Wi-MAX is the sister technology to Wi-Fi, but it has wider area coverage. It's already up and running in such major cities as San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. Is it an option for small and midsize businesses?
NewsCast, a British photojournalism company that specializes in photography syndication and online image libraries, has one less headache to worry about in its Manhattan bureau. Uploading and downloading images, a task that requires a lot of extra bandwidth due to the size of the files, has become a lot easier over the last year since the company switched to Wi-MAX to connect to the Internet.
Wi-MAX -- a loose acronym for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access -- is a telecommunications industry standard that can provide wireless connectivity over long distances. A related technology, Wi-Fi operates within a much smaller range. The standard is roughly divided into two solutions; Mobile Wi-MAX and fixed Wi-MAX. NewsCast uses fixed Wi-MAX as its broadband provider.
“It’s the greatest thing since the invention of white bread,” says Jim Sulley, NewsCast’s director of photography. Before, NewsCast had a T-1 line that cost $800 a month for 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth and the service was riddled with technical difficulties disrupting the flow of business.
“It was that last mile that was killing us. There were so many problems with the T-1 line. I couldn’t be happier with WiMAX,” Sulley says. “It’s much more reliable. It’s faster. And the cost is much lower. We’re on the ‘Five for Five’ plan. We get up to 5 mbps for $500 a month.” Sulley says his business often needs that extra burst of bandwidth due to the nature of what they do; they move large numbers of image files online.
Does it sound too good to be true? If your business is located in one of the major metropolitan areas in the country where fixed Wi-MAX is available (New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco, to name a few), then this technology can be a viable alternative to other forms of Internet service, such as DSL, Cable, or T-1 lines. Otherwise, you may have to wait.
Wi-MAX: sooner or later
“Wi-MAX is extremely limited in the United States right now and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. It may have some effect by 2010. Mainly it will compete against that last mile of DSL and Cable typically in suburbia where they still aren’t fully rolled out,” says William Clark, a research vice president from Gartner.
Mark Tauschek, a senior research analyst from Info-Tech, a research firm based in Ontario, Canada, is more optimistic. He agrees the real rollout won’t happen until 2010, but does believe 2008 will be a big year for Wi-MAX.
“There are a few things coming together this year that are going to make Wi-MAX ubiquitous,” says Tauschek, who points out the following:
A technology that’s worth the wait
According to Maravedas, a telecom research company based in Montreal, Canada, there are some 500,000 Wi-MAX users in the United States right now. Maravedas predicts that number will grow to 10 million by 2013. Those figures exclude the Sprint deal, which if it goes through would mean a coast-to-coast Wi-MAX network available to 100 million users.
In addition to competitive pricing, here are some other possible advantages to using Wi-MAX as a fixed broadband provider.
Drawbacks to Wi-MAX
Clearly the biggest drawback to Wi-MAX right now is availability. But there are others to consider:
Despite those obstacles, “I’m bullish on Wi-MAX,” says Tauschek. One thing he may not be taking into account is the bears: the ones plaguing Wall Street these days. A slow down in the economy could easily turn that last mile into the long mile for any new broadband provider trying to break into that market.