A Clear Take on WiMAX

By Michael Hall | Posted June 05, 2009

I’ve known for a while that there’s nothing like a move to cause one to reassess old habits, but it wasn’t until just this month that I ever thought of DSL as a habit. Then again, I’ve always lived in areas well served by broadband providers. This time around, though, not only did I find myself moving to a location where DSL coverage isn’t so good, but a newer kind of wireless broadband called “WiMAX” has come to town, offering few enough strings to make it worth trying out.

WiMAX has been around for a few years. Practically Networked’s sibling site Enterprise Networking Planet has been reporting on WiMAX since 2004, and it has seen a lot of use in Asian markets, but in the United States it’s still largely a regional phenomenon, with nationwide deployments still pending. WiMAX is interesting for several reasons:

  1. It’s wireless, so there’s no need to depend on laying new line or wiring up a building.
  2. It offers specifications for mobile and fixed use, so an ISP can provision its customers with hardware to handle both kinds of use instead of relying on separate wired/wireless infrastructure.
  3. WiMAX base stations can provide service to end points many miles away (though there’s a trade off in speed as distances increase).

WiMAX became interesting to me when I moved from one end of Portland, Oregon to another and found that the CO for my new house was a distant 11,000 feet away. My family isn’t the most bandwidth-hungry group on the block, but between our normal Web surfing, VoIP phone service and a Roku Netflix player we brought home at Christmas, we’ve found ourselves straining at the 3Mbps leash DSL imposed on us. At our new house, we learned, we’d be lucky to get 3Mbps connections, and even then we’d lose speed on our uplink.

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