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WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a registered trademark term promoted by the WiMAX Forum, a group of wireless Internet hardware and software providers that certify “802.16” products for network interoperability.[1] WiMAX refers to any device using the IEEE 802.16 standard for wireless metropolitan area networking and operates on the same general principles as Wi-Fi by allowing communication between WiMAX-enabled devices and providing them with a gateway to the Internet.

A WiMAX system consists of two parts: (1) a WiMAX tower, similar to a cell phone tower that connects to the Internet using a high-bandwidth wired connection, such as a T3 line; and (2) WiMAX-enabled receivers in mobile devices such as laptop computers or dual mode hybrid mobile phones. A WiMAX tower can connect to another WiMAX tower using a line-of-sight, microwave link, thereby creating a backhaul connection.

With its wide range coverage and tower-to-tower connection, WiMAX is capable of delivering last mile broadband to remote rural areas. Providers tout WiMAX delivery of broadband at 75 mbps, under ideal circumstances, and reach up to 30 miles.[2] In contrast, the Wi-Fi/802.11 wireless local area network standard is limited in most cases to only 100-300 feet. WiMAX operates on both licensed and unlicensed frequencies. The 802.16 standard specifies a range of operating frequencies from 2 to 66 GHz.

WiMAX uses multiple frequencies around the world in ranges from 700 MHz to 66 GHz. In the United States, available frequencies include 700 MHz, 1.9 GHz, 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz and 2.7 GHz.

Fundamental WiMAX concepts[]

WiMAX has four fundamental architectural components:


WiMAX devices communicate using two message types: management messages and data messages. Data messages transport data across the WiMAX network. Management messages are used to maintain communications between an SS/MS and BS, i.e., establishing communication parameters, exchanging security settings, and performing system registration events (initial network entry, handoffs, etc.)


  1. See generally WiMAX Forum, Welcome to the WiMAX Forum (2006) (full-text).
  2. See FCC, "Inquiry Concerning the Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion, and Possible Steps to Accelerate Such Deployment Pursuant to Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996," GN Docket No. 07-45, Notice of Inquiry, 22 FCC Rcd 7816, 7823 n.30 (2007).