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What are the Differences Between WiFi®, WiMAX and WiBro™?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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While nearly all types of wireless networking can seem confusing, there are some simple things to keep in mind about the difference between the wireless standards known as WiFi®, WiMAX, and WiBro™. Each one is similar in that each provides a way to connect to a wireless network for workstation communication or Internet access. Each technology may be seen as an improvement from the previous one as well.

WiFi®, which stands for wireless fidelity, is known as the 802.11 wireless standard. There are a number of sub-series such as the 802.11(a)(b) or (g). The subsequent generations of this technology have increased the speed and range. Its most common use is to provide wireless Internet to users of notebook computers. Even with the advances in WiFi®, however, there are a number of limitations.

WiFi® has some inherent disadvantages. For example, while WiFi® can work well in localized locations, the routers used for the connections do not have a tremendous amount of range. In most cases, 300 feet (approximately 100 meters) is about the limit of the technology. Therefore, for larger wireless networks and connectivity, another standard was needed. These limitations are one reason municipal wireless networks have largely failed.

WiMAX, short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, is a different standard known as the 802.16. It allows only so many users on the standard and then will cut off any additional users trying to use the connection. This is different that WiFi®, which will allow, theoretically, a limitless number of users on, which in turn will bog down the system. Despite this, the biggest difference is the range. For non-line of sight, the range is 25 square miles (65 square kilometers). For line of sight between the transmission point and receiving antenna, the range jumps up to 2,800 square miles (9,300 square kilometers).

WiBro™, which stands for Wireless Broadband, is very similar to WiMAX. The transmission speeds are much the same, but the main difference is that WiBro™ can track a receiver that is moving from place to place. It may also be called mobile WiMAX. It is not truly mobile in the sense that it can be used effectively while the receiver is moving at high rates of speed. Rather, it simply means the receiver can move from place to place and experience no degradation in service, as long as the receiver stays within range. WiMAX does not offer this because it needs a stationary antenna in order to receive a signal.

One thing to keep in mind about WiBro™ is that it is still under development. As it improves, there may come a time when the receivers will be able to maintain connections even while traveling at high rates of speed. In those cases, it may call for a completely different standard altogether with a completely different name.

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Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Nov 26, 2013

Isn't WiBro the Korean version of WiMax for mobile phones? I haven't even heard much about it in the US.

As far as I know, all three -- WiFi, WiMax and WiBro can be portable, but they all rely on base stations. The coverage radius of the latter two is greater, but it's not unrestricted. So there are bound to be some issues with all three when moving from one city to another. They're not going to have good coverage (or coverage at all) in rural areas for example.

By fBoyle — On Nov 25, 2013

@literally45-- I highly recommend switching to WiMAX. It's much faster that WiFi. I did not even realize that WiFi is slow until I switched.

By literally45 — On Nov 24, 2013

I use a WiFi wireless network for my internet. It's a little router that I can take wherever I go. I technically don't need to plug in the router into my computer. It can connect as long as I'm in the house, but I do keep it plugged in because that's how it charges.

I'm happy with my WiFi. I did have a temporary issue with it last year when the router did not get signal for a few days but it was resolved. I would like to switch to WiMAX or WiBro though.

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