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What Will WiMax Do For You?
The WiMax wireless standard promises more robust wireless service, greater reliability and power. Will it deliver?
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February 06, 2009 by Ben Hardy

Wireless Interoperability for Microwave Transmission, more commonly known as WiMax, is a technology based on the IEEE 802.16 standard used for wireless transmission of data. The 802.16 standard has been through a few evolutionary stages, with 802.16e the most recent updated form. The WiMax Forum, the group responsible for coining the name “WiMax” and charged with promoting interoperability and certifying new WiMax products, claims that by 2011 there will be over 1,000 certified WiMax products available. Will the confluence of must-have wireless devices and an expanded WiMax network have subscribers scrambling to sign up?

A 4G Network
The cellular and mobile broadband industry love anamorphisms. The latest—4G—is the category into which WiMax falls, accompanied by LTE (“Long-Term Evolution). From a consumer perspective, a WiMax 4G network can bring wireless broadband Internet into the home (the “fixed” or “stationary” solution) or bring faster data downloads and uploads for users on the go (the “mobile” solution).

WiMax service into the home operates like any good WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider), or regular DSL or cable ISP for that matter—a modem, or “Customer Premises Equipment” (CPE) acts as a gateway to the Internet, and users can plug their computer into the modem or attach a wireless router to create a home Wi-Fi network. The WiMax modem connects to the WiMax network wirelessly, a boon especially to those living within a WiMax network range but not serviced by cable or DSL. 

The “last mile” solution made possible by the WiMax standard may not bring FiOS speeds, but it beats 3G speeds from the cellular service providers’ data plans. Clearwire—who has deployed their 4G WiMax networks in Baltimore and Portland, Oregon—claims 4 to 6 Megabit downstream speeds and 1 to 2 Megabit upstream speeds. For customers in Baltimore and Portland, the WiMax network essentially turns the whole city into one big Wi-Fi hotspot.

“This is not just another wireless carrier,” says Atish Gude, senior Vice President for Clearwire. Gude adds that the majority of current customers subscribing to either Clearwire’s XOHM (Baltimore) WiMax service or Clear (Portland) WiMax service have access to other competitive Internet service, but chose the WiMax route instead. 

Maximum Mobility
So why go WiMax? For those in a WiMax service area, the answer is mobility. In addition to the home modem solution mentioned above, subscribers can elect to supplement their service package with a mobile component. For Clearwire customers, this might mean a USB-modem for the laptop, with which Internet service is granted anywhere in the network. “80 to 90 percent of users almost never leave their home network,” says Gude, commenting on naysayers who would insist on a “nation-wide” network advertised by so many cellular carriers. “80 to 90 percent of usage is within 20 miles of the home.”

The mobile plans for the Clear brand out of Portland offer something for everyone, starting out at a $10 day pass (24 hours unlimited service) and topping out with the $50/month unlimited plan. There’s also the “Frequent” plan for $40/month (2GB limit) and the “Occasional” plan for $30/month (200MB limit). “We’re still in the early stages of the offer models to see what works and what doesn’t,” says Gude.

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Ben Hardy - Contributing Writer
Between watching re-runs of the The Jetsons and convincing his Insteon and Z-Wave controls to get along, Ben Hardy is immersed in the world of home automation, home control, and home networking.

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