Having already “changed everything,” the Internet itself is on the brink of a major change. The so-called WiMAX revolution, long predicted but so far more theory than technology, today actually has products and conferences named after it. WiMAX is a new way of passing bytes through the air. Some reports say it will be thousands of times faster than today’s fastest connections and accessible from a moving vehicle. Technology watcher and TechRepublic editor Jason Hiner reported this week on his adventures at “WiMAX World 2007,” which took place in Chicago last week. His quest? To discern whether WiMAX is real or still mostly hype. What he learned may not change the life of a home care nurse today but it may not be far beyond tomorrow.
“I’m glad to report – and you can mark it down in pen – that 2008 will be the year that WiMAX arrives in full force as a new option for Internet access,” Hiner wrote from the Windy City. “In the United States, WiMAX will be available to more than 100 million people by the end of 2008.”
Vendors are forming an ecosystem, Hiner said, around an open, standards-based, interoperable approach to the technology.
The fledgling community is made up of industry heavyweights as well as startups. Familiar names include Sprint, Intel, Motorola, Samsung and Alcatel-Lucent. They are joined by, and some of them have invested in, Clearwire, founded by cellular pioneer Craig McCaw. Hiner believes Sprint will be the first to bring a WiMAX product to market, branded as “Xohm.”
Intel, an early and ongoing influence for the technology, will embed dual WiMAX/Wi-Fi chips into its Centrino laptops by mid-year.
Motorola is building handsets, broadband modems, smartphones and new, as-yet unnamed end-user Internet devices as well as the WiMAX network itself for Sprint in the Chicago area. Samsung takes over for Motorola in the Northeast corridor, building Sprint’s network in the DC/New York/Boston corridor. It also plans some end-user WiMAX devices. Alcatel-Lucent, already with two years of WiMAX experience, is concentrating on building networks on other continents.
Clearwire plans a number of rollouts in 2008 and owns a more wireless WiMAX spectrum than any company other than Sprint. Plans are for Clearwire to focus on small and mid-size cities, leaving the metropolitan areas to Sprint. Sony Handheld WiMAX prototype Two WiMAX flavors: one for the office, one for the road “Fixed WiMAX” will resemble a super-fast version of your current Internet connection. A WiMAX modem will link your PC or router to the world instead of a DSL or cable modem. Fixed WiMAX will be more cost-effective because it will rely on towers and antennas instead of underground phone or cable wires.
It also promises to offer Internet access to regions currently inaccessible by DSL or cable wires. “Mobile WiMAX,” sometimes referred to as 802.16e or 802.16e-2005 or just WiMAX “e,” is the technology that will transform the lives of mobile workers. WiMAX “e” allows for signal handoff from one tower to the next, much like cell phones already do, allowing unbroken connections. Both signal and user can be “high speed” without dropping the Internet connection.
Yes, this WiMAX is built into the dash Hiner reported from Chicago that Sprint and Clearwire are planning to roll out 802.16e as joint Fixed and Mobile WiMAX account. Users will be able to have one broadband account provide both Fixed WiMAX in home or office and Mobile WiMAX for field devices. Eventually, two distinct benefits As a connectivity system independent of limitations imposed by wires, WiMAX will fill in coverage gaps in rural and remote areas where today’s technology makes it economically prohibitive to build broadband networks. Hiner predicts it may begin next year but ultimately take years for a complete WiMAX build-out to reach fruition.
A secondary benefit will be bringing the Internet to many more devices, some of which have not been invented yet.
Hiner wrote that chipmakers are already increasing production of WiMAX chips to be ready for the demand that will be created once inventors catch up. Cars, digital cameras, traffic lights, TVs, surveillance cameras and various types of medical equipment are already on the drawing board.