WiNOT WiMAX?

Less than a year ago, a hot spot for most of us still meant friction-caused wear, the best club in town or a vacation in a warm climate. Then along came Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity communications), kidnapping our comfy and familiar slang and assigning it to a new usa altogether. Now a hot spot is a place where people with Wi-Fi capable laptop computers can access the Internet wirelessly. Thanks to yet

Less than a year ago, a “hot spot” for most of us still meant friction-caused wear, the best club in town or a vacation in a warm climate. Then along came Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity communications), kidnapping our comfy and familiar slang and assigning it to a new usa altogether.

Now a hot spot is a place where people with Wi-Fi capable laptop computers can access the Internet wirelessly. Thanks to yet another miraculous application of radio wave technology, those hot spots of old are naught anymore and we are learning to chatter about Intel Centrino chips, wireless broadband routers and other Wi-Fi related matters as though the world was always thus.

Just as folks are getting accustomed to Wi-Fi however, another communications technology is headed this way at breakneck speeds. It is called WiMAX, and it explodes the current concept of a hot spot by taking away the need for a fixed wireless communications “spot” while dramatically turning up the “hot” at the same time. Stand by to be amazed, again.

WiMAX is short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. Like its cousin Wi-Fi, WiMAX uses radio wave technology to provide wireless Internet access. While Wi-Fi is essentially a wireless local area network with a line-of-sight functional range of a few hundred feet from the Wi-Fi antenna, WiMAX technology at least has the potential to enable wireless wide area networks (WANs), with a reach of about 30 miles.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), which brought us the 802.11b/g standard for wireless local area networks operating within a specific spectrum range, is currently at work finalizing the 802.16d standard designed for wireless base stations with a range as long as 30 miles. It is 802.16d that will provide the standardization required to make WiMAX both workable and marketable.

Last spring, Intel Corp. joined with other communications leaders like AT&T to form an industry-led, non-profit organization called the WiMAX Forum (www.WiMAXForum.org) to help promote and certify the compatibility and interoperability of broadband wireless products using the IEEE 802.16 specifications (as well as others). The Forum's goal is to accelerate the introduction of these devices into the marketplace. The next WiMAX summit is scheduled for May 25-28 in Paris, and the first Centrino-style WiMAX chips could hit the market as early as Q3 of this year, according to Forum announcements.

The big question for the trucking industry, of course, will be the same one asked of every new technology since the industry began: “What will it do for us that we can't already do now?” The answer will vary from fleet to fleet, but it will probably derive from WiMAX's ability to provide Internet access and communications even to mobile users miles from home base.

Imagine, for example, a regional utility or service fleet using WiMAX technology to connect their various terminals plus all their drivers and other workers in the field, enabling employees to do things like access schematics and parts inventories and collaborate together on service calls as though they were all in the same place. For-hire carriers might use WiMAX technology to capture pick-up and delivery information instantly, right from the customer's dock.

Some day, this new technology may tether us all to one another wherever we go, moving from one WiMAX area to another. I wonder how will we define a hot spot then. Perhaps it will come to mean a rare quiet zone where there is no connectivity. It would be ironic, wouldn't it, to come full circle, back to the days when “hot spot” was a peaceful vacation destination?

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