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What is WiMax?

WiMax is short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, and it also goes by the IEEE name 802.16. The WiMax standard can reach longer distances at higher speeds than 802.11g. There are two different groups of products, one for fixed point-to-point connections between two Internet providers, and one that connects to mobile users.

IEEE 802.16 Specifications

  • Range - 30-mile (50-km) radius from base station
  • Speed - 70 megabits per second
  • Line-of-sight not needed between user and base station
  • Frequency bands - 2 to 11 GHz and 10 to 66 GHz (licensed and unlicensed bands)

The biggest difference between WiFi and WiMax isn't speed; it's distance. WiMax outdistances WiFi. Typically WiFi's range is about 100 feet (30 m). WiMax will cover a radius of approximately 30 miles (50 km) with wireless access. The increased range is due to the frequencies used and the power of the transmitter. At that distance, terrain, weather and large buildings will act to reduce the maximum range in some circumstances, but the potential is there to cover a greater area.

WiMax will compete with cable and DSL providers and cellular providers. The cellular providers use two different technologies: Evolution-Data Optimized (called EV-DO) from Verizon and Sprint, and Enhanced Data for Global Evolution (called EDGE) from Cingular. Laptops with built-in wireless broadband networks are currently available from HP Compaq, Lenovo and Sony. Optionally, you can get a PC Card and pay an additional monthly charge to connect to these higher-speed networks.

Another possible scenario is if you have a home network, the WiMax base station would send data to a WiMax-enabled router, which would then send the data to the different computers on your network. You could even combine WiFi with WiMax by having the router send the data to the computers via WiFi.

Intel will start making their Centrino laptop processors WiMax enabled in the next two to three years. This will go a long way toward making WiMax a success.

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Revised: 11/15/2006