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

How long until the WiMax module is standard in all netbooks, notebooks, and laptops, just as Wi-Fi is today? “That’s certainly where we believe the future to be,” says Julie Copernoll, the director of marketing for Intel’s WiMax Program Office. In the meantime, Copernoll asks, “If you are going to buy a brand new PC, why wouldn’t you include the new feature?” A brief glance at the cost difference between a laptop with WiMax to one without suggests that the inclusion of the WiMax chip comes at a fairly negligible expense—good news to those planning for the WiMax future. 

The ability to push more data wirelessly and reliably over a WiMax network should no doubt prompt the creation of more Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), Ultra-Mobile PCs (UMPCs), and a host of applications that extend beyond the consumer electronic world but all meant to operate in a WiMax world. “Think about parking meters enabled with WiMax technology,” says Gude. “Customers could be alerted when a spot opens up. Wireless cameras can monitor traffic and accidents.” Copernoll painted a more consumer-oriented picture, imagining a digital camera with WiMax built in. “Rather than having to go home and connect to the computer, you might just press a button to instantly upload photos to the web.” Indeed, with an entire metropolitan area WiMaxed, the wireless possibilities on both the consumer and commercial side of things seem endless. 

To see the future of WiMax in our country, one might look across the ocean to Korea, where almost a half a million people are connected to a WiMax network (called WiBro in Korea). Manufacturers Samsung and LG have both launched a few WiMax smartphones onto the Korean market, designed to tap into the 13 Mbps speeds available on their network for video streaming and other multimedia data communications in addition to voice service. 

Lingering Questions
WiMax is here, and it’s only going to spread nationwide. A few questions remain. How will the WiMax service provider track the usage of the network as WiMax-enable devices proliferate? Is it by device or by user? One subscriber may have multiple devices—a home computer, a netbook, a mobile Internet device and a camera, for example—all connected to the WiMax network. How does a Clearwire track usage of all those devices? Will a subscription to their “Unlimited” service plan enable access to the network from any device by that one subscriber? Currently they only have to track subscribers who might have the “Home and Away” package that covers the home modem and USB-modem for a laptop. What happens when that subscriber wants to double the devices to be used on the network? Will monthly costs go up? Dr. Mohammed Shakouri, vice president of marketing for the WiMax Forum, has an answer to these questions. “Service providers will have plans so consumers can connect up to X number of devices for a flat rate,” he says. “It is pretty clear that you cannot limit the data.” 

The ease of connection to the WiMax network is another consideration. WiMax-enable laptops and netbooks from various OEMs may contain different “Connection Managers.” Just how easily a subscriber can connect to, and interface with, the network is a consideration a consumer should be making before purchasing a WiMax-enabled device or product. “Ease of use and ease of association are questions to be asked,” says Copernoll. Will it be as simple as connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot or a 3G network through a cellular service provider? 

Shakouri of the WiMax Forum sums it up nicely: “The Internet has gone from a box in the home to you.” The mobile individual’s constant and growing need for bandwidth-hungry Internet applications—be it social networking, streaming video, even online gaming—will require a wide area, high bandwidth wireless network. Which is just what WiMax provides.

Click here to view WiMax enabled laptops and modems.

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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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