What's to Know about WiMax?

August 17, 2009
Eric Zeman

Sprint has launched its mobile WiMax services in Atlanta, Baltimore, Las Vegas and Portland, Ore. What is WiMax, and why is it important to you?

Sprint has launched its mobile WiMax services in Atlanta, Baltimore, Las Vegas, and Portland, Ore. What is WiMax, and why is it important to you?

One thing about the wireless industry is that it is rife with its own jargon and goofy acronyms and other names for the technology we end up using every day. Today, let's talk about WiMax for a few moments.

You probably already use Wi-Fi (short for Wireless Fidelity) on your laptops and smartphones to access the Internet. Wi-Fi covers an area typically with a radius of about 30 meters from the wireless access point. The benefits of Wi-Fi are fast speeds over a short distance. Now lets compare that to the third-generation (3G) tech that's being used by wireless network operators such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Three-G uses the cellular networks to provide a slower broadband experience over a much greater area.

Where does WiMax fit it? Well, sort of in the middle. Similar to Wi-Fi, WiMax creates a hot spot and offers blazing fast wireless Internet speeds. Like 3G, however, it covers a broad area (think entire cities).

Wi-Fi and 3G have been used worldwide for years. WiMax is just getting its start in the US Sprint has chosen WiMax to serve as its 4G (fourth generation) wireless networking technology. It launched its WiMax service in Baltimore earlier this year, and on August 17, launched in three additional cities—Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Portland, Ore.

Customers in these metro regions will be able to purchase laptop dongles that allow them to access this WiMax service just as they would access a 3G network. In fact, Sprint's WiMax dongles work with both its WiMax network and existing 3G network, meaning end users will have the best possible mobile Internet experience no matter where they happen to be.

For now, this technology and the associated data plans are bit on the pricey side. The dongles may only cost about $100, but the monthly plans run about $80 per month. That's a lot for wireless data.

Your organization will likely not adopt WiMax in 2009, but don't be surprised if it becomes part of your budget in 2010.