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The Internet

The Internet Taxi That Couldn't Connect 68

Ant sent in the link to this Salon story about a ride in one of Yahoo's 10 San Francisco Internet Taxis - and how the driver couldn't get the modem to work. I sure hope I have better luck with the wireless modem and ISP I'm getting for the (Linux) laptop I carry around in my limousine. Has anyone else got Linux running on any of the wireless ISPs yet? Got any hints or tips you'd care to share with the rest of us?
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The Internet Taxi That Couldn't Connect

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  • <<the access is 28.8 but it is always 28.8. solid>>

    I'm afraid not. I've used the Ricochet before, and just like a cellular phone, the bandwidth you get is highly dependent upon local coverage. If you are on the outer-edge of the maximal distance from a transceiver, you get poor bandwidth, aggravated by poor latency. It's quite easy to get less than 28.8K bandwidth.
    Jon Frisby, Sr. Software Engineer,
    Personal Site ( []
  • I use a Sierra Wireless Aircard 210 combo for my CDPD. goAmerica provides me with service. $70/month for unlimited CDPD access nationwide. Linux runs great on my Thinkpad 560E. Sierra Wireless was VERY supportive in my efforts to get their AirCard 210 working with Linux. Although they don't officially support it, they do link to my page [] on how I got my Aircard to work. CDPD is only 19.2k and better for bursty's still damn kewl and wireless!! I do believe they are working on making CDPD faster as well.
  • Ricochet is great if you live in Seattle, SF or DC. Some parts of NYC too I think. Works fine with Linux. There ARE problems however... Here in DC the service is almost unusable in several downtown areas. Apparently there are lots of users (like where I live) sharing the limited bandwidth of the relay trancievers. I'm lucky to get 10Kbaud at home. So test Ricochet out before you signup. Note that Ricochet has done nothing to resolve this problem for almost a year. They complain that they are restricted by the local utility co. They promise 28kb (modem like) performance....HA!! I smell class action.
  • Ricochet works well. I've had mine for three years of constant use now, and had only one two-hour period of downtime in that entire time. It's actually the most reliable access I've had in the Bay Area. Every time my PacBell DSL goes out (weekly or daily occurrence depending on my karma), my Ricochet keeps my CVS reporitories connected...

    Only one gotcha- some of the PPP endpoints on the Metricom side don't seem to play nicely with Linux's concept of compressed headers. Don't use them and you'll be all set.

  • The 4mph speed limit is not a problem with San Francisco downtown traffic ;-)
    Leonid S. Knyshov
    Network Administrator
  • I guess. No idea though... You can find more info buried somewhere in (Roblimo's very own /.alike)
  • I used to run my Ricochet under Linux on a Toshiba laptop all the time at my previous job. Worked like a charm. It's just straight PPP with a special dial string (the one I used was "777**ppp"). The other really nice thing about it was that we had telephone modem access. So I could use the Ricochet to access a real phone line on the other side and dial out to other networks, like the private corporate network.

    Used it on my PalmPilot as well, when I wasn't on the laptop. Sure made things nice. I used to get paged about some stupid system problem, and use the Pilot/Ricochet combo to dial in, telnet to the offending Unix system, and do what I needed to do. All without carting a laptop around.

    Oh, and I never really found Ricochet to be slow. One thing you have to remember is that default install says to use 28.8 or 33.6. However, if you set it for 56K, it happily operates somewhere between 33.6 and 56K. Not that this is really going to matter very soon. Metricom (the people who bring us Ricochet) has gotten their 128K network out of beta testing and are starting to deploy it now. Just imagine, wireless Internet access at ISDN speeds.

    It's top on my Christmas list *g*


  • Although it is possible to exchange one for the other, it is equally very possible to increase both. Case in point, DSL lines have 6-30ms latency, while a modem has 200-500ms latency.
  • by Mr_Plow ( 30965 ) on Thursday November 04, 1999 @02:15PM (#1561824)
    Well, of course the taxi will need an IT department, its own help desk, a system administrator, a network engineer, and a CIO. Maybe they should be using busses instead.
    ---------------------------------------- ------------------
  • I have a good friend who's been using a Ricochet and .. i forget which ISP all over Silicon Valley.. although it was used mainly on Win98 since he hadn't gotten the Linux support for it figgered out yet..

  • by jfrisby ( 21563 ) on Thursday November 04, 1999 @02:15PM (#1561826) Homepage
    In theory, Ricochet should work just peachy, although I've never tried it...

    It connects to a serial port, and "looks like" a modem... All you need is PPP software... Even the Palm Pilot supports it (with an adaptor for the cable...)

    The biggest drawbacks being performance (about 33.6K on a good day, although they promise 128K soon...) and availability... Only certain areas (like the bay area) support it...

    Jon Frisby, Sr. Software Engineer,
    Personal Site ( []
  • You and your high school buddies had cell phones?


    You shouldn't be surprised though... Analog cell phones just have really pathetic potential bandwidth... The fastest I've ever seen anyone claim is 9600BPS under optimal conditions... That was the Nokia 9000 cell phone/PDA unit...

    I'm not sure how the various digital standards hold up though... Or satelite...

    Jon Frisby, Sr. Software Engineer,
    Personal Site ( []
  • I'm waiting with baited breath for Teledesic [] myself.
  • FWIW, Sprint PCS phones now have the ability to connect to the Internet. FWIU, you can either surf on the little screen that's on them (I can't see how this is useful really myself, except for maybe sports scores or stock tickers), but you can also plug these things into a laptop's serial port. I believe these things use PPP, but I could be mistaken.
  • The whole idea seems silly to me. One would think that anyone who was so concerned at being out of touch that they'd want an internet connection for a cab ride would have a wireless modem already.

    How long is the average cab ride? It just doesn't seem like it would be long enough to justify wasting money on this thing. It is like all those airport kiosks. If you are going to habitually spend $2/hour for connectivity, just buy that damn wireless modem?
  • i just have one offtopic question. do you guys really have limos?

    and if you dont you should!

  • Yup... works just great on a linux laptop. As said above, just like a standard modem with PPP but a bit slow.

    I have two friends using them on their laptops and they are quite happy... even with the speed limitations.

    Just don't try to do Xforwarding! :)
  • At one time, I was using a US Robotics/Megahertz 33.6 modem with cellular uplink. It sucked pretty hardcore, I could only count on connections of around 2400-4800 baud... just enough to check email, and that's about it. The only time I ever had it working, though, turned out to lead my high school buddies and I to a fun tradition... we used to climb the local lookout tower on very clear nights and have parties up there with our laptops and cell-modems... ahh, the memories. ;-)
  • The Richochet modems work fine under Linux. It acts just like a normal modem. Dial 777 and it connects in a just a few seconds.

    It's very stable and there are no timeouts. I recommend them. In fact, I'm about to get another one instead of a second phone line and a modem, while I hold out for some sort of fast internet access. Much cheaper over the course of a year.

    They can be pretty slow if you're in a crowded area, though.
  • Then there's Detroit, where taxis aren't real popular except to go to the airport. (Even then, most people get a friend to drive them.) I guess in the Motor City, people like their cars too much. :)

  • It's all right. It's extremely slow (~28.8), but I like being able to just leave the connection up. In fact, my primary use of my home PC these days is via telnet, from work.

    I had a problem getting it to work, due to some incompatibility between the Linux and Solaris ppp daemons. I fixed it by using the "novj" pppd option.
  • Ricochets aren't supported above 4 mph or so. Taxis don't support speeds below 45 mph, or throttle settings below "full", so there's obviously an incompatibility there.

    It's probably because of the difficulty of acquiring a new relay every second or two, like cellphones in planes. (As for the taxis, law enforcement would help, but not in Willie Brown's city.)

  • Every time my PacBell DSL goes out (weekly or daily occurrence depending on my karma), my Ricochet keeps my CVS reporitories connected...

    I've been contemplating the same thing for a while, as my DSL reliability has been in the toilet. Can the rest of the net still find you when the DSL is out? If so, are you doing anything fancy with the routing or just relying on DNS to do the trick?


  • I've used Ricochet's wireless service with Linux with no problems. The ppp config is pretty simple with nothing special required. I just have it connect at boot up time and stay connected since Ricochet has no airtime charges.

    If you're located in an area with Ricochet coverage, then it's a fabulous deal. It's the only IP connectivity I use from home since it's as fast as a modem, doesn't require a phone line, and I can keep it connected all the time.

    Ricochet is certainly in the running for the most cool geek service available.


    P.S. For a new geek toy that /. so far doesn't deem worthy of a news item, see
  • I've been considering getting a Sprint PCS phone. Their plans seems reasonable and they offer a whole buncha phone choices on their site. (Including the Qualcomm pdq). They say that quite a few phones, including the Nokia 6185 I'm considering, are data capable once you get their $199 "Wireless Web Connection Kit".

    It seems from the images that they supply a serial cable and a CD... it's difficult to see why they want $199 for it. Unless the software is some kind of external Winmodem driver, it seems like you could put together a cable yourself and save the $199.

    Anyone have one of these?

    I just got one (one of the new little tiny ones) I pay $50/month for 500 free minutes, free long distance, and no roaming charges anywhere digital PCS service is available (most of the country, IIRC) The only problem I have with it so far is that the coverage on the University of Maryland campus really blows - next to or inside of any building, service goes out completely. One of my friends has a digital Bell Atlantic phone and it's apparently much better on campus.

    About the cable, I was considering getting one of these, but I think it's windows-only; the only reason I was considering it was for my Palm III, so that's out of the question. (it also says on the packaging "Not compatible with Macintosh Powerbooks or iMacs") It probably has custom dialing code, etc, since the phone surely needs some kind of signal to tell it to start dialing, as well as the fact that if it's not connected already there's no dial tone.

    "Software is like sex- the best is for free"
    -Linus Torvalds
  • On the days I'm late to work and take a cab, it's a 20 minute ride, and being able to pick up my mail ahead of time and know what's happening in the office would be a GODSEND.

    And yes, this is in San Francisco, and no, I've never been in a Yahoo cab yet. Although the author is right, you can see them from about a half mile away....

  • This is as yet unproven, but I have heard that the ricochet modem will not work in a moving vehicle. This is because it must aquire the signal and keep it steady and synchronized.. if you drive more than 5 mph you will lose it immediately.. Otherwise you will lose it every block or so. Either way.. You are screwed. Last Warrior
  • It's easy to do , depending on the ISP equipment. I'm in
    Lagos Nigeria right now working on a wireless ISP setup.
    We're using equipment from Hybrid. The client 'modem'
    connects to your computer via ethernet- if your computer talks TCP/IP and has an Ethernet port, you
    can use this equipment.

    Hybrid makes 'wireless cable modems' that use MMDS cable systems to
    provide Internet access.

  • That would be the driver.
  • Interesting, thanks for the link worm-breath.
  • Well certinaly PCN/GSM in Europe doesn't get over 9600, but as I tend to use it just for email that doesn't matter too much.


  • I looked up this problem on the AOL members' help area, and the guide seemed to think that the modem was out of bits. He said if the taxi driver takes the modem back to the office and refills the bits, everything should work okay.

    AOL is always right, give it a shot.

    Dan "there goes the karma" Turk
  • since he hadn't gotten the Linux support for it figgered out yet.

    The phone number is 777, no logins or password prompts (serial link is considered to be physically secure, "modems" authenticate using pre-set IDs in ROM). Everything else is just like for normal modem with PPP and hardware flow control.

  • When I lived in Fairfax City, the Richochet worked great with linux, I had it hooked up in my old apartment as our ONLY internet access. Just used IPMasq and private ip's. It wasn't the fastest thing in the world, but it was pretty darned reliable. It does not work in Springfield (A few miles south) and did not work in Centreville (a few miles west). The coverage can be rated as splotchy at best. I think that inside the beltway it worked just fine.

    /. poster #104543567
  • Ah, but as the story said, these are free. I agree that it's pretty silly, but it doesn't actually cost anything to use it above what you're paying for the cab ride.
  • thanks.. and I don't care if you're off topic..

    *wink, wink*
  • I believe the current Ricochet network is supposed to track up to at least 50MPH. This may improve when R2 comes out, but I don't know that for sure.

  • If you are in a Ricochet Area (Bay Area, Seattle, or the capital beltway- Northern VA, Maryland or DC) Ricochet is a fantastic mobile access tool. I have been using it for about 1-1/2 years now, and I am holding on for the near deployment of 128K access. Right now, unless you are in the test market in San Fran. the access is 28.8 but it is always 28.8. solid. I run an entire network wireless and I'm using that link now. Have a ricochet and want to try it under a decent operating system? Try this:
    1) Connect ricochet to a serial port (here, COM1 under DOS/winblows)
    2) Turn the ricochet on.
    3) Type or execute as a script this line:
    pppd -d connect 'chat -t 20 -v ABORT BUSY REPORT CONNECT "" ATDT777 CONNECT ""'/dev/ttyS0 115200 modem noipdefault defaultroute crtscts
    4) find a command line and type: "netscape"

    This assumes that you have pppd support in your kernel and that you have chat and pppd installed. The modem speed option is there, but you get 28.8. So dont complain about my cmd line. This line also assumes you have some DNS servers in your /etc/resolv.conf, as they are not assigned/distributed by the network.

    Have fun surfing.....I the sushi the mall....on road trips.....on the metro (above ground) Where ever I am.

    PS. I use the SE. Battery life is ~4.5 hours each, the batteries are 2"x1.5"x 1/8th". I carry five.
  • What's next? A terminal at every urinal? Is there really a need for this? Whatever happened to enjoying a nice drive for the drive's sake?

    In any case, does anyone know how this is being paid for? I understand that Yahoo! contracted to put them in, but how are they making money? Or is this an 'advertising' expense? Seems to me that this could hemorrhage money. Cellular costs, initial equipment outlay, maintenance (cabs usually aren't that clean...), theft... the list goes on.
  • I was trying to get an old 486 IBM PS1 online yesterday without much luck.

    The user is blind, and all her adaptive equipment works with DOS and WIN 3.1. Since it would cost thousands to get her adaptive equipment for a win 98 machine, it looks like I only have win3.1 to work with or possibly Linux with wine.

    She has an old zoom modem running at 14.4 or 33.6 and Trumpet winsock version 3.0. (her talking browser requires a winsock). Since she has 8 meg of ram memory shouldn't be a problem.

    She has no problem dialing up her shell account and getting her Email.

    The trumpet winsock has no problem connecting to the ip, but as soon as she trys to bring up her browser the service provider claims her ping counts go out of sight and the browser reports that the network is down. I tried using an old version 3 netscape browser with the same result.

    This setup used to work fine a few years ago, do the service providers have hardware that is less tolerant of old socks or what?

  • I have been using a Novatel Wireless CDPD modem with Linux for the past year. Details on how to configure PPP, build the cable, etc. [].

    I've also written a discussion of different wireless access methods []. In short, CDPD is a more widely available solution than the Ricochet and also works while the vehicle is moving. Ricochet is faster and more reliable if you can get service.

  • No problem. Got my Sierra Wireless MP200 CDPD modem working without a glitch. It uses a serial port and SLIP.. you connect it it, do "ATD123" (any telephone number will do, it ignores it), start up SLIP, and blammo! On the net. Aren't I cool?

    Except the modem itself isn't too portable. It's a 3 watt beast the size of a small toaster that's installed under the back seat of my Cherokee. (One of the perks for working at a telco).
  • If you are in a border area, expect near to total loss of signal, resulting in high latency and low bandwidth. The drop off is very steep at the edge, but carries solid 28.8 almost to the very edge. It's FM. Not AM. There is almost no curve. The devices avalible today are really capable of 100K, but they are limited to restrict core bandwidth. Even with one bar on the 'modem', I still get 28.8. No signal strenght, and I sometimes still get through, but not effectively. But there is only one are I know of that I can't get a signal----one section of the beltway, strictly non-residential, so Metrocom could not get transmitters put up there...
  • I use a Ricochet modem on my server at home in Alexandria, Fairfax County, VA. It's my only connection to the Internet. Sometimes I get nearly 28.8K out of it. Other times it's much slower. Overall, I'm happy with the service although I wish that its interactive performance was better. It's unusable for telnet. In spite of the sometimes slow connections, I'm running a couple of services over the radio link. Visit Madison [] to play with my NetBSD port of Alan Cox's Linux Portaloo [] and also Ben Reser's Echelon Armor thingie which I swiped from here. [] I'm running an OpenVerse [] server on and a dopewars [] server on the default dopewars port. Feel free to try any of them. I don't advertise, so I don't get lot of traffic. Don't be surprised if the connection is slow!

    I've also used the modem on my NetBSD-running Sony PCG-505 laptop. I've used it to listen to WPFW in DC and WWOZ in New Orleans using RealAudio. In fact, Frank Ahrens of the Washington Post wrote about my experience in an article on the future of radio. It appeared on January 21, 1999. Depending on network congestion, it acutally sounds OK. In the article, I think I said the sound was "like a cheap transistor radio". Mr. Ahren's editor cut out the qualification that that was a weakness of the small Sony speakers I used rather than the streaming audio technology or the wireless modem.

    A recent announcement [] from Metricom [] promised 128K service in 12 markets by summer 2000.

  • Interesting, i'll have to pull it out and give another try. Has anyone used it in MD? I think i'll have to do a survey of the area and see where i get the best signals...

    /. poster #104543567
  • Hey, Jeff. Jeff's page gave me the courage to buy the Aircard 210 for my Mitsubishi Amity. Highly recommended. I had to take a few extra steps to get the Aircard working because it needs to be initialized with the IP address that the cellular provider gives you. A little research on the Sierra wireless site gave me the data I needed to initialize the card. If I had still had Win95 installed on the laptop, the software provided would have done that for me.

    I have a flat rate "email only" package from Bell Atlantic Mobile for $25/month. And it seems that they don't filter packets at all, so I can actually ssh and irc on the service even though I nearly only use it for email.
  • I have a sprint pcs phone(the Qualcomm QCP-1960), and have been using it with my laptop. Couple of things(all prices and services are for New York City):

    1. The laptop connection kit costs $99 in NYC.

    2. The service is much more expensive. As opposed to $70 for 700 minutes of voice, i now pay $130 for 800 minutes of voice/data.

    3. Getting connections is iffy at best, both using the minibrowser or using the phone as a modem. connections fail about 2/3s of the time, though i haven't ever had it drop once i get connected.

    4. The minibrowser is totally useless aside from checking weather and sports scores. The UI is also really ambiguous(somebody port lynx to this phone please!!!)

    5. And yes, it doesn't connect above 14.4
  • I'll add that Suse 6.2 ppp comes with "vj" header compression enabled by default; Ricochet doesn't support that. In addition to Suse's directions for ppp setup, I had to add a 'novj' line to /etc/ppp/options.

    And I'll agree with the previous reply: actual speed varies. The actual tranmission rate of their "28.8" service is 50 Kbps, but with overhead etc. no one gets that. One Ricochet developer said that he lived quite close to a "poletop" (their term for a relay transceiver) and could sometimes hit 35K.
  • At first glance, i thought he was saying that the drivers didn't work with the modem... think "winmodem in linux" :-) lol

  • Rob(in Miller) drives a limo, hence Roblimo.
  • I've been considering getting a Sprint PCS phone. Their plans seems reasonable and they offer a whole buncha phone choices on their site []. (Including the Qualcomm pdq). They say that quite a few phones, including the Nokia 6185 I'm considering, are data capable once you get their $199 "Wireless Web Connection Kit".

    It seems from the images that they supply a serial cable and a CD... it's difficult to see why they want $199 for it. Unless the software is some kind of external Winmodem driver, it seems like you could put together a cable yourself and save the $199.

    Anyone have one of these?

    Chris Moyer []

  • I have a Ricochet modem, and it works fine with Linux. (In fact, it works fine with just about anything, since it connects to a serial port and emulates a Hayes-compatible modem. You give it "ATDT777" and it gives you a PPP handshake back.)

    However, Ricochet's microcellular network architecture, while it has many advantages, means that your packets must travel many "hops" to get to a wired network access point. This makes latency terrible, even compared to analog modems. (I often see 1000ms ping times, and TCP connections frequently lag.) This won't bother a Web surfer as much, but it makes ssh connections painful at best.

    Furthermore, Ricochet usually works extremely poorly from a moving vehicle. They have a small cell size, low-power transmitters, multipath issues, and take a little while to perform handoff. Unless you have a really unobstructed view, a Ricochet will more or less stop working above 30mph. This made me wonder how they would ever get it to work in a taxicab.

    Now, Ricochet supposedly has a next-generation system, Ricochet2, in development/testing that will yield higher bandwidth (and hopefully lower latency). I don't know if it will support operation at speed, or much of anything else about it.

    It sounds like Roblimo plans to get a CDPD modem, which uses a completely different technology (using the digital cellular network). I've never used CDPD, but it should have coverage and velocity characteristics similar to cellular phones. Unlike Ricochet, compatibility may prove more difficult. I've never actually seen a CDPD modem in operation, though, so I can't say for sure.

    (CDPD also has much better coverage than Ricochet.)
  • The telephones themselves use "HDML" instead of HTML, so you can't view normal web sites, but only ones written in HDML. There is an SDK for HDML, but it's Windows/Solaris only, but the language is simple enough. You can type in any URL you want, but only text/hdml will actually work. I have my server running a few HDML pages with local movie times (ripped from the theater chain's web site, then converted,) and I'll probably add other things to it.

    The serial connection (a $200 cable) just makes the phone pretend to be a 14.4 modem. Unfortunately, my notebook (A Sony PCG-C1X) only has "non-legacy" such as USB and Firewire, so I'd need to spend ANOTHER $80 getting a USB-Serial adapter to get it to work. Supposedly, it will work with any ISP, under any OS, as it just pretends to be a serial modem, but I haven't had the opportunity to test it yet.

  • It works these days in both springfield (sushi bar there...*grin*) and in centerville (co-worker's home/network) I have used them personnally in both areas, with strong signal strenghts recently.
  • I don't know about richochet in particular, but generally speaking, bandwidth and latency are mutually exclusive tradeoffs.

    Larger packet size->less header info->more useable bandwidth / spend longer collecting bytes at each end before each packet

    high compression->less physical bytes transmitted->more bandwidth / more time compressing/decompressing


Not only is UNIX dead, it's starting to smell really bad. -- Rob Pike