Wireless Internet Gathers Speed

SAN FRANCISCO (06/28/2000) - Wireless Internet access is hot, but up till now the services have been too slow for anything beyond text messages and e-mail.

Metricom Inc. aims to change that with its next-generation, 128-kbps Ricochet wireless service, which is slated to launch in Atlanta and San Diego at the end of July.

At 7 to 13 times faster than current wireless Internet services, the new Ricochet will be eminently suitable for heavy-duty Web browsing or corporate data access by notebook users on the go.

But the service won't come cheap. You'll typically buy it from a reseller such as Juno Online Services Inc., Wireless WebConnect, or WorldCom Inc., and while pricing hasn't been announced, Metricom's chair and chief executive officer, Tim Dreisbach, says individuals will likely pay between $60 and $90 a month for unlimited access. Metricom hopes to roll out the service in 21 major cities by year's end.

At launch, users will only be able to access the service using an external Ricochet modem, which will connect to a Universal Serial Bus or serial port (the latter will not deliver full throughput, however). You could hook up the modem to a PC, but vendors expect it to be used primarily in notebooks. Later this year, Novatel Inc. will offer a $299 Merlin PC card modem for Ricochet.

Sierra Wireless Inc. expects to deliver a competing PC Card modem in January for about $350.

Dreisbach said National Semiconductor Corp. is developing a Ricochet chip set that will allow support for the service to be built into notebooks and other devices such as Internet appliances, much the way dial-up modems are now built into many portables.

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