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Mobile

Metricom pushes wireless self-installation

The wireless technology company introduces a new service allowing customers to activate its mobile Ricochet modem themselves.

    Metricom, a wireless technology company, introduced Wednesday a new service allowing customers to activate its mobile Ricochet modem themselves.

    The company's new self-activation capability enables consumers to buy a Ricochet modem, select a service provider, and automatically initiate service over the Internet. In the past, consumers would have had to call a service provider on the phone to activate their high-speed wireless Internet access or initiate it when purchasing the modem.

    The Ricochet service, which is available in 14 cities and 15 airports across the nation, offers mobile high-speed Internet access at speeds up to 128Kbps. Metricom, which gained a following with its earlier 28.8Kbps wireless modems, introduced the high-speed Ricochet version in September. Sierra Wireless and Novatel are the primary manufacturers of the external and PC Card versions of the Ricochet modem, while Metricom operates the network.

    Company executives say the fast activation times compare favorably with cable modem and DSL (digital subscriber line) service activation times, which can take from four to 10 weeks.

    The move also clears the way for Metricom's resellers, companies such as WorldCom, Aether Systems, Juno Online Services and GoAmerica, to aggressively offer the Ricochet modems broadly in retail stores. Metricom's service already is available at some retailers.

    "Most consumers don't want to wait in a retail store for a half an hour or an hour while someone is activating their service in a back room," said John Cornwell, vice president of business development at Metricom. Self-activation "gives the customer a sense of more empowerment."

    Self-activation is seen as a panacea for many broadband Internet providers. The cable modem services, such as Excite@Home and Road Runner, as well as the Baby Bell local phone companies with their DSL services and other high-speed Net offerings, are all developing self-installation kits and self-activation technologies.

    By allowing consumers to easily install and initiate service themselves, the broadband companies hope to reduce costs and speed customer adoption. A streamlined and automated self-installation and activation system typically is a precursor to retail sales, which is expected to boost broadband sales.

    Many company executives and industry analysts speak wistfully of a future "broadband Christmas," when thousands of consumers during the holiday season will rush to retail outlets to buy high-speed modems. But this is unlikely to occur until high-speed cable, DSL wireless and satellite modems are widely available in most consumer electronics stores.