For several years, thanks to a big marketing push by Intel, we have been using Wireless Fidelity (WiFI) to wirelessly connect to the Internet. Prior to WiFi your best bet for wireless Internet use was through your phone line. Prior to wireless connectivity you simply dial-up to the Internet, hoped to borrow an Ethernet cable from a corporate office or relied on your cell phone for voice communication.
WiFi has been very successful as it’s easy to use, low cost (you only pay for the WiFi card and then have a choice of free to fee based WiFi services) and relatively fast. I get up to 54Mbps on my wireless network at home, with older networks getting at least 11MBps.
While WiFi has its benefits, as people download more and larger files, upload more data (such as voice calls, images and videos) and have longer distance needs – the limits of WiFi are apparent.
Cell phone companies, including Sprint, Verizon and AT&T sell wireless broadband cards, which connect to cell phone networks and are used to give notebook computers wireless access to the Internet. While these solutions solve the problem of distance (you can use them in a train or taxi) they don’t solve the problem of speed. At times these wireless broadband solutions are only marginally faster than a dial-up modem.
WiMax, is a relatively new technology that enables communication over a maximum distance of 30 miles – compared to 300 feet for WiFi. Of course, the longer the distance, the slower the speed. But it’s still faster and has a longer range than WiFi. Ideally, speeds of around 10MBps could be achieved with a range of 1 – 6 miles.
The reason why some telecommunication providers are quite excited about the prospects for WiMax is that mobile users could use it as a faster and longer range alternative to WiFi and corporate or home users could use it in a fixed environment as a replacement or backup to DSL.
In the same way that WiFi ushered in a new world of hardware – access points and WiFi cards, WiMax will go through a similar maturation.
Companies will begin to use WiMax to communicate from office to office, relatively near to each otehr and provide campus wide wireless connectivity to employees. Employee’s computers will need to use new WiMax cards to connect to these new networks. Next, or at the same time, public places such as airports, parks and coffee shops will be outfitted with WiMax access points.
As the market matures, WiMax hardware and use prices will lower – just as in the case of WiFi and cellular phone plans.
What does this mean for your business? If you are now using DSL and T1 lines and wish there was an alternative – you might find one in WiMax. If you’ve been frustrated at the slowness of WiFi and mobile broadband – WiMax will be an alternative and better solution. However, it will take several more months (if not longer than a year), in my opinion for WiMax to be as ubiquitous as WiFi.
Ramon Ray is the editor & technology evangelist of Smallbiztechnology.com