By Demi Wilkins

What is Wimax?

Along with a competing standard called "LTE," WiMax, short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, represents 4G or the "fourth generation" of wireless Internet. The new technology is similar to Wi-Fi in that it allows users to connect to the Internet without wires. But unlike Wi-Fi, which might be able to cover a whole building or city block, WiMax can cover vast distances (like the cell phone network), and provides high-speed Internet access (like broadband). It is is essentially, wireless broadband. What this means for Internet users is the ability to Tweet, type, or search online using a desktop or laptop computer from almost any geographic location — not just the confines of a local coffee shop or book store.

Coverage and Speed

The WiMax network operates similarly to a Wi-Fi connection, but with a few key differences. The system has two main components: A WiMax tower and a WiMax receiver. Like Wi-Fi, WiMax can connect directly to the Internet by sending a signal from a WiMax tower to a WiMax-enabled computer via a wired connection. A WiMax tower, however, can also connect to a second tower — this is what allows the network to provide long-range wireless service. WiMax transmiters can cover an estimated 30-mile radius whereas Wi-Fi's range is about 100 feet. In other words, WiMax turns many small, scattered hot spots into one huge wireless hot spot.

The Future of WiMax

In 2008, a new company called Clearwire — an investment of Google, Intel, Comcast, Time Warner, and Sprint — launched its plan to build a WiMax network across the nation. Today, Clearwire offers service in 53 U.S. markets,including Bosten,Chicago,and Las Vegas. Clearwire announced a soft-lauch of WiMax in New York and Los Angeles in September, with a full roll out expected by the end of this year.