High-Speed Wireless Snag

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-02-19

High-speed wireless data operator Metricom has hit a major speed bump, leaving many wondering where it went wrong and what lies ahead for its customers.

Metricom recently announced it will scale back expansion plans until it can find additional backing. Metricom offers the fastest mobile data service available, allowing users with a radio transmitter on their laptops to stay connected at home, office and in-between. The service is available to 48 million people, some of whom cant get high-speed Internet access over the main alternatives: Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and cable modems.

But Metricom recently revealed that it will run short of money in a few months, after finishing 2000 with only about 4,000 customers more than at the end of 1999.

The cutbacks will leave some would-be customers unable to choose the service and some current customers worried about whether its a safe bet for the long run.

A key problem for Metricom was getting to market after other high-speed access technologies. "Theyre just late," said Craig Mathias, principal at consultants Farpoint Group. Metricom launched its first markets at 28 kilobits per second in 1995, but took until last year to introduce service in most of its markets and at a higher data rate of 128 Kbps. Meanwhile, DSL and cable modems have proliferated.

Metricoms leaders said the company is ahead of other mobile technologies. "We all recognize that funding is a major challenge, but we ask you to remember that its real, it works and is available today," said Chairman and Chief Executive Tim Dreisbach.

Metricoms woes dont necessarily bode poorly for other wireless data choices, Mathias said. Next-generation upgrades to cellular networks will offer higher data rates with greater coverage, he said.

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