WiMAX stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access.
It is a telecommunications protocol for fixed and mobile access to the Internet, based on the IEEE 802.16 wireless network standard. The latest revision is 802.16e-2005, which is really an amendment of the 802.16-2004 revision, adding support for mobility and bringing about the term "Mobile WiMAX".
The WiMAX Forum has ratified the 802.16 standard. WiMAX is more or less a brand that is put on interoperable implementations of the 802.16 standard. The WiMAX Forum certifies products, allowing vendors to sell them using the term WiMAX. This ensures interoperability between WiMAX equipment on the market.
WiMAX can be used for a number of applications in principle. It can be used to drive broadband connections, for example. With use of WiMAX equipment or even USB dongles, users can connect to a network and get broadband download and upload speeds. The technology is useful for rural areas that have no traditional broadband coverage, and where providing such services is not economically viable for telecommunications firms.
Fixed WiMAX can also be used as a backhaul technology for mobile networks, providing an alternative to a copper wire backhaul. The technology is also being touted to enable triple play services at low cost in the form of VoIP for voice communication, data for Internet access and IPTV for television services.
WiMAX services are being setup around the world to drive these services for end users. Currently, WiMAX revisions allow for up to 40 Mbps speed but the IEEE 802.11m update is expected to push speed up to 1Gbps.
WiMAX networks have shown to be useful in disaster zones. In 2004, WiMAX technology was used for communications in Indonesia when the local infrastructure had been destroyed by the Asian Tsunami. In 2005, Intel provided the FCC and FEMA with WiMAX hardware for use in areas that were affected by the devastating Hurricane Katrina disaster.
Mobile phones intended for use with WiMAX networks have been released in the United States with 2011 expected to continue a roll-out of the technology across the country.
The WiMAX Forum counts 582 WiMAX networks in 150 countries around the world as of March, 2011.