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WiMAX 2 is the planned sequel to the WiMAX system for high-speed wireless Internet access. It has a maximum possible speed of around 200 times more than that currently offered via WiMAX. As of late 2010, WiMAX 2 was expected to be in commercial use at some point in late 2011 or early 2012.
WiMAX is short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. It is a technical standard for using frequencies lower than those used for radio broadcasting. These frequencies can be used for data connections, either directly from transmitters to users, or as an add-on to wired networks such as cable and phone broadband. In the latter case, it can act as an effective solution to the problem of getting high speed connections from local phone exchanges to individual households and offices without the need for expensive cabling.
WiMAX 2 works by splitting data transmission across multiple wireless channels. The industry association behind the system likens this to building roads to cope with 20 lanes worth of traffic. Although the total space required is the same, it is easier logistically to build four highways each with five lanes than it would be to build one highway with 20 lanes.
From a purely technical standpoint, WiMAX 2 has a maximum possible speed of 1Gbps or 1000 Mbps. In practical testing, speeds of 330 Mbps have been achieved. The initial target of commercial services will be to provide average speeds of 100Mbps. This compares with speeds of up to 5Mbps that are available commercially through WiMAX.
To put these speeds into context, a commercial movie DVD would take 28 minutes to download over WiMAX. Under the target speed for WiMAX 2, it would take 11 minutes and 20 seconds. Under the fastest recorded speed for WiMAX 2, it would take three minutes and 26 seconds. Under the theoretical maximum speed it would take one minute and eight seconds.
The high speeds of WiMAX 2 come with some potential limitations. The main one is that both the theoretical maximum speed and the sustained speed achieved in testing exceed the 100MBps that can be carried by most residential and office network cabling. This would not necessarily be a problem for home use where devices are picking up the connection directly from the air, but could mean the benefits are limited when used in a corporate setting where there is a single access point that connects to individual machines wirelessly.