Finding an Internet hotspot in an urban area isn’t typically that hard. Usually if you need to refuel at a Starbucks with some coffee (or iced tea as I prefer), you’ll find a connection. While the costs may vary, there are plenty of free urban hotspots. But what about the rest of the country?
Broadband Internet access for computer users in especially remote areas is a proposition that has been hard to come by, especially as DSL and cable haven’t typically been available outside of well-developed areas. The solution might just be WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access), which is a radio technology that utilizes fixed antennas to provide two-way broadband connections to users up to 30-mile distances, although practical limits seem to be significantly less, up to three to five miles. This is still enough to get broadband to customers who might be off the grid. The WiMAX Forum, which was formed in April of 2001, has described the technology as “enabling the delivery of the last mile wireless broadband access as an alternative to cable and DSL.”
The cost is higher than traditional DSL or cable, but is actually far less than standard T-1 lines, and any customer within a radius of the central tower can pick up the system. However, WiMAX, or IEEE 802.16 Air Interface Standard, isn’t designed to replace WiFi (IEEE 802.11) just yet. In fact, it can’t be accessed directly by a laptop PC on the go. It can, however, be used to deliver direct Internet access to a wireless LAN, and companies including Intel as well as other members of the WiMAX Forum believe that it has the potential to add more hotspots to urban areas for true city-wide broadband almost anywhere. Future technological developments might even be able to let you connect directly to your PC. For the mobile small business user this could mean being able to get Internet connectivity on the go, without the need to even buy a coffee.
However, the infrastructure has been slow to come together, yet in the past few years we’ve started to see the first WiMAX networks, and some supporters of the technology believe it could provide high-speed access and deliver “office quality broadband everywhere.” As it is essentially a radio technology, WiMAX users will have to use a transmitter/receiver for service, but rather than another dish or large antenna, it merely needs a base station placed by the window. More importantly because the technology is different from that of WiFi, users won’t face the same problems such as finding that sweet spot in the hotspot to get a strong signal.
Not so surprising is that while WiMAX is only slowly being adopted in America, the technology is being used in places that never had good landline telephone connectivity, and thus had limited broadband. WiMAX has already gone live in several locations across the world and as with cellular telephone adoption, which allowed many developing nations to suddenly be “un-wired” practically overnight, this could be the next technology to get more people connected. In South American cities that had limited landlines (and thus almost no broadband), they can suddenly get high-speed Internet access. Likewise, Pakistan is already working on plans to become the world’s largest WiMAX Network.