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February 17, 2008

Why WiMAX?


The chart above tells part of the “Why WiMAX” story. WiMAX is yet one more standard (IEE 802.16) for the wireless transmission of data. The most recent rev, 802.16e, provides for very good mobile access to data. At speeds up to 75mph you can receive at rates “up to” 1 megabit per second and, at slightly lower speeds, much higher data rates. So, unlike WiFi (802.11), WiMAX competes with various cellular technologies for use in a moving vehicle. Not only voice but receipt of traffic conditions, weather, and entertainment will be coming to your car soon over your Internet connection and WiMAX is a contender to be that mobile Internet connection.

But WiMAX is also a contender to be your fixed connection to the Internet – even if you have DSL or cable available. Clearwire communication has already deployed a very limited WiMAX network in the US which it has promised to expand rapidly. Sprint is piloting its planned national rollout in a couple of locations and, if bankers don’t stand in the way, plans widespread coverage. WiMAX speeds can be faster than most DSL and rival cable in some locations. But, more importantly, you can use the same account both for Internet access at home and while roaming – if it’s a WiMAX account. That’s not important now when there’s not a significant WiMAX network to roam on but will matter if and when there is a nationwide and global WiMAX rollout – assuming that does happen.

Perhaps the most significant fact about WiMAX is that it IS a public standard. Most wireless ISPS (WISPs) today deliver service over proprietary precursors to WiMAX.  Because the transmission standards are proprietary to the radio manufacturers, a WISP which uses one brand of radios on its towers MUST use the same brand of radio at all its customers’ premises. With a standard-based protocol (and after testing and certification) radios from different manufacturers should interoperate freely and competition should quickly bring down the price of these radios. Note that WiFi cards and modems and USB dongles are very, very cheap BECAUSE WiFi is a standard. Moreover, WiFi gets built into laptops at almost no incremental cost. Cheap and builtin WiFi radios created the market for WiFi services at places like Starbucks which led to more demand for WiFi radios.

Learning from its success in pushing WiFi by building it into chipsets, Intel has an aggressive program to get OEM computer manufacturers to build WiMAX into laptops. Codenamed Echo Peak, the chipsets combine WiFi and WiMAX so that a single antenna and other components serve both – clearly Intel understands that users’ll be switching from WiFi to WiMAX and back for some time to come. And clearly Intel is committed to building a market for WiMAX as it did for WiFi; however, you can’t buy a laptop with WiMAX preinstalled today. “Should” be available 3d quarter of this year.

Because WiMAX chips will be cheap and WiMAX mobility can be implemented on a low power budget, enthusiasts predict that it will quickly show up in cameras, phones, GPSes, and all kinds of other devices.

The chicken and egg problem, however, is that there still needs to be enough WiMAX coverage available to make such devices useful.

WiFi vs. WiMAX is more about the differences between the two protocols and a little about creative chaos.

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