WLAN technologies for connecting computers to a local network and the Internet have been evolving in two directions. The original 802.11a, b and g Wi-Fi specifications have addressed limitations in capacity, security, interference, quality of service and my favorite-wireless video transmission throughout a home. Meanwhile, WiMAX has been growing as an IP-based WLAN technology that addresses a completely different limitation-distance. Now, we have reached a new milestone as the FCC has approved the first WiMAX wireless broadband interface card for notebook computers that will enable a connection range of at least couple of miles from an access point.
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According to IDG News Service, the card from Clearwire (Kirkland, WA; www.clearwire.com) will be available later this year. This is great news for mobile computing users who have had to rely on cellular services for data connections when outside of WiFi hotspots. Even nascent WiMAX services required an external device for connectivity, so the new card should be well received.
The new WiMAX card will be a standard Type II form factor and can be used with the Windows Vista and XP operating systems. Approval of the high-performance, long-range networking card should broaden the use of WiMAX in Clearwire’s WiMAX network with services in the United States and Europe.
Even before the introduction of this card, the popularity of WiMAX has been increasing. Clearwire’s WiMAX subscribers rose to 206K as of the end of last year, from just 1,000 in September 2004, it said in its filing for Nasdaq listing in February. And, it has grown despite wireline alternatives such as broadband cable modems and DSL Internet service.
But much bigger growth is possible as Clearwire services can reach a laptop user base of 9.6M people, including 8.6M throughout the United States, and 1M in Brussels, Belgium and Dublin, Ireland, the company said.
Beyond that is another treasure of users of handheld devices that include smartphones, PDAs and even the ultraportable notebooks, whose newfound popularity was reported in yesterday’s New York Times. Such devices are increasingly being used to download music, view websites, post photos, video and email.
However, the size and power consumption of the WiMAX solution needs to get better to service this class of products and users. WiMAX has been on the roadmap as a next-generation service alternative to the hundreds of millions of handheld users worldwide, so how long will it be before the more stringent size and power consumption challenges for a handheld device will be met? Our guess is that it will be here sooner than many people think.