What Is WiMax? And How Does It Work?

  This series is commissioned by Intel 4G WiMAX.

computing outdoors

Photo: zoovroo

Until recently, Internet access basically came in three flavours: broadband, Wi-Fi, and dial-up. Broadband — commonly hooked up in your home through either a DSL or cable modem — can be expensive and isn’t available in many remote regions of the country; Wi-Fi, although wireless, has a very limited range; and dial-up is, well, just slow and outdated.But now a fourth option has entered the online arena that is designed to address some of its predecessors shortcomings. It’s called WiMax.

What is WiMax?

Along with a competing standard called “LTE,” WiMax, short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, represents 4G or the “fourth generation” of wireless Internet. The new technology is similar to Wi-Fi in that it allows users to connect to the Internet without wires. But unlike Wi-Fi, which might be able to cover a whole building or city block, WiMax can cover vast distances (like the cell phone network), and provides high-speed Internet access (like broadband). It is is essentially, wireless broadband. What this means for Internet users is the ability to Tweet, type, or search online using a desktop or laptop computer from almost any geographic location — not just the confines of a local coffee shop or book store.

Coverage and Speed

The WiMax network operates similarly to a Wi-Fi connection, but with a few key differences. The system has two main components: A WiMax tower and a WiMax receiver. Like Wi-Fi, WiMax can connect directly to the Internet by sending a signal from a WiMax tower to a WiMax-enabled computer via a wired connection. A WiMax tower, however, can also connect to a second tower — this is what allows the network to provide long-range wireless service. WiMax transmiters can cover an estimated 30-mile radius whereas Wi-Fi’s range is about 100 feet. In other words, WiMax turns many small, scattered hot spots into one huge wireless hot spot.

The Future of WiMax

In 2008, a new company called Clearwire — an investment of Google, Intel, Comcast, Time Warner, and Sprint  — launched its plan to build a WiMax network across the nation. Today, Clearwire offers service in 53 U.S. markets, including Boston, Chicago, and Las Vegas. Clearwire announced a soft-lauch of WiMax in New York and Los Angeles in September, with a full roll out expected by the end of this year.   

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