Network Scale

The smallest-scale network is a personal area network (PAN). A PAN allows devices to communicate with each other over short distances. Bluetooth is the best example of a PAN.

The next step up is a local area network (LAN). A LAN allows devices to share information, but is limited to a fairly small central area, such as a company's headquarters, a coffee shop or your house. Many LANs use WiFi to connect the network wirelessly.

WiMAX is the wireless solution for the next step up in scale, the metropolitan area network (MAN). A MAN allows areas the size of cities to be connected.

WiMAX Technology at Home

Here's what would happen if you got WiMAX. An Internet service provider sets up a WiMAX base station 10 miles from your home. You would buy a WiMAX-enabled computer or upgrade your old computer to add WiMAX capability. You would receive a special encryption code that would give you access to the base station. The base station would beam data from the Internet to your computer (at speeds potentially higher than today's cable modems), for which you would pay the provider a monthly fee. The cost for this service could be much lower than current high-speed Internet-subscription fees because the provider never had to run cables.

­If you have a home network, things wouldn't change much. The WiMAX base station would send data to a WiMAX-enabled router, which would then send the data to the different computers on your network. You could even combine WiFi with WiMAX by having the router send the data to the computers via WiFi.

WiMAX doesn't just pose a threat to providers of DSL and cable-modem service. The WiMAX protocol is designed to accommodate several different methods of data transmission, one of which is Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). VoIP allows people to make local, long-distance and even international calls through a broadband Internet connection, bypassing phone companies entirely. If WiMAX-compatible computers become very common, the use of VoIP could increase dramatically. Almost anyone with a laptop could make VoIP calls.

For more information on WiMAX, wireless networking and related topics, check out the links on the next page.