WiMax Technology Extends Learning Opportunities

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In U.S. cities and suburbs, high-speed wireless Internet connections are becoming more commonplace, making “anytime, anywhere learning” for students a more viable concept. But that kind of access and the opportunities it provides are not yet available in most rural areas.

But around the nation, wireless technology companies and researchers have been demonstrating the capabilities of the new standards. Though WiMax won’t necessarily be a solution inside the walls of schools – many of which are already hard-wired for broadband Internet access – the technology could make it possible for students to learn in all kinds of places.

Two recent demonstrations at educational technology conferences in Missoula, Montana whet the appetite of educators and information specialists who want to use it to level the playing field for students. Atop a remote mountain near Missoula, engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) awed conference attendees with the video streaming, Web surfing and email capabilities of new wireless technology standards called 802.16 or WiMax.

“WiMax is important because it’s potentially the most cost-effective approach for broadband data service in rural areas,” says Jeff Evans, a GTRI senior research engineer who led the demo team. In rural areas, the cost to lay fiber for wired broadband service is about $200,000 or more per mile, an investment that communications companies typically don’t want to make because they cannot recoup their money within several years.

“But with WiMax, an Internet service provider that wants to reach a small community up to 30 miles away can set up a wireless link for thousands of dollars rather than hundreds of thousands,” Evans notes. “You can quickly provide a long-haul link of 70 megabits per second and then deploy a local WiMax radio to provide up to several megabits per second to each home in the area—giving you DSL speeds at a reasonable cost.”

Such access may soon be available in Georgia and elsewhere. WiMax-capable equipment for fixed-location connections is expected to be readily available on the market by the end of this year. Meanwhile, a new mobile WiMax standard, or 802.16e, is expected in late 2006 with compatible equipment available in 2007.

GTRI, GDOE, Intel and TSI, an Atlanta-based technology integration company, are making plans for continued interaction to bring WiMax technology to Georgia’s students and others. TSI owner John David Pickering says: “Now we have a good consortium of industry like Intel, business people like myself and researchers at GTRI that will allow companies and educators to see and use the latest, greatest technology. It will take all of us to deliver it.”

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