Just when those hungry for bandwidth thought they had struck gold with Wi-Fi, along comes something else to further the wireless revolution. WiMAX-Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access Forum-or WirelessMAN, is bound by the IEEE 802.16 standard. WiMAX is the term used for marketing, since it would be hard to sell a product called “802.16.”

WiMAX, the standard that promises a range of tens of kilometers (compared to Wi-Fi's range of a couple of hundred meters), should become available to customers in 2006. It is an important advancement, especially for those in remote and rural areas as it allows for connections to be made over large distances.

Every new technology needs a support system behind it and WiMAX is no exception. The WiMax Forum is dedicated to promoting and supporting efforts and initiatives relevant to WiMAX. According to the group: “The WiMAX Forum is an industry-led, non-profit corporation formed to promote and certify compatibility and interoperability of broadband wireless products. Our member companies support the industry-wide acceptance of the IEEE 802.16 and ETSI HiperMAN wireless MAN standards.” (HiperMAN is a European wireless standard and if WiMax is made compatible, the technology will become a global phenomenon.)

Some of the more than 80 member companies include networking power players such as Agilent, Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, Lucent Technologies and Intel.

Supporters of this technology really are big fans. Intel representatives have been quoted as saying that 802.16 is “the most important thing since the Internet itself.”

Evening up the field

Interoperability and compatibility are key issues to the WiMAX Forum. Because of this, they are actively working toward a certification program that would help installers and end-users make wise purchasing decisions.

One of the forum's mission statements says: “Today every solution is custom and not interoperable. Every piece of WiMAX Forum Certified equipment will be interoperable with other WiMAX Forum Certified equipment. WiMAX Forum Certified means a service provider can buy equipment from more than one company and be confident everything works together. WiMAX Forum Certified means a more competitive industry. WiMAX Forum Certified means lower costs. WiMAX Forum Certified means faster growth for broadband wireless-everywhere around the globe.”

WiMAX technology allows for wireless broadband access in areas and locations that would typically not be reached by Wi-Fi. WiMAXs can have either a fixed or portable connection. Portable, wireless broadband connections have been on the wish list of many remote workers. 802.16e amends the original 802.16, which will help make the portable aspect of the technology more of a reality.

Due to the technology's promise, most PDAs and laptops will be equipped with the capabilities by 2006. WiMAX is touted as the high-speed alternative to DSL and cable. But many feel that the cable and phone companies may enlist the help of 3G to stave off WiMAX. This is purely speculative, because WiMAX isn't here yet.

WiMAX would be able to support applications such as VoIP, a capability that worries telecom and wireless phone companies. A Gallup poll conducted recently for UBS Warburg found that 34 percent of consumers surveyed would ditch their current phone company for a VoIP service if they could save 20 percent on their phone bills.

Kissing cousins or archenemies?

Upon first glance, many may think WiMAX was out to better Wi-Fi. The two actually work best together, as they are actually complementary products. Using them in conjunction could allow for extended distances of around 30 miles. It's possible that the Wi-Fi craze will help propel WiMAX technology.

Wi-Fi supplies LAN connections within a home or building. WiMAX brings the Internet or broadband connection to the facility in the first place.

Contractors and installers need to understand that WiMAX is another option for those seeking speed in the wireless world. The increased distance capability can aid those customers seeking to improve their Wi-Fi solutions. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in Central Pennsylvania. She can be reached via e-mail at JenLeahS@msn.com.