Ricochet Returns to California

By Gretchen Hyman

November 19, 2002

The once-failed wireless broadband service returns to San Diego with a bent toward improving public safety networks.

Just three months after making its debut return in Denver, Ricochet, a wireless broadband Internet service provider, has re-activated its service in the San Diego area as part of a nationwide strategy to re-establish itself as a primary player in the high-speed wireless marketplace.

In its heyday, Ricochet had wide reach in the wireless market, with an estimated 51,000 subscribers in 21 markets.

Metricom, the former holder of Ricochet technology, shuttered its doors in August, 2001, and was acquired by Aerie Networks in November of the same year. Under Aerie's umbrella, Ricochet Networks bought Metricom's Ricochet technology, patents, and assets for $8.5 million.

The new service, once consumer-driven, has expanded its footprint to include public safety networks and municipal applications. For nearly a year, Ricochet has been testing its wireless mesh network service with the city's Denver Advanced Wireless Network for emergency and disaster preparedness.

Ricochet's return to San Diego is due in part to a lease agreement with the city of San Diego to provide wireless access to city-run departments in exchange for city rights of way.

Ricochet's San Diego service will be offered through a partnership between Ricochet Networks and San Diego-based Internet Service Provider NetHere Internet Services Unlimited.

"In most cases, our police and fire departments have deployed lower speed wireless solutions," said Mort Aaronson, Ricochet president, CEO, and founder. "Using Ricochet makes sending photos to police cars, downloading blueprints in fire trucks, and accessing medical records in ambulances a reality."

According to a Ricochet spokesperson, many police departments across the country are currently restricted to wireless speeds of between 9-12 kbps.

Ricochet boasts speeds of up to 176 kbps, which according to the spokesperson are Ricochet's actually speeds, not its "burst" speed, which is what many DSL providers and wireless carriers use to lure in consumers.

"Any wireless technology has the capability to "burst," but that's not your average speed," said the spokesperson. Ricochet's burst speeds are up to 400 kbps, the spokesperson said.

Ricochet technology differs from 802.11b's hot spot technology in that when users connect via their modem, data requests are uploaded to a transmitter or "pole-top" radio found on top of city lamp posts, which is why Ricochet relies on city leases to set up service.

From there, the signal is sent on to a wireless access control point and on to the central office.

The other difference is that Ricochet's patented Micro Cellular Data architecture operates on the 900 MHz spectrum, as opposed to Wi-Fi's 2.4 GHz.

"With Ricochet, an entire city becomes your hot spot," said the spokesperson.

Ricochet works with both Mac and Windows platforms on a desktop, laptop, or Pocket PC.

The Ricochet sales push in the San Diego area will be through local retail stores and sales agents, the company said.

New subscribers must purchase their own modem from Ricochet resellers for just under $100 before activating service. Whereas returning Ricochet users can reactivate their old modems online and receive a free month of service.

Ricochet representatives are currently in talks with a number of other cities pending future rollout of Ricochet service, although the spokesperson could not comment on which cities would be next in the company's strategy.

"Typically the deal is made with the city via a lease agreement and those conversations take time," said the spokesperson.

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