On October 8, 2008 Sprint debuted it’s first consumer WiMax network, dubbed “Xohm”. WiMax is a wireless standard that is usually described as a mix of Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Many people can attest to the limitations of Wi-Fi: limited range, poor security and the general unavailability of a seamless network. Additionally, the speed of a standard 3G cellular network is as slow as molasses compared to cable and broadband lines that you find in homes and business. Sprint advertises their new WiMax network as a “city-sized hotspot” allowing you to connect to the same network all over a given area. The intention is to eventually cover the entire United States just as cellular networks run by Verizon and AT&T cover the country now. Sprint Nextel is teaming up with partners like Intel, Motorola, Nokia and others to achieve this enticing plan. Currently offering coverage officially only in Baltimore, Sprint plans on rolling out their network to D.C. and Chicago next. An article on Gizmodo reveals that Sprint has their Xohm running unofficially in Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Philadelphia, D.C., and Northern Virginia.
So the real question is, how fast is this new technology? Recent test in Baltimore, MD have shown a top download speed of 3.05 Mbps. By comparison, the average top speed for DSL and cable is 768 kbps and 1.5 Mbps respectively. As you can see, WiMax offers speeds that even standard wired broadband can’t match. Now how about speeds compared to high speed 3G networks that cell phones run on? When compared to a 3G EVDO Verizon Connection, we find that the EVDO connection yielded a top speed of 1.43 Mbps. This test was carried out in an area in which both the WiMax and the EVDO signals were strong.
Unfortunately, a new wireless standard means new wireless hardware. An initial investment of devices that can connect to the Xohm network is required, but Sprint seems to offer a decent selection of devices. For those wanting to invest in a new platform, there are currently laptops and mobile devices that have integrated WiMax cards that do not require additional purchasing of equipment. For those who prefer to save a buck or two and use their existing equipment, Sprint doesn’t leave you out of the loop. Featuring data cards and modems, you will be able to use your existing computer equipment with this exciting, new mobile connection.
As a person that will be hunting for a job and a place to live in the next 2-3 years, WiMax is particularly attractive. Most of the computer and security industry is based in the Metro D.C. area where the Xohm network is based. Instead of me having to pay for a cable or DSL line for a future home, I can invest in a WiMax Modem that relays the Xohm connection throughout my home. I can even attach devices directly to the modem for a hard-wired solution. Because WiMax is completely mobile, I can leave my house and surf the internet across the D.C. area without having to rely on few-and-far-between Wi-Fi networks. Sprint recognizes that people want this kind of flexibility, so they offer a bunch of plans to suit many people.
Stories have popped up all over the internet about companies rolling out WiMax networks. Competition generally yields savings for consumers as well as the ability to choose which company works best for you. A problem that WiMax will attempt to address is supplying affordable internet for rural residents. Currently, rural citizens must drudge upon 56k lines or expensive and unreliable satellite internet. It is my hope that WiMax can free rural residents from the bondage of old and rusty internet connections.
Some of you know that this blog features stories about computer security. As WiMax gains popularity, I’ll be researching the security of the system and reporting back to you. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to use the Xohm network in action when I return from University to Virginia. The Sprint headquarters is located pretty close to where I live so there is a good chance that I’ll be able to do so.
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