I usually root for the underdog. And when it comes to wireless data networks, history shows that the underdogs typically need the support.
Anyone remember RAM Mobile Data? That was the name of the wireless data network now called Cingular Interactive, previously BellSouth Mobile Data. Its the network the popular Blackberry devices and some Palm handhelds use. Despite noble efforts by RAM Mobile Data, which built the data network in the early 90s, users didnt flock to the service. But once BellSouth scooped up the company and backed it with marketing and branding, the network quickly filled up. Last year, the customer base grew from 200,000 users to 570,000.
Metricom may be in the same boat as RAM Mobile Data. Ive never heard a user speak negatively about Metricoms Ricochet service, yet the company has put the brakes on its aggressive build-out plans and warned that it is seeking additional funding. What it needs is the marketing muscle and brand recognition of a major established telecom.
Some believe that the best way to encourage wireless data growth and make it easy to use is for a well-known company to buy a number of regional or struggling networks. That company could have a single management system in order to offer service to end users with the same apps and the same look and feel across the different networks.
Those networks could have different speeds, as users move from a large area network like Metricoms into a higher speed local area network such as an 802.11 network. Customers will notice the different speeds but wont have to learn new processes for logging on or use different applications for each network.
They wouldnt have to juggle different modems for each network because the technology for building single modems that can operate on such varied networks is around the corner, says Paul Mankiewich, chief architect at Lucent Technologies wireless networks group.
WorldCom might be the perfect candidate for a lead company to start acquiring wireless data networks. It needs new revenue sources and already has a close relationship with Metricom, with plans to sell the Ricochet service in 30 markets this year. WorldCom could then focus on the wireless LAN companies to extend the footprint.
Maybe this idea does indeed support the underdog. After all, CEO Bernie Ebbers was once a high school basketball coach, and WorldCom is no longer at the height of its power. So Bernie, if you read this, take note: Your next conquest may be staring you in the face.