The Death Of Ricochet, Part II

from the too-bad... dept

I was an early customer of Metricom’s Ricochet wireless modem service in the late 90s. I used their first (slow) network (about 28k) and later their higher speed (128k) service. I was a huge fan, as it was really wonderful – but I’ve always thought their strategy was screwed up. When I was using it, they were my high speed ISP. They were, to me, an alternative to signing up for DSL or a cable modem service at home – with the added benefit that I could take the connection anywhere they had service (which covered all of the Bay Area, and many of the places I traveled). However, they thought they were targeting the “mobile worker” who had a corporate budget to back them up. So, they were charging more than double what DSL costs, and basically priced themselves out of the market, eventually going bankrupt. While bankruptcy negotiations dragged on, all of Metricom’s network was shut down, and the pieces (which Metricom spent a billion dollar building) ended up being sold at auction for around $8 million to a company name Aerie Networks. Aerie eventually rebuilt the system in a couple of test locations, and partly went with the strategy I suggested – offering the service at a lower price point. Of course, in the year between the network getting shut down and Aerie getting it back up again, WiFi took off, and hotspots along with wireless home and work networks started appearing everywhere. Also, others took WiFi and started figuring out how to make wider area solutions with it as well. Suddenly, Ricochet no longer made sense no matter what the price point. It was a proprietary solution that was entirely reliant on one company, when there were plenty of other “good enough” (or in some cases “better”) solutions already showing up. All that said, is it really any surprise that the new Ricochet service appears to be on the verge of shutting down? Apparently just about everyone’s been fired, and the few remaining people are trying to figure out if they can sell off anything before turning out the lights. It seems clear that Ricochet was a good thing that completely missed its window of opportunity.

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Comments on “The Death Of Ricochet, Part II”

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LittleW0lf says:

Re: You can still use it in point-to-point mode

You can still use ricochet modems in point-to-point mode…

A fact that more than one city has capitalized on. Our police department here uses ricochet modems to communicate between the patrol cars and the police station, providing maps, call information, and license plate/wants and warrants information to each patrol car in the city.

I thought it strange when ricochet went down a while back that a city truck showed up on our street and placed a ricochet pole-top on the light outside my house…after all ricochet was dead, why was the city buying these pole-tops and still putting them on poles?

Turns out, after talking with a friend from the police department, our city was an early adopter of the technology, and ricochet happily provided a bunch of pole-tops to the city. The city would pay for the electricity, and ricochet would provide the pole-tops. When ricochet died, the city invested enough into the system that they just continued to use the pole-tops (minus the ricochet services, which they weren’t using anyway,) in their infrastructure. After all, the city was paying for the power anyway, so they should be able to use the devices for whatever they seem fit to use it for.

The city is now giving away their knowledge and experience to other local governments, showing them how to capitalize on the ricochet network themselves. Seems like a win-win situation to me, all except for Ricochet (and whomever runs it.)

I suspect the city will continue using it long after Ricochet is gone (though they may want to buy more pole-tops in the future to replace malfunctioning ones…), and our Ricochet modems will still continue to work until they decide to move on to something better.

mhh5 says:

cheap ricochet modems...

The “slightly”-used market for ricochet modems on ebay has ’em going for about $20….

Maybe the cheap hardware that’s floating out there will revive the technology… or not. I think BAWUG hasn’t yet figured out what to do with them… I thought there was a P2P-type hack out there for them, but I can’t seem to find it now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Richchet: run by idiots.

Well, for anybody who didn’t see the whole commodity line-of-sight hardware will plug the coverage hole via sheer mass deployment thing comming, I’ve known Richochet (or whatever they’re calling themselves this week) was run by idiots. How did I know this? I tried to buy their hardware about 5 years ago for a very limited WISP deployment in an area they had no commercial interest in (not even in the same country). They wouldn’t even give me pricing for gear the advertized on their web site… said they had priority in whatever market they chose to pursue.

Personally, I think the biggest problems of the IEEE 802.11 boards has been the failure to put a spec. out there in the 900mhz freq. range. I would even be willing to put up with reduced speed for a good, standards based, commodity hardware that worked in a frequency range with good signal propagation characteristics (a la cellular phones)

BTW, breezecom (or whatever they’re calling *themselves* this week) and the Motorola Canope system are on my endangered species list as well… Ebay is litered with propriatary wireless equipment that didn’t make it. Rooftop already died a grusom death despite having the best technical implemention out of the lot. Of course, the IEEE will eventually catch up and we should see software defined radios using mesh networking start to pop up in the next 3 to 5 years. Question is, will the radios be able to use freq. ranges with decent frequency propagation characteristics instead of all these foolish microwave-ish, line-of-sight freq. blocks that governments seems so eager to “free up”… duh, they’re under utilized for a reason.

…ok, I feel much better now.

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