Wireless data network Ricochet shutting down

Associated Press

NEW YORK — The future of mobile computing suffered a kick in the pants this week with the demise of the country’s fastest mobile wireless network.

Metricom says it will shut down its Ricochet wireless data network next week in the 15 U.S. cities it serves, including Seattle, and auction off its assets Aug. 16. The company is also laying off 282 employees.

Those who surf the Internet on Ricochet’s broadband service — which runs more than twice as fast as a regular dial-up modem — lamented the company’s collapse, the latest in a recent spate of telecom woes.

"They have the best high-speed wide-area network technology," said Michael Miller, a Ricochet subscriber and editor-in-chief of PC Magazine. "I certainly hope somebody will do something with it."

Analysts described Ricochet’s service as ahead of its time, which may have been part of the company’s problem. Even if potential customers had heard of Ricochet, many didn’t understand its uses.

"It was a hard sell," said Gary Arlen, president of telecom researcher Arlen Communications. "They had to explain the service, and also make people aware of the product."

With Metricom’s infrastructure expected to be auctioned for a fraction of its value, analysts say surviving wireless service providers might buy parts of the Richochet network to add speedier options to their own Internet service.

"It’s a good opportunity to pick up the network for pennies or dimes on the dollar," Doherty said.

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