

    So, it's not quite over yet. But, I won't be holding my breath...

  • by Matt2000 ( 29624 ) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @03:05PM (#2175006) Homepage

    This sucks cause Ricochet was a good service, and its bad news that the flat rate access model got rocked in this case. However, check out this list of top 20 creditors [ricochet.net], man those are some debts yo!
  • I don't want to be too critical of your statement, but it is much harder to do stuff on the cheap if you are a business. If you make money off of a device in my yard/building, etc I expect I should be able to make some money off you, etc.

    This substantially increase the cost to business. Also if they included operational costs that would include the maintenance staff and vehicles to support these devices. (Installation, maintenance, etc.). All of these things cost a company money, and nobody does it for free in a business environment.

    Also, they may have included there replacement costs, which might be substantially higher than yours. (imediatly swappable units, service contracts for repairs, etc.).

    If I'm paying for the service I expect it to work 99% of the time, if its a 'free' service I am much less demanding...

  • well, cant speak for your area, but i was visiting familly in new york city this christmas, and there was an add on just about every other phone booth, plus transit busses, etc.

    perhaps this means that they were already running out of money by the time they started up in LA who knows. it did look like a good service, although i never did much research on it. oh well, maybe if the equipment doesnt get sold, we can set up a free ricochet network (only in my dreams)...

  • They "didn't receive" my first cancellation letter. Funny, they did get the one that I CC'd to the credit card company. Now they're trying to bill me for one lousy month.

    Oh, BTW, they could never figure out why they would periodically lose my email.
  • Not only the assets, but the "company as a going concern" or one or several of their markets. In other words, this bankruptcy isn't to just unload the physical assets of the company, but to sell all or parts of an operating entity.
  • David,

    Thank you for the nice piece of prose. Good information, and good writing, are rare in these forums.

    A technical analyst was recently discussing a product his employer is funding. It is a standalone box that provides high speed wireless connectivity to a fairly large area. He said 2-3 placed on top of buildings could cover the business areas of San Francisco (financial district, SOMA, half way up Market.) Client units are designed to be cheap an disposable.

    This is a technology developed by and for the military. I assume a battlefield area network. He described it as shipping silicon now, in a hardened military package, and market ready in 6 months. I have also seen a number of business plans that would only make sense if broadband wireless was available to mobile units.

    Could it be that someone knows the infrastructure at 128k is going to have no value in a year? If so it would make sense to kill the company quickly and harvest any value.

    I'm sorry to se it go. I'm sending this from under the stars using my Ricochet. I absolutely love it.

    There is nothing like having a highspeed connection to a foreign network when you are locking down a machine. Plug a hole, run an attack. Plug another hole, poke it again.

    I will miss my Ricochet.


  • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Friday August 03, 2001 @04:43AM (#2175012) Homepage
    At the time that the modems came out, they didn't have anything else to compare them to. Hell, it would be almost another year before we had x2 and kFlex [okay, both kFlexes, if you want to get picky about it], and then almost another year after that before v.90.

    So first off, they weren't significantly slower than a standard modem (28.8kbps vs. 33.6kbps). Second, they were only $30/month if you bought the insurance on 'em. [well, I did, so let's forget that other option]. For $30/month, you were getting a dedicated connection.... in 1996. For any of you other folks out there who tried pricing out something similar, you'd be looking at $150+ for port, and the $20 or so for line. [Hell, you still are these days for dedicated dialup in many areas].

    Yes, they had a limited area (I got coverage at my apartment, school, National Airport, and my dad's house, but not my mom's.). For those people that fit their demographic, however, it was a godsend. I could get in an hour of mudding while between classes, without having to go down to a crowded computer lab, or trek back home.

    I could get online while sitting at my mom's car in the middle of the Pentagon parking lot, waiting for her to get off work. And hell, as it was the earlier model, with the seperate battery pack, I could use it on my desktop machine, too. [Although a foot or two of contract gives you some damned crappy latency, as the repeater was on the dead other side of the building].

    The page you linked to reminded me of the people who bitched about CueCat. Yes, the companies are dumbasses for selling the product without forcing you to get the service, too, however, you're thinking rather highly of yourself if you think everyone should just bow down to you and give you stuff for free. If you don't register your shareware programs, the odds are, that people won't continue releasing stuff as shareware, as it's not worth it to them.

    If there's a product that you like, that you use, you have to support them. If you don't, they fold, and everyone's screwed in the long run.

    Now, is Metricom a good product? Before, yes. Right now, I don't know their pricing model, or their level of service, so I can't make that call. If they're still in the $30/month range, I'd say definately, if you're presently using dialup. If you're in an area that's widely covered, or go through airports that are, it might also be a godsend. Is it competative with DSL / Cable Modems? As strange as this sounds, I'd say yes, but it depends on the pricing model. There's a good market for those people who want to pay a little more for the always-on connection, but can't justify spending $50-$100/month.

    PS. not everything's good about metricom. I had bit of a problem returning the modem after I moved out of a service area, and they tried charging me for another year, and I went through a few phone calls to 'em to get it cleared up, and then realized I had the insurance on it, so I could have just told them I lost it, and to eat the cost, rather than me returning it
  • Why would someone want to use metricom modems for home networking when 802.11b networking is so much faster, and not that much more expensive either?
  • Ah, okay. I see!

    I guess the same thing can be achieved with 802.11, by throwing enough money into a system to get amps, antennas, etc. The problem is that most 802.11 cards are only 30mw, and the powerful ones are 100mw. The metricom modems were 1W, I think. And a lot cheaper, I guess. (especially now!)

  • by borcharc ( 56372 ) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @03:16PM (#2175015)
    I just spoke with WWC, whom I get my Ricochet service through and they stated that the network will not go off-line. They stated that the network would remain in operation throughout the bankruptcy auction.

    This makes seance, if the network went down then they would lose the 50,000 subscribers, thus making it a less attractive buy.

  • by borcharc ( 56372 ) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @04:05PM (#2175016)
    On the note of the value and profitability of the Ricochet network one can review the form 8-K filed July 20, 2001 (http://biz.yahoo.com/e/010720/mcomq.html).

    Usually seven poletop radios are installed per square mile, one wired access point every ten square miles, and one network interface facility per 600 miles. They list a approximate cost of $2,000 per poletop radio. $180,000 per wired access point, and $550,000 per network interface facility. With a average cost per square mile of approximately $33,000.

    The above facilities operating cost is approximately $10/mo per poletop radio, $2,000/mo per wired access point, and $10,000/mo per network interface facility. With wired communication costing approximately $900/mo per wired access point and $12,000/mo per network interface facility. Giving a approximate operating cost of $400/mo per square mile.

    Metrocom receives approximately $25/mo in revenue per subscriber. They need 16 subscribers per square mile to cover the operating costs, and 44 subscribers per square mile to cover its operating and equipment costs.

    The business model calls for a eight to one ratio of paying subscribers to active subscribers. This is based on ~12% of subscribers using the network at once, and each subscriber averaging 500 mb's a month of transfer.

    I believe that the model is good but the main issue is with outsourceing the internet service. People I have talked to at WWC state that they are getting raises, and the outlook is good. If Metrocom had done its own internet service and received double the revenue I believe that would presently be on its way to profitability.

  • Though you don't want to sell a service at a loss and try to make it up in volume (since many of the dot-bombs failed because of that business model).
  • actually aol does have an 'AOL Mobile Communicator' that if i recall correctly uses the BellSouth data network (they don't say, but other providers which the exact same device and different software do) and allows you to do aol im, and aol email

    i was looking into getting one, but i have no money

    at the time i was looking into it, it was cheaper for the device itself and also for monthly service (including the required unlimited(inbound internet for me) aol account) than for a similar offering from earthlink that didn't have IM support

  • This truly is a shame. Some of our public safety sector customers in more affluent areas are utilizing Ricocette rather than CDPD to provide reliable, secure, high speed connectivity to the mobile unit.

    In exchange for allowing Ricocette to mount those antenna's they were provided some accounts at reduced rates. The idea was to get the service installed and then sell the hell out of it to the public.

    Our customers routinely saw 256K in the car when they had ordered 128K service. It really kicked and they experienced almost zero unanticipated lost connections. They were able to operate in the mobile unit as efficiently as if they were connected to the department's LAN.

    Now, they will have to settle for lower performance CDPD connectivity if the Ricocette network goes dark. Man, does that ever suck.

  • Too bad Palm's stock and cash flow are in the crapper and the company as a whole is really struggling. Maybe MS could buy it with their pocket change and roll-out a Palm.net-type service for CE devices.
  • One of the big boys are going to buy it. Just watch. Sprint, AT&T, or someone along those lines will grab it.

    The research for the technology has already been done, the network is already in place. All the expsensive stuff is out of the way.

    There is very little risk for the buyer. They know how well it performs and what the limitations are. They just have to make sure that its going to make money.

    Its hard to imagine something like this NOT making money.

  • Very sad. I'm writing this while logged in through the Ricochet network. It's been extremely reliable, and works wonderfully under Linux. Well worth the $75/month.

    It's also performed very well -- I've gotten upwards of 200k over their network. I've been using it as my primary connection and am very disappointed to see it go down.

  • Here is a link to Metricom's Press Release on Yahoo! [yahoo.com]
  • I've been typing in my car while travelling the I-5 (between 605 and 405 junctions) while travelling 50 to 80 mph. (Yes, while driving...but, I wasn't using a cell phone!)

    I can see it now:

    Haha! First post!

    Uh, BSD is dying and Natalie Portman is the most gorgeous creature
    ever to have given a Wookiee a

    SCREEEEEE...... [SMASH][CRASH][TinkleTinkle][KABOOM!]


  • A mere month ago, Metricom announced that it was entering Chapter 11 so as to restructure its debts and look for new financing. Seemed reasonable, considering that the company -- while its technology was promising -- owed so much money. Rumors were floating about that the company was cleaning house in order to be bought.

    Then, a few days ago, Metricom announced that it hoped to sell off part or all of the company (perhaps city by city?) "as a going concern."

    Well, OK. Maybe they couldn't restructure their debts or get out of all of their commitments. At least the network would be worth pennies on the dollar to a willing buyer -- like Iridium.

    Then, just today, Metricom announces that it is terminating service as of August 8, 2001 -- a week before the auction!

    At this point, the excuses no longer hold water. How can one sell a company as a going concern if it is no longer "going?" Who will buy the infrastructure and customer base in a city after those customers have already been cut off for more than a week, have lost faith in the company, and are seeking other options?

    It appears -- and the stockholders and creditors should be outraged at this -- that whoever is running the show here is more interested in killing the company than in actually selling its assets for the greatest possible return. Could it be that Worldcom wants to see Metricom dead because it represents competition? Or that there are other skeletons hidden in the closets that would make any takeover of the company infeasible? The answers are unclear, but one thing is: Contrary to the court's order, whoever is in charge of the liquidation seems intent upon minimizing, rather than maximizing, the value of the company's assets. And ought to be held responsible for doing so.

  • It may be wishful thinking, but since it's a tech writer that wrote the story at go2mac, it's possible that the network engineering staff has been retained until the auction. The network becomes much less valuable at auction if the court ordered total layoffs and the network goes dark so the 50k customers get hosed.

    According to metricom, [metricom.com] the entire operation is being auctioned off, not just the hardware so I suspect that we'll see Worldcomm step in and get a wireless network on the cheap.
  • According to court documents available at Metricom's website, all the bidders had to provide Letters of Intent to participate including provisional bids by 5p on Aug.1. Any lead bidder will be announced on Monday Aug. 6.

    All of the sale paperwork will be in place for the lead bidder before the auction on Aug. 16 and the deal will close on Sept. 7.

    With all the wheels currently turning, it seems even less likely that the network will go dark.
  • Ut toh....

    Given Pournelle's success as a computer technology pundit this may be the last nail in their coffin.

    (Everyone remember Jerry's Amiga bashing? He tried to defend his dislike of the Amiga for a year with arguments that were technically incorrect and, after having been suitably embaressed for that year by his readers, ended up throwing in the towel in a back handed way by giving the Amiga a "most imrpoved computer" award.)
  • I had signed up with ricochet when it first came out at 28.8k service to not have to deal with hooking up a separate phone line (DSL was not available). The quality of connectivity was intermittent but the mobility made up for it. Overall, I was pleased with the service.

    Once 128k went into beta, 28.8k users were dumped off onto a different vendor, (or atleast my service area was), who was *horrible* to deal with, totally incompetent. I was actually anxious to upgrade to get the faster service AND get away from this vendor and back to being supported by Metricom.

    Then everything got switched - Metricom was supporting 28.8k users again but in order to have the 128k service, you had to order it from one of many vendors. I tried to order it through one who had each sent me a special upgrade offer as an existing ricochet user. When I went online to take advantage of the specials, I hit 404 errors all over the place. I tried a different vendor but their online registration wasn't ready yet either, even though they had already spammed me with an "Upgrade NOW" special offer. It was completely frustrating, especially given how expensive the service was.

    Even if I had wanted to continue the 28.8k service, it was still $30/month, even though there were plenty of cheaper 56k diakup services available, and they required 1 year pre-payment. Forget it.

    I have had a chance to use the 128k service via a company bought modem and it has been okay. Sometimes the connectivity has been fantastic, other times ok, and other times nonexistent. The only reason I used it was because I didn't have to pay for it. Even if I hadn't had an unpleasant prior experience with them, the service is just too expensive given the intermittent quality of connectivity.

    Regardless, Metricom deserves an A for effort.

    - tokengeekgrrl

  • if this goes away. He's optimistic, though. In his column 250 [byte.com],July 23, 2001, he tells us
    I can't get cable modem here: Adelphia has a monopoly, and while they offer cable modem in many parts of their L.A. franchise area, they haven't seen fit to bring it to Studio City. I can't get DSL because I am a couple of thousand feet too far from the switch.


    That left Ricochet, a spread-spectrum radio link; and that worked, and is again working. Of course, Ricochet filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection about a week after I got it running, but that doesn't worry me as much as it might. The service works and works well, the physical facilities have been built in a number of cities (alas not in Las Vegas; I'd love to have it for Comdex), and someone will pick up the pieces and keep it operational.

    He's been trying to get broadband into his middle-of-downtown home forever, and Ricochet was the first thing to come through for him, so maybe tht was just wishfull thinking.

    It really is a pity that the maze of regulations of phone and airwaves have strangled competition and prevented good (actually, any) broadband service from being extended to most of the US. The lesson here is that we can't afford to regulate things; regulation may seem to fix a current problem, but it will cause MUCH worse problems down the road, and be politically impossible to remove when it has proven itself disasterously bad (think California electricity).

  • Looking at the filename for the link provide shows it as being "z-027-20 largest for website.wgp.pdf" Seeing the double extension, my first thought after having been flooded with SirCam emails was 'Oh jeeze... another victim of the SirCam virus...' ;-) Anyone else starting to have this odd reaction to various files? :-)

  • Pick up speed? How fast do you have to go to lose connection? I've been typing in my car while travelling the I-5 (between 605 and 405 junctions) while travelling 50 to 80 mph. (Yes, while driving...but, I wasn't using a cell phone!)

    I'll miss Ricochet, but I'm not tossing my hardware yet...I believe the network will be the low-flying version of Iridium and get picked up for pennies on the dollar. Maybe no downtime? We'll see.

  • Ok - just got through with a test from I-5/405 split to 91/605 junction. Road was fairly open, had connectivity the whole way, without drops, travelled consistently from 65 to 105 mph. This confirms my thought that speed has nothing to do with service drops.

    No, I wasn't typing...I had AIM open and never lost my connection to my office mates.

    Too ****ing bad about losing this technology, though.

  • looks like the customer base is also up for grabs:

    Total Ricochet network subscribers are 51,200 ...

    I wonder what a wireless customer goes for these days ...

  • These guys launched in the wrong place. How can you compete when local phone calls are free? There just weren't, at the time they started, enough people who wanted net access on the move.

    If they had got it going in Europe they would have made a killing. Most European countries have timed local calls and are only just getting unmetered modem calls.

  • Their PR contact on their website redirects "as of August 3rd, you need to call..." to an outside agency - they won't comment on this story, as the person who handles the Metricom account is in a meeting. I left a message urging him to check this site.
    I find it interesting that the metricom site mentions the upcoming public auction on the 16th but says nothing about "service going dark." -- it doesn't make sense that they would pull the plug 1 week before their auction - as the network has more value if it's up and running. I cannot believe they can't scrape up the cash to keep operating for only one week to last until the auction of the network, so I don't quite believe this story.
  • At the prices cited, they used pretty expensive equipment, but with the equipment going at fire sale prices, it occurs to me that if another serious bidder doesn't step up, one approach might be to get a cooperative of users in a dense area, like the Bay Area, to buy it.

    Of course, there are other user cooperative plans that people have brewing, but this one has the equipment installed. It would work even better if the user/owners didn't have to pay monthly fees to use what they bought, of course, but since there are monthly costs, that could be the killer.

    I could see corporations buying shares in the network to give all their employees access at a low price, for example, as well as users.
  • If you badly need wireless access, start supporting (or simply start) your local community wireless networking effort! Freenetworks.org lists the big ones. Community wireless networks are groups of techies with 802.11b APs and cards connected together to form networks covering a large area, and eventually most of them plan to cover their respective cities. One benefit: 802.11b offers speeds of up to 11MBps (like you didn't know that) which is a heck of a lot faster than Ricochet. Also, the Ricochet gear should be hitting the surplus market soon...
  • I know UUNet [www.uu.nettargetnew]'s not the most popular company with the Slashdot crowd, but they have been reselling [uu.net] Ricochet services for some time now as UUNet Wireless. If UUNet were to buy them out, they'd have much better exposure in the corporate market (being sold by UUNet more aggressively, and by Worldcom), and hopefully be run off of UUNet's very nice backbone.

    Just my $.04 (inflation).
  • Whoops, messed up the links:

    UUNet [uu.net]
    Reselling Ricochet [uu.net]
  • The list on freenetworks.org is pretty short. It's a Wiki site, so I guess its webmasters are expecting the list to grow of its own accord.

    The owner of toaster.net has assembled a more comprehensive list [toaster.net]. He himself created a community net by the simple expedient of opening up a wireless net he had installed for his own use. His only restrictions are the obvious ones: no permanent connections, no spam, no bandwidth hogging (unless you ask first).

    It's nice. But I have to wonder. In an internet totally infested with spammers, script kiddies, goat-sexers, and other abusers of electronic openness, how long can this kind of free service last?


  • You say they suck. Now they are out of business. So, you are now SOL getting modems. You give them crap for not charging you full price at POS but when you knew full well, that they rely on service for profitability. You then argue that cel phone companies can't sell phones with a discount, with no service. This is bull shit, go down to your local Sprint store, and ask to buy a phone, most phones cost many times the price you pay for them (the early ones cost thousands). The store wont say shit about service ... cause you don't need to buy it then. The phone is paper weight until you buy it though. Same thing here. You give them shit, and now one of the few companies that didn't suck, and didn't give a shit what you did with the service so long as you paid your bill is gone. Thank you. We all are so happy.
  • Hmm...curious that it came from a Mac site, yes? Apple has $4 Bill in the bank--but would they rather develop 802.11 further, or build this into their next tablet iMac? Or buy it, and then lease it to Palm--provided Mac users still have access?
  • Now all the technology that was cool is biting the dust. Sure it would be cool to be able to connect anywhere, but the high cost could not justify it. There aren't that many uses for this technology. I believe that this technology will come back at a later date where there will be more applications for it at a cheaper cost. And to answer the question, to fill this gap we have 802.11. Sort of the "open-source" wireless where it's made by the people. Also if you think 802.11 doesn't have enough service just use your cell phone. You can always plug a cell phone into your laptop and be able to use it to surf the web. With phone prices getting cheaper and coverage areas expanding, i think this is a very good option to consider.
  • There's an Upgrades [slashdot.org] category ... too bad we don't have one for Downgrades!
  • Of course not... it did seem overpriced to me, though. I think most of their expenses were in building out the network (think of all the time spent negotiating with City Councils, etc.) rather than the actual cost of delivering bandwidth.

    I'm guessing that having 20 users on a node cost them barely more than 5... the cost was to put the transceiver on a pole in the first place.

    Too bad they couldn't sign up users fast enough to get some economies of scale going and lower prices. That, and the fact that they seemed to never advertise. (Los Angeles, anyway).

  • Yeah, I guess they never really got started marketing in Southern California. It's a shame.

    Maybe they were leaving the marketing to their resellers... but none of them did shit, either.

  • by jchristopher ( 198929 ) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @03:06PM (#2175048)
    I don't know why this article isn't on the front page...

    All I can say is this is a damn shame. Ricochet had a fine service, while it lasted.

    Were they a victim of their own pricing? I think so. If their service had been $40, it could have easily competed with home DSL and cable, and been very attractive to users with no other broadband choices. Instead, they wanted $74.95 (in my area), which buys some DARN high speed DSL.

    Maybe I'm missing something (I'm no business major, for sure), but isn't it better to sell your product to triple the number of users for 1/2 the money?

    The other thing that killed them was lack of exposure. They just rolled out Los Angeles/Orange County a few months ago, yet I heard nothing about it - I only knew because I'd been watching for it. Even some geeky friends of mine didn't know they'd arrived, or had even never heard of the technology.

  • by jchristopher ( 198929 ) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @03:10PM (#2175049)
    The article notes that the entire network is up for auction in a few weeks - anyone want to team up to place a bid?

    Seriously, who would be the kind of company with the capital to afford it, that also has a need for the network? Someone like MCI? One of the cellular providers?

    Hey - killer idea - what if PALM bought the network, now that would be HOT. They could replace their current Palm.net offering (slow, expensive) with a high speed, always on offering for the same amount of money, and also tie you into a Palm device at the same time. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it sounds like a damn fine idea! What is a network like Ricochet worth?

  • Looks like all the assets are for sale [ricochet.net], who knows maybe one of the big boyz will snap it up and keep it running with their own people. Sorry to see more job losses in this battered sector.
  • Seeing the double extension [...] victim of the SirCam virus

    Yup, I saw a .tar.gz file today and nearly died!
  • Metricom is having an auction of everything they own, including their 15 wired cities and patents. Presumably a company could come in and get the whole shebang for a relatively cheap price.

    They currently have 50,000 customers, most of which are at high-speed.

    Are they losing money every month? If so, WHY? If not, why couldn't a company come in, buy their assets from auction, and start making money?

    Seems like you'd be buying a "ready-made" business, filling a need (until 3G becomes wide spread, anyway). You wouldn't have the debt that buried Metricom.

    So any Metricom employees care to explain what went wrong?
  • It had just become avaible in my area. :(
  • Around a mile or more, depending on obstructions. See my other reply in this thread.
  • I probably worded the part about cell phones badly, but I believe if you reread the sentence you would still see what I meant: cell phone companies sell phones for a high price normally, but lower the price if you pay for service. Metricom doesn't do this. They don't offer the modems for full price. They offer the modems for a discounted price, assuming you will pay for service later. This is a much bigger risk because the modems are actually useful without service, while cell phone carriers know you can't really do anything until you come crawling to them for cell service.

    The beef I have with Metricom is this:
    a) I buy two modems
    b) They work on their own just fine in non-Metricom territory.
    c) They fail to operate in Metricom territory.

    I don't even live in Metricom territory, but I am just close enough to a city that _is_ covered and so I am affected. If the Fry's I had purchased the modems from was just a few more miles away, I probably wouldn't have needed to write that web page.

    I know Metricom has a business to run, but there are better ways to handle these situations. First of all, they could have just stopped building modems with peer-to-peer support (it was definitely an engineering decision to include it, not a management one). Instead, they try to block it via their network nameserver. As it stands, it almost looks like Metricom is sabotaging nearby P2P networks. It works fine in one area, but not another. Perhaps I should have built my own nameserver system for my modems to use. But what if Metricom subscribers near me started using my nameserver instead of Metricom's? Ick, what a situation that would be. And then who is right?
  • by infiniti99 ( 219973 ) <justin@affinix.com> on Thursday August 02, 2001 @03:55PM (#2175056) Homepage
    It's a range/speed tradeoff. Ricochet modems have been known to operate at least a mile in most cases. My own tests prove this true, and I can't get near that range with my 802.11 cards.

    I've also heard stories (from Metricom representatives before they went anti-P2P) of cases where people have achieved up to 10 miles in areas with no obstructions; ie, when used over water, plains, or to link two tall buildings.

  • by infiniti99 ( 219973 ) <justin@affinix.com> on Thursday August 02, 2001 @03:15PM (#2175057) Homepage
    They sucked [affinix.com] anyway.

    'course, if they are truly going to pack up and go home, maybe it's time to head to Fry's and stock up?
  • by MWoody ( 222806 ) on Thursday August 02, 2001 @03:24PM (#2175058)
    You mean "ricochet" won't bounce back this time?

    * rimshot *

    Lucky for me, there's no "that joke should be taken out back and shot repeatedly in the head until it screams and dies and then shot some more" moderation choice.

  • Hey, get a group of people together and buy up the market in your area (think of the iridium satellite thing that someone had planned) but on a smaller scale. Offer free wireless or low cost wireless internet access to everyone in your town. If you can get a good enough deal (which sometimes you can at auctions) you might just be able to do it if you do it as a group.

    [Something witty and intelligent should have appeared here.]
  • Aside from the nameserver registration crapola going on with the 128k models of the modem, it looks like the peer-to-peer connectivity is the balls!

    What's the range on a couple of those things?

    /* ---- */
    // Agent Green (Ian / IU7)
  • Uhm... I use my Novatel Ricochet card with Redhat 7.1 on a Dell Inspiron 8000... I plugged it in, the machine recognized it as a normal PCMCIA modem. You dial 3333, and log in using your normal username/password. You're online in 10 seconds. You can't get the signal strength/etc. out of it, but I didn't even have that installed when I used my windows notebook -- all it ever said was "Good" or "None". :) J
  • Someone has to license this from SRI: http://www.packethop.com/
  • Another one bites the dust... Metricom is another ill-concieved, but well-intentioned idea that requires too much capital. I presented an idea for a peer-to-peer based network based on inexpensive networking devices installed in vehicles. (A MANET for those who know.) My thesis describes a compelling potential pathway for implementation of the network and argues that the network is feasible. You can read the abstract/full-text here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~humbads/thesis/ [umich.edu]
  • Hmmm... Classic internet pricing here... I can sell dollar bills for 0.99 cents and if I get enough volume, make a profit... Things don't work that way, if it costs Richocet $40 dollars a month to provide the service for any number of people (per subscriber costs) + a fixed overhead cost, dropping the price doesn't help. That is one of the fallacies of the internet is that there are still some pretty high costs per subscriber that each additional subscriber has to pay beyond the fixed costs that are shared among all of the users.
  • One person who gave a speech on the topic of 802.11b at DefCon (don't remember his name, sorry... look on the DefCon website if you want it) said he got 13 miles. A friend of his got a connection from 20 miles. This was in San Francisco, and I think they were up in the hills around berkeley or somesuch, so the curvature of the earth didn't get in the way. The antenna setup wasn't even all that complex.
  • They are nearly a billion dollars in debt. You can't look at their assets without looking at their liabilities. The service is US$75-80 per month, and at just 50,000 customers, how will they ever get out of debt?

    The company is being auctioned off by the creditors. One would assume this means there would be no debt after it's sold; the creditors are writing everything off and just splitting whatever the auction brings in.

  • their stocks may have been performing poorly for the past couple quarters but they aren't in that bad of shape as far as capital goes. They have absolutly no debt (probably thanks to big daddy coms) and have something like a $1 per share in capital (not equity.)

    As far as AOL last I heard they were Blackberries from Research in Motion and slapping their own name on them. But that was a few months ago and I've never actually one in somebodies hands.

  • Dear sir,

    Your hostility would best be taken out on that farm animal in which you have been spotted with so often. Yeesh.

    This would be the reason they call them anonymous cowards. Folks who can dish all these nasty comments out but hide behind a curtain of anonymity are but the most spineless cowards of them all.
  • I'm not too keen on the 802.11 systems; what are the security implications of having a widespread, cross-city wireless network like that? Wireless networks are certainly less secure than point-to-point fiber connections, but how *much* less secure is my question. Input appreciated, this interests me as I will likely be researching and entering the 802.11 world shortly here.

  • If Ricochet can't make a go of wireless data I am at a loss to see how the 3G stuff is meant to catch on. 3G has much higher infrastructure costs and if Ricochet can only get 50K users @ $70 I don't see where the millions of 3G users are comming from paying $100 a month...

    The big problem with Ricochet was the coverage area. I spend almost enough time in silicon valley to make it worthwhile. But I'm not too keen on spending $70 a month for a service I can't use arround my home in Boston. If I lived in Palo Alto I would not be too happy paying that amount for a system I can't make use of when I am on the road.

    If every airport, starbucks and business class hotel in the US deployed 802.11B I suspect there would be practically no need for 3G, Ricochet or the rest.

  • Evolving systems makes a product called "Pilot Plus". They use CDPD. It surely makes US TONS OF MONEY. WHy not check it out?
  • From the About page:

    Ricochet at 128 kbps is available in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, 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.

    It's always sad to take a look at the mission statements of bankrupt companies, they always have such big, unfulfilled dreams, and they almost never bother to change the About page even after they go under. It's like looking through old photographs of Russia's plans to go to the moon.

    Microsoft hasn't gotten around to changing it's page [microsoft.com] yet. They never do. Again, it's sad.
  • I just spoke with a stock analyst covering the wireless space, he tried out the new high speed GPRS service available in seattle. Claimed on a laptop attached to GPRS phone that the browsing experience was close to 56k dialup. (I know. light on detail) What would -you- pay for wireless data like this?
  • I have outside my window, mounted to a streetlight, a Ricochet antenna. I wonder if they will be leaving these, retrieving them, or letting the power companies eventually remove them... It would be kind of interesting to take one down and see if there is anything worth any money inside of them. What do you guys think?

  • C'mon, moderators - this is actually funny and on subject (albeit it lightly)...
  • Those costs sound about right for the money they owe. Did anyone go look at the bankruptcy documents? According to the list of top 20 people they owe money to, they're in the hole for more than a billion dollars! Keep in mind, that's just a list of the top twenty largest debts they have.

    I'm sure that there are lots more companies down the list that won't see too much of their investment in Metrocom returned.

  • When you start thinking, "Wow. That's only an $18 million debt; that's not so bad" you KNOW there's a problem.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?