Metricom Internet service to move on to fastrack

By the end of the summer in Washington, D.C., Metricom Inc.'s wireless Internet service should be noticeably speedier.

Company officials this week announced plans to boost the speed of its service to 128 kilobits/sec.

Some federal agencies in the area use Metricom's 28.8 kilobits/sec Ricochet service to access e-mail and the World Wide Web while working outside the office. Customers include the Energy Department, the U.S. Postal Service and the Navy, according to Thomas Oberlin, national director of channel marketing for Metricom. Senate staff members used the service to stay in touch with each other during last year's impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, Oberlin said.

Connection to the Ricochet service comes via a wireless modem connected to a laptop computer. The modem connects with Metricom antennas scattered across city landscapes, transmitting data in the 900 MHz portion of the radio spectrum. Signals are sent using the frequency-hopping, spread-spectrum method, which sends data intermittently along many pathways — like bullets from the sweep of a machine gun. "Security is great. It's hard to intercept what you've gotten," said Jeannie Slone, vice president of corporate marketing for Metricom, which is based in Los Gatos, Calif.

Company officials, who announced their news this week at the ComNet technology exposition in Washington, D.C., said the enhanced service, debuting at the end of the summer, should enable mobile workers to access World Wide Web pages and e-mail faster. The 128 kilobits/sec service will be available initially in Washington, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. Early next year, Metricom will offer the faster service in Baltimore, Minneapolis, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Boston and Miami.

The company will not offer the new service directly, however, like it sells its 28.8 kilobits/sec service. The 128 kilobits/sec service will be sold through resellers, the first of which will be MCI WorldCom. MCI, along with Vulcan Ventures Inc., injected $600 million in equity funding in Metricom in June.

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