WiMAX is a wireless communications standard designed for creating metropolitan area networks (MANs). It is similar to the Wi-Fi standard, but supports a far greater range of coverage. While a Wi-Fi signal can cover a radius of several hundred feet, a fixed WiMAX station can cover a range of up to 30 miles. Mobile WiMAX stations can broadcast up to 10 miles.
While Wi-Fi is a good wireless Internet solution for home networks and coffee shops, it is impractical for larger areas. In order to cover a large area, multiple Wi-Fi repeaters must be set up at consistent intervals. For areas that span several miles, this is a rather inefficient method to provide wireless access and typically requires lots of maintenance. WiMAX, on the other hand, can cover several miles using a single station. This makes it much easier to maintain and offers more reliable coverage.
WiMAX is also known by its technical name, "IEEE 802.16," which is similar to Wi-Fi's technical specification of 802.11. It is considered the second generation broadband wireless access (BWA) standard and will most likely be used along with Wi-Fi, rather than replace it. Since WiMAX has such a large signal range, it will potentially be used to provide wireless Internet access to entire cities and other large areas. In fact, some proponents of WiMAX predict it will eventually spread Internet access to all parts of the globe.
Updated: August 21, 2009