January 02, 2001, 10:46 AM — WHAT SHOULD WE MAKE of these alternate wireless networks soon to be springing up around the country? Three immediately spring to mind. The newest is SwiftComm, from Mitsubishi. Then there's iBurst, from ArrayComm, and Metricom's Ricochet network.
After talking to all three technology providers, I can tell you that they all have the major telecom wireless service providers in their sights as their ultimate customers. More about that later.
First let's take a look at what these three offer. Ricochet in its coverage areas allows users to access the Internet at near warp speed, 128Kbps. The network is pricey at $75 to $80 per month and requires a Ricochet-enabled modem. Coverage is currently 12 metropolitan areas and 15 airports. Metricom has 30,000 individual subscribers, but is now offering its service only to service providers.
ArrayComm's network uses what it calls SmartAntenna technology. The network is in trials in the United States and is used by the Personal Handyphone network in Japan.
Whereas cellular channels are usually identified by frequency, time slot, or codes, the ArrayComm SmartAntenna technology adds a spatial metric for deploying cellular coverage. This allows SmartAntenna to reuse the same channel many times over. For example, using the spatial technology, two users standing inches apart from each other can be sharing the channel. ArrayComm promises up to 1Mbps broadband data connections to the Internet over its new iBurst service when it becomes commercially available.
Finally, we have Mitsubishi. The corporation is promising to invest up to $500 million in infrastructure to bring 20Mbps wireless Internet access to the United States. SwiftComm's @irPointer, a pen-like device that accesses the base stations situated on towers in cities and along highways, links to SwiftComm servers and routers, which access the Internet. The pointer connects via cable or Bluetooth-enabled technology to almost any mobile device.
Taking it as a given that any one of these three wireless networks will provide high-speed, low-cost access to intranet and Internet sites and offer a solid return on investment, what is really in play here?