Metricom to the Rescue

Isn't there somebody out there with several million bucks who can buy Metricom?

Isnt there somebody out there with several million bucks who can buy Metricom?

Metricom shut down its Ricochet wireless data network, filed for bankruptcy protection and cant seem to find a buyer. Yet the city of New York called Metricom to ask if the network could be turned back on so that rescue workers at the World Trade Center could use it to communicate.

If the city has to turn to a bankrupt company and a darkened network, clearly no other company in business today could help.

What about the Cellular Digital Packet Data networks operated by the likes of AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless? Theyre probably being used, but clearly dont completely fit the bill or the city wouldnt have asked for Metricoms help.

Cingular Interactives wireless data network was a godsend to people immediately after the terrorist strikes on Sept. 11. Landline and wireless voice networks were clogged, but BlackBerry owners, who use Cingular Interactives data network, were able to send and receive messages.

But that network also must not fit the need these days. Maybe rescue workers need to send and receive large messages, chunks of data too big for the Cingular Interactive network.

Yes, Metricom had its share of problems and made mistakes. Its been criticized for charging too much for usage and doing a poor job of marketing. Some experts have spurned the technology, saying it was too expensive to deploy. Even though the network reached 17 cities, it only attracted about 50,000 users — but they were extremely loyal customers.

Yet Metricom has done something fundamentally right if New York asked the bankrupt company to turn on its network. It seems to me that reflects some significant value.

Perhaps some potential buyers believe that up-and-coming data networks might trump Metricom with a better service in the near future. I wouldnt bet on anything comparable — with all-you-can-eat pricing — showing up for a few years. The service has got to be worth the money, even if the network can only be competitive for several years.