What is WiFi and WiMAX and WiIsThisSoConfusing?

Posted by: wirelessinternetproviders on Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Before we begin, wait, what is WiFi?

Officially sanctioned by the WiFi Alliance – a trade association that certifies Wireless technologies and products based on IEEE 802.11 standards (we’ll save “What is a WiFi IEEE 8.02.11 standard” for another day) – WiFi generally describes, but is not explicitly limited to, Wireless LAN, PAN and WAN connections.

What does the WiFi Alliance control?

  • The WiFi Certification process, an exhaustive compatability examination in regards to performance and compatibility with other WiFi products and networks.
  • The WiFi Certified Logo is a registered trademark of the WiFi Alliance and can only be used under permission from the WiFi Alliance.
  • Governance of new WiFi specifications and initiatives.

Though the WiFi Alliance gets to maintain the official response to “What is WiFi?” the court of public opinion weighs in on WiFi a bit differently at times.  Like it or not, WiFi is at times attributed to a larger scope than the Alliance might spell out.

Are WiFi and WiMAX the same thing?

Getting into some gray area now, let’s rephrase the question.

So, what is WiFi in relation to WiMAX…?

In homage to middle school Geometry, consider WiFi and WiMAX a rectangle and square.  Yes, a square is a type of rectangle, but a rectangle is only a square it has 4 right angles and equal sides. Likewise, WiMAX can be categorized as a form of WiFi to some.  However, not all WiFi technology meets the advanced classification of WiMAX.

The analogy falls apart when you consider the relative area of squares and rectangles.  Assuming the same base, the area covered by a rectangle could extend far beyond that of its square brethren.  The same line of thinking could apply to the WiMAX-WiFi relationship inversely, as WiMAX technology affords citywide (~25 square miles per tower) wireless internet access.  What is WiFi’s typical range? Well, just count the steps you take away from your traditional home internet router as the reception bars begin to dwindle.

WiMAX also implies a level of performance and security that exceeds the base requirements of WiFi technology. On the other hand, the answer “what is WiFi?” could be draw conclusions from a laundry lists of examples. Both good and bad.


  • WiMAX is exclusive to 4G internet technology.
  • WiFi connections exist in countless households, coffee shops, cafes – even standing unprotected or weakly encrypted at times.

Due to the large scale of constructing a WiMAX network, you won’t find a WiMAX connection available for commercial use without proper safety precautions. Plus, large investments have an inherently vested interest in the performance, so it’s unlikely a WiMAX network would stand as is were speed lagging or availability less than anticipated.

Perhaps the best way to answer “What is WiFi?” vs. “What is WiMAX?” is to break down the latter into the sum of its parts.  In short, WiMAX is WiFi if it ‘max’-ed out it’s potential.  As in, your slacking WiFi network got shipped off to Bootcamp and came back the best that it could be.  Faster, stronger, accountable, where it’s supposed to be when you expect it.  You know, like the WiFi that used to let you down… but upgraded to something that makes your life better.

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