What Does WiMAX Internet Mean?

A look at Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX)

Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access is a technology standard for long-range wireless networking for both mobile and fixed connections. While WiMAX was once envisioned to be a leading form of internet communication as an alternative to cable and DSL, its adoption has been limited.

Primarily owing to its much higher cost, WiMAX is not a replacement for Wi-Fi or wireless hotspot technologies. However, it can be cheaper to implement WiMAX instead of standard wired hardware as with DSL.

WiMAX Forum logo
WiMAX Forum logo. Wikimedia Commons

What is WiMAX?

WiMAX equipment comes in two basic forms: base stations, installed by service providers to deploy the technology in a coverage area; and receivers, installed in clients.

WiMAX is developed by an industry consortium overseen by a group called the WiMAX Forum, which certifies WiMAX equipment to ensure that it meets technical specifications. Its technology is based on the IEEE 802.16 set of wide-area communications standards.

WiMAX has some great benefits when it comes to mobility, but that is precisely where its limitations are most painful.

WiMAX Pros

WiMAX is popular because of its low cost and flexible nature. It can be installed faster than other internet technologies because it can use shorter towers and less cabling, supporting even non-line-of-sight coverage across an entire city or country.

WiMAX isn't just for fixed connections either, like at home. You can also subscribe to a WiMAX service for your mobile devices since USB dongles, laptops, and phones sometimes have the technology built-in.

In addition to internet access, WiMAX can provide voice and video-transferring capabilities as well as telephone access. Since WiMax transmitters can span a distance of several miles with data rates reaching up to 30-40 megabits per second (1 Gbps for fixed stations), it's easy to see its advantages, especially in areas where wired internet is impossible or too costly to implement.

WiMAX supports several networking usage models:

  • A means to transfer data across an Internet Service Provider network — commonly called backhaul
  • A form of fixed wireless broadband internet access, replacing satellite internet service
  • A form of mobile internet access that competes directly with LTE technology
  • Internet access for users in extremely remote locations where laying cable would be too expensive

WiMAX Cons

Because WiMAX is wireless by nature, the further away from the source that the client gets, the slower their connection becomes. This means that while a user might pull down 30 Mbps in one location, moving away from the cell site can reduce that speed to 1 Mbps or next to nothing.

Similar to when several devices suck away at the bandwidth when connected to a single router, multiple users on one WiMAX radio sector reduce performance for the others.

Wi-Fi is much more popular than WiMAX, so more devices have Wi-Fi capabilities built into them than they do WiMAX. However, most WiMAX implementations include hardware that allows a whole household, for example, to use the service by means of Wi-Fi, much like how a wireless router provides internet for several devices.

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