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Northern Michigan U Launches WiMAX Network

Northern Michigan University (NMU) in Marquette has launched a mobile WiMAX network built with Motorola wireless broadband infrastructure. WiMAX is a fourth-generation protocol that offers broadband wireless Internet access. Compared with the more common WiFi, WiMAX is capable of transmitting data over broad areas with less interference and more efficient bandwidth use. The mobile network currently consists of four sites with plans to expand to seven locations. Backhaul for the WiMAX network is provided by Motorola's point-to-point wireless broadband solution.

During the kickoff of the new network, about a third of the school's 9,000 students received new WiMAX- and WiFi-enabled Lenovo ThinkPad laptops. Students still using last year's ThinkPad model will receive a WiMAX-equipped computer in fall 2010 as part of the university's routine two-year refresh cycle. Until the new computers are issued, students can check out or buy Motorola USB WiMAX cards for use in their current machines.

"We selected Motorola for this project because of its leadership position in deploying WiMAX networks worldwide," said CTO Dave Maki. "We had an aggressive timeline and were confident they could meet our needs. With our new WiMAX network, NMU is providing greatly enhanced wireless broadband coverage across a 30-mile radius. Through our Educational Broadband Service (EBS) license we'll also provide high-speed wireless broadband access to local school and municipal offices - extending the benefits of WiMAX broadband to our entire community."

To make the network possible, the university needed to obtain an EBS license from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), which was granted in October 2008. The FCC recently revamped the EBS spectrum to allow users to use the radio service to transmit instructional services using lower broadband systems while also providing high speed Internet access. NMU's license is restricted to education or government use. The university is in discussions with area K-12 schools about assisting in enhancing their wireless capabilities.

"Over the past few years, with WiFi hotspots, NMU covered about 10 percent of the City of Marquette. WiMAX allows us to cover nearly 100 percent," said Gavin Leach, the university's vice president for finance and administration. "This makes us one of the first universities in the United States to be able to provide wireless access to nearly our entire student population. This would not have been possible without the efforts of our technology industry partners [Motorola, Lenovo, and Intel]; they helped to make this fourth-generation technology a reality in our community."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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