Internaut: What's WiMax? Wireless with a 30-mile range

Shawn P. McCarthy

The forthcoming IEEE WiMax wireless networking standard, with a range up to 30 miles, could eliminate the need for short-range 802.11b or 802.11g WiFi hubs that have sprung up in many government offices.

But there are compatibility issues plus enough last-mile cost and bandwidth questions that potential WiMax adopters should do their homework first.

WiMax, also referred to as IEEE 802.16 WirelessMAN (wireless metropolitan area network), might be right for your agency if:
  • Some workers carry notebook PCs or wireless personal digital assistants beyond building hotspots'in vehicles or for data collection in the field

  • Most of them travel within a specific area, not cross-country

  • Several government buildings within a few miles of each other could share a central wireless service

  • The area lacks broadband access and is not congested with radio-frequency crosstalk that could affect WiMax performance.

On the other hand, stick with standard WiFi if:
  • Your wireless requirements are mostly within a single building or a few hundred feet

  • You already have enough WiFi hotspots

  • You can meet most of your wireless needs by adding more 802.11 hubs to an existing LAN or WAN

  • You need to extend wireless access in the next six months, before a full range of WiMax products is available.

In the long term, WiMax has great potential and extensibility. It can control access to both licensed and unlicensed frequencies from 2 GHz to 66 GHz, delivering broadband performance without a hard-wired connection.

WiMax will nearly eliminate the thorny issue of carriers' last-mile connections. Rather than threading or leasing local lines, commercial carriers can use 802.16 for a wireless Internet connection to an area point of presence. This could deal a big blow to fiber-optic cabling vendors.

Make sure you know the user requirements before ordering any equipment. If WiMax is right for you, target the 802.16e standard for now. It will be better than, but compatible with, the original 802.16a standard. A competing 802.20 standard in the works is not yet viable.

Do your homework at the WiMax Forum, at www.wimaxforum.org, and at wirelessman.org, the site of an IEEE working group.

Shawn P. McCarthy is president of an information services development company. E-mail him at internaut@diagonalmediagroup.com.

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.

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