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How WiMAX Works

WiMAX Cost
Logo courtesy Intel

­ A citywide blanket coverage of wireless Internet access sounds great, but companies aren't going to go around setting up WiMAX base stations out of sheer kindness. Who's going to pay for WiMAX?

It depends how it will be used. There are two ways WiMAX can be implemented -- as a zone for wireless connections that single users go to when they want to connect to the Internet on a laptop (the non-line-of-sight "super WiFi" implementation), or as a line-of-sight hub used to connect hundreds of customers to a steady, always-on, high-speed wireless Internet connection.

Under the "super WiFi" plan, cities might pay to have WiMAX base stations set up in key areas for business and commerce and then allow people to use them for free. They already do this with WiFi, but instead of putting in a bunch of WiFi hot spots that cover a few hundred square yards, a city could pay for one WiMAX base station and cover an entire financial district. This could provide a strong draw when city leaders try to attract businesses to their area.

Some companies might set up WiMAX transmitters and then make people pay for access. Again, this is similar to strategies used for WiFi, but a much wider area would be covered. Instead of hopping from one hot spot to another, WiMAX-enabled users could have Internet access anywhere within 30 miles of the WiMAX base station. These companies might offer unlimited access for a monthly fee or a "pay as you go" plan that charges on a per-minute or per-hour basis.

The high-speed wireless hub plan has the potential to be far more revolutionary. If you have high-speed Internet access now, it probably works something like this: The cable (or phone) company has a line that runs into your home. That line goes to a cable modem, and another line runs from the modem to your computer. If you have a home network, first it goes to a router and then on to the other computers on the network. You pay the cable company a monthly fee, which reflects in part the expense of running cable lines to every single home in the neighborhood.

On the next page, we'll discuss how WiMAX can work for you.