Citywide WiMax debuts

By Patrick Smith

Chicagoans can now access wireless Internet from anywhere in the city for the price of a regular home Internet subscription; the service will expand to surrounding suburbs in the coming months.

Clearwire and Sprint launched the new WiMAX wireless Internet service in Chicago last week, a product that promises the speedy Internet access of Wi-Fi with the breadth of coverage provided by cell phones.

WiMAX is a fourth-generation, or 4G, wireless technology that can be accessed using a home modem. WiMAX is also available for new computers and phones with built-in WiMAX capability and “dongles” that plug into a computer and make it WiMAX capable. The dongle is similar to a USB flash drive that plugs into the USB port on a laptop and acts as a modem and antennae to connect to the WiMAX service.

“WiMAX is the first 4G network available; most people know 3G, that’s what iPhones work off of, but WiMAX is faster and it blankets the whole city of Chicago,” said Keisha Cochrane, spokeswoman for Intel Corporation. “It’s very cool, wherever you are, it works.”

WiMAX users can order a modem or dongle from Clear.com, at Clear retail stores, Best Buy and Radio Shack, according to Clearwire spokesman Mike Digioai. Clearwire will offer different package options for users who need mobile service, home service or a combination of both. According to Digioai, the mobile device can be used both in the home and anywhere else in the city.  A mobile subscription may be the best option for Columbia students who only need to be concerned with their own Internet service, Digioai said.

“You can use it at your house, there’s no limitation. If you’re a single person, the mobile service is probably your best bet,” Digioai said. “But if you have a family, you don’t want to take the family’s Internet service with you when you leave.”

According to Cochrane, the WiMAX service will work like cellular phone service, with different overlapping areas covering Chicago. People using the WiMAX service can move from one service area to another at high speeds without losing their

Internet connection.

“I think it gives people a new sense of freedom,” Cochrane said. “People can work on their way to work if they need to.”

At Panera Bread, 501 S. State St., Amelia Justice said that she didn’t think the new WiMAX service would discourage her from going to coffee shops to do her work, but she was excited about the mobility that the service would provide.

“I would definitely use it,” Justice said, while using her laptop at the store. “Then I wouldn’t be obligated to come to the café to do work. It would be more convenient.”

Intel is an investor in WiMAX technology and the company is coming out with laptops and netbooks that are WiMAX capable.

The WiMAX network will soon span from Rockford, Ill. to Gary, Ind. and “blanket the whole city of Chicago,” according to Cochrane, but currently the service is only available in Chicago.

“Monday was a soft launch and we’ll continue to roll out service over the next few months,” Cochrane said.

The main issue for potential users is the cost of the WiMAX service. Justice said that she would use the service if it was comparable to the cost of a home Internet subscription, but not if it was much more.

Cochrane said that the WiMAX would have a relatively low cost.

“Just like having Internet at home you will pay a monthly bill, but instead of just having Internet at your home you have it everywhere,” Cochrane said.

At Clear.com, the company was offering the basic home subscription for a base price of $25 and a mobile subscription for $30, with a mobile and home combination package available for $50.

“There’s no limitations for this mobile service,” DiGioai said.

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