What if your laptop could wirelessly connect to the Internet as easily as your phone connects to the cellular network–with broadband data rates to boot?
That’s the promise of a technology called WiMax, and in September, in the greater Baltimore area, Sprint is launching its first WiMax network. Several smaller companies offer regional WiMax service in the U.S., but Sprint has the national reach to take the technology into the mainstream.
Unlike Wi-Fi, WiMax uses licensed radio spectrum, so it can turn up the power without jamming other devices. A WiMax signal will travel kilometers, as opposed to the 20-odd meters of a Wi-Fi signal.
In Baltimore, Sprint promises a data rate of two to four megabits per second. WiMax achieves that kind of speed two ways. First, it uses antennas with multiple sending and receiving elements; second, it divides bandwidth into subfrequencies that overlap but don’t interfere with each other, so more data can be crammed into a swath of spectrum.
But the same technologies are also the basis of the long-term evolution, or LTE, which Verizon champions as an alternative to WiMax. “When you look at 2015 and see who will have the bigger market share,” says Arogyaswami Paulraj, a Stanford professor who helped pioneer both technologies, “until a year or two ago, the general view was that LTE might actually have a little more.” But LTE probably won’t be ready for deployment until 2011, Paulraj says, and WiMax is already popular in India. “I think WiMax is pretty well positioned at this point,” he says.
This map shows Sprint’s WiMax coverage in the Baltimore area: pink, accessible anywhere; green, accessible in suburban buildings, cars, and the street; blue, accessible in cars and the street; grey, accessible in the street.
Credit: Sprint Nextel