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The State of WiMAX
Anyone who keeps up with tech news will no doubt have heard of WiMAX for a long time, but why hasn't it reached mainstream yet? We look at the current state of WiMAX to find out whats holding it back.

WiMAX is designed as an improvement over the very popular WiFi, offering increased range, and most importantly no longer requiring line-of-sight to operate. This makes WiMAx very suitable for offering both Rural Broadband Solutions and last-mile solutions in urban areas.

Lots of impressive figures have been touted for WiMAX's performance such as 70 mile range, 70Mbps throughput, and no line-of-sight required. However the truth appears to be significantly less than the hype. While 70 mile backhauls may be possible, they will require line-of-sight, and more realistic ranges for when there is no line-of-sight appear to be 3-5 miles, and at only 2Mbps. It seems the hype hasn't yet found a way round the laws of physics.

There have also been quite a lot of trial and actual deployments of WiMAX across the globe ( e.g. UK, USA ,New Zealand ) though you still can't just visit your local supplier and buy a WiMAX network card or router. It seems there are two main issues affecting the mainstream rollout of WiMAX.

Firstly there is no globally agreed chuck of spectrum for WiMAX to use, so may have to use different frequencies in different countries, which increases manufacturing costs and reduces the choice available to consumers. Hopefully this can be ironed out before manufacturers start releasing hardware, as one of the strengths of WiFi has been that there is a central core of frequencies and transmit powers available in unlicenced spectrum availble almost globally, so hardware built to meet that central core can be deployed (and sold) anywhere.

Secondly, certification for WiMAX hardware only started in late 2005, and is expected to take a while. Certification ensures that hardware from one manufacturer will work perfectly with hardware from a different manufacturer, and is one of the reasons WiFi has been so widely accepted. Hopefully some time in 2006 certified WiMAX hardware should start to be available. Now that wireless connections are commonplace to consumers thanks to WiFi, it should take WiMAX must lest time to get a foothold in the market, especially with its improved range over WiFi.

The current IEEE standard for WiMAX (802.16) was agreed back in June 2004 (802.16-2004) though there have been more recent amendments (such as 802.16e for WirelessMAN).


WiMAX is not a replacement for WiFi... it's a technology more for WISPs and for backhauls.
Posted 3 Jun 2006 by Abe

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