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

Sprint Nextel, early players in Baltimore’s XOHM service before it merged with Clearwire, are currently offering a dual-mode USB-modem that can operate on a both Sprint’s more widespread 3G network and the Baltimore-and-Portland-centric 4G WiMax network. “It’s all about mobility,” says John Polivka of Sprint Nextel. “The dual-mode card provides the customer the versatility of either 3G EVDO Rev A access or 4G WiMax access in coverage areas.”

With more cities and major metropolitan areas to go live to WiMax in 2009, the true mobility of more nation-wide coverage could compel greater numbers of consumers to sign up for service. The shear amount of licensed spectrum available to Clearwire (around 120 MHz, compared to the 10-20 MHz of many cellular 3G networks) would suggest a guarantee that cost/Mb is kept low and the dropped service issues of 3G networks or Wi-Fi hotspots due to interference won’t apply. 

Device Delight
A chicken or the egg question remains: What comes first, the WiMax network—ready to meet the anticipated demands of the Internet-tethered, on-the-go, would-be subscribers, or the consumers pressing for a service provider who can meet their Internet-tethered, on-the-go needs?

For any new carrier or service provider to succeed it needs customers and subscribers. In some ways it helps to compare the WiMax roll-out to Verizon’s successful deployment of its fiber optic FiOS infrastructure. In that case, the consumer demand for faster Internet and less-compressed HDTV was clear, and FiOS availability in new areas has been met with enthusiastic and eager subscribers. Will WiMax meet with the same results? It stands to reason that the residential/consumer WiMax network service providers (in this country, Clearwire) cannot continue to expand service into other major metropolitan areas if there is no demand for the service.

In the case of a WiMax, demand for the service is linked directly to the existence of killer mobile devices in the hands of would-be subscribers and the killer applications that run on them. “You need the right content and applications, the right devices, and the right network,” says Gude. “We already have the right content—the Internet.” The WiMax standard, coupled with Clearwire’s impressive licensed spectrum, provides the right network at the lowest cost per Megabit, according to Gude. “As newer devices come in, there will be even greater penetration.” Most in the WiMax industry point to the iPhone as the game-changing device, keeping users connected to the Internet (via 3G and Wi-Fi) while on the go. Owners of iPhones have only to imagine their same usage at much faster speeds to understand what WiMax service can do for the mobile broadband experience.

Fortunately for Clearwire and any other would-be WiMax service providers there are a number of consumer electronic devices hitting the market with built-in WiMax technology. Intel is one heavy hitter to board the WiMax train. The famous “Intel inside” catch phrase can now be “WiMax included” for a few notebooks and laptops on the market. Manufacturers of laptops and notebooks with the Intel Centrino 2 processor can build in the optional WiMax technology, just like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability. Lenovo and Acer and Toshiba are three such manufacturers offering built-in WiMax capability in their laptops. In Lenovo’s ThinkPad line of notebooks, the T400, SL300 and SL500 can all come with the WiMax module; their IdeaPad Y530 has that option as well. Acer’s compact Aspire One netbook is another device with optional WiMax networking included. Toshiba’s Portege R600 and Satellite U400 also have the option of WiMax wireless capability. Dell, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony are all poised to make WiMax networking an option in some of their notebook products for 2009.

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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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