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November 25, 1993

METRICOM PLANS LOW-COST WIRELESS NET FOR HANDHELDS

By CBR Staff Writer

The efflorescence of new communications technologies shows no sign of abating, and Reuter has spotted another one in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Monterey, California-based Metricom Inc is testing a new communications technology at several sites as a prelude to developing an inexpensive US-wide wireless network for computer users. Similar to the Telepoint concept that was conceived – and failed – in Britain, the Metricom system involves hanging small 1 lb radio transmitters from existing lamp posts and road signs for which no licence is required because the radios operate in a licence-free bandwidth allocated by the Federal Communications Commission and emit less than one Watt of power. The transmitters are less expensive than the cell stations needed for communications in conventional cellular networks, and in contrast to Telepoint, they can receive transmissions originated elsewhere as well as initiating calls. Metricom says it has completed a test of a network at Apple Computer Inc’s corporate campus and are now setting up test networks at Stanford University in Palo Alto, and at Visa USA headquarters in San Mateo. It reckons it has the resources to wire up three to four metropolitan service areas in 1994; it plans to finish installation of the Bay Area network by the first quarter of 1994 and then possibly move to Los Angeles or other metropolises. The Metricom wireless modem that plugs into the computer costs $400, and the flat monthly fee is set at about $20. Once the user wants to extend beyond the coverage area, the system would need to use telephone links, incurring additional charges. Visa will test the system at its corporate headquarters but is interested in how the technology could be used for credit card verifications in areas where conventional telephony is poor. The company aims to set up systems in some 30 metropolitan areas over the next two years, leading to a nationwide network. Metricom has two claims to credibility: it has some $25m in cash, and Microsoft Corp co-founder said last month that his Vulcan Ventures was paying $17.5m for a 12% stake in the company.

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