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WiMax: The Next Revolution in Wireless

What is WiMax?

Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax) for short is a point to multi point, non-line-of-sight (NLOS) wireless broadband access technology. WiMax also known officially as 802.16-2004 (its IEEE name) can transfer data at rates around 70Mbps with a range of close to 30 miles all from just a single base station.

The acronym for WiMax also encompases the WiMax Forum, and industry consortium that will be pushing 802.16 as a solution. The Forum is a collection of service providers, vendors and Industry leaders including Cisco, Proxim, Lucent and many others that plan to design the definitions for testing and certifying that these products are compliant and will interoperate.

WiMax's primary usage will most likely come in the form of MANs, or Metropolitan Area Networks. So what does this all mean? Simply put; High Speed Wireless Internet for the masses.

What it means for the masses

One reason that WiMax will make a splash in the wireless networking market is that WiMax offers a much larger range than the traditional Wi-Fi standards which include 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g. Standard Wi-Fi technologies with a maximum range of approximately 1000 feet outdoors are mainly intended to be used for local area networking in residential homes, for public access hotspots, and in businesses for general office connectivity because of the smaller coverage area that they provide.

What this means is that broadband providers will soon be able to propose Internet access to thousands of homes without the costly need of dispatching technicians or physically running wires. This has great potential for Broadband service providers that cannot currently reach their entire potential customer base. WiMax will allow Broadband providers the ability to service customers that previously had access only to antiquated 56K dial up via land line.

For businesses WiMax can potentially be a great tool to allow many locations scattered across a MAN to network without the need for running wires or paying for expensive T-1 lines. Imagine the possibilities: A business with many stores through out a metro area could network all of his stores together, wirelessly. The hardware savings alone would be sufficient to justify the switch to WiMax.

Another reason that WiMax should be given a good look is the speed factor. The most common Wi-Fi technology; 802.11b currently allows for data transmission speeds of up to 6Mbps under ideal real-world conditions. While this is relatively fast, its nothing compared to the speed that WiMax can provide. WiMax has the capability to provide data transmission rates of up to 70Mbps. That's nearly the equivalent of 60 T-1 lines.

Combine that with the range of WiMax and you can see why the possibilities for WiMax's applications are almost endless. One Broadband provider with one WiMax tower could provide wireless Internet service for hundreds of users while maintaining DSL equivalent data transmission speeds.

Don't cut your wires just yet!

As great as all of this sounds, WiMax is not without its problems. WiMax is still currently in the pre-standardization phase. What this means is that there is no current standard for WiMax. There are no industry wide standards available for chip sets or products that support WiMax. There are many companies that are currently working on WiMax technologies and are helping to drive the standardization process.

Currently, true WiMax is still not commercially available, though many "pre-WiMax" solutions based on the early 802.16 specification have come to market. There are also no standard chip sets or hardware currently available that support WiMax, but there will be soon enough. Until then, expect WiMax hardware to be very expensive.

WiMax is still the best alternative when compared to the loss in productivity or latentness of data transmissions due to using outdated 56K dial up technology.

It will be here soon

Real WiMax technology should hit the markets this year. For example, Intel plans to have the WiMax certified chip sets available in early 2005. They might even build 802.16 into future Centrino Mobile chipsets (like those used now in notebooks to provide 802.11 Wi-Fi).

WiMax has the potential to revolutionize the wireless industry. Hotspots no longer need be just a thing at a local coffee shop, but the entire city or town can be a hotspot. You could take your laptop from your home, to a local park, to the library and then back home and have access where ever you are.

WiMax can not currently be used while moving, say on a train or in a car, but there are technologies that will be available in the next few years that will allow for that scenario.

All in all WiMax is set to turn the wireless market on its head, allowing thousands of new users access to the Internet at speeds they may have never thought possible and allowing businesses to network with greater ease than ever before.