The ghost of a dead rabbit -- a mobile service that flopped -- is stalking the streets of London

August 7, 2002

2 Min Read
Bunny, We Hardly Knew Ye

Dear ol' Auntie Beeb has dug up a long dead example of Brit wireless technology, the Rabbit phone service, to serve as a cautionary example to companies planning public wireless LAN services in the U.K.

The wascally wabbit service had some spooky similarities with today's public access 802.11b services. The system allowed users to make mobile phone calls within 100 meters of the Rabbit transmitter, and was intended to be used in railway stations and other public places, according to the BBC.

It's all sounding pretty familiar so far, right?

Rabbit (Cockney rhyming slang for "talk"), was run by Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. and was one of four now-defunct location-specific phone services launched in Britain in the late eighties, according to the Gingham Corporation.

We wonder how much the Rabbit service cost, back in those days.

British Telecom (BT) (NYSE: BTY) has come up with a ludicrous pricing scheme for its initial WLAN hotspot offering, as Unstrung has pointed out before (see Crazy Prices for BT's WLAN). The crusty old incumbent plans to charge £95 a month (that's around US$146) for access to a service that is going to have very patchy -- to say the least -- coverage, at least initially.

If companies insist on charging that kind of price for WLAN, it seems unlikely that there will be much interest in commercial 802.11b services in the U.K. Particularly when there is already a thriving underground network of non-commercial WLAN hotspots, courtesy of groups like

Of course, there have also been similar failures in the U.S. If you ever want to see the CEO of a wireless LAN startup turn green and start to look distinctly sheepish, then just whisper the word "Ricochet" into his ear (this works without fail, trust us).

Yep, Metricom Inc.'s grand experiment in building out a wireless data service gathered many fans during its speedy dash to oblivion -- and should really serve as a stark warning to companies exuberantly building out hotspot networks now.

Metricom started the 128-kbit/s network in 1999. By August 2001 it had switched the network off and shuffled off this corporate coil. The consensus was that the service was promising but too expensive and didn't have good enough coverage.

Interestingly , a brief check of the Ricochet Website shows that there are plans afoot to get the system going again. Good luck with that!

Ricochet and Rabbit are just two examples of what happens when mobile plans go bad. If you have other favorite wireless washouts, get on the message board and let us know.

Incidentally,Ricochet Rabbit was the name of a short-lived U.S. cartoon, which lasted about as long as these services did. Although, the name of the U.K service was probably inspired the cockney rhyming slang, whereby rabbit and pork (usually just shortened to rabbit) equals talk.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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