Wimax vs Wi-Fi vs WLAN – What’s The Difference?

WiMAX vs Wi-Fi vs WLAN - What's The Difference?

What’s The Difference Between Wi-Fi (WLAN) And WiMAX?

The first thing to clear up here is that Wi-Fi and WLAN are actually different names for the same technology. As such we will use the two terms interchangeably throughout this article. Just remember that Wi-Fi and WLAN are the same thing.

The WiMAX vs Wi-Fi question however, is a lot more complicated to answer.

While both WiMAX and WLAN have similar uses, ie: providing a wireless network for people to connect to, there are many differences, including:

  • The range of the network
  • Theoretical speeds available
  • Uses of each type of network

What is Wi-Fi?

Firstly, as mentioned above, Wi-Fi is another name for WLAN, which stands for Wireless Local Area Network. WLAN uses radio waves to provide a network that other computers can connect to. It uses the IEEE 802.11 standard to provide this service and typically has a range of up to a couple of hundred feet.

The theoretical speed of the network can depend on a number of things, including the wireless standard you are using. The latest 802.11 standard, 802.11ac, offers much higher speeds than previous wireless standards.

The Netgear Nighthawk routers are a good example of super-fast AS routers

The range on offer when using a Wi-Fi network is usually up to a couple of hundred feet. Again the exact distance will depend on the router you are using and the strength of their antennas, as well as whether or not your router has beamforming technology.

This is generally great for homes, cafes, bars, and offices and while it is possible to buy a range extender for when you need increased coverage, in general, it will not provide a strong enough signal for uses much beyond that.

In terms of the number of users a Wi-Fi network can support, this usually ranges from one single user to users in the tens. All the users are fighting for bandwidth on a limited number of channels so the more users you have the more the connection will be affected.

What is WiMAX?

WiMAX is a newer technology than WLAN as it was introduced in 2004. Like WLAN it is designed to provide a wireless network to its users, although there are several differences in the way it works.

WiMAX stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. Like Wi-Fi it uses IEEE standards, however, it uses the 802.16 standard. This is a 2-11 GHz wireless metropolitan area network technology.

The biggest difference between Wi-Fi and WiMax is the range the service offers. While Wi-Fi is used over a short distance, WiMax has a range of up to 40 miles, which is significantly more than Wi-Fi.

This means that while you wouldn't use WiMax in cafes or home, it is great when used to provide the connection needed to service local Wi-Fi networks or as a last line connectivity replacement for cables.

WiMax does offer good theoretical speeds, although the fact that it is used over such a large range means that these speeds are often not as reliable as Wi-Fi speeds and it usually gets worse the further away from the router you are.

Another big difference between WLAN and WiMAX is that while WLAN can only be used by a small number of simultaneous users, WiMAX can be used by hundreds of Consumer Premises Equipments each with unlimited subscribers. This is because it has a much better way to distribute its available bandwidth.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, while both WiMAX and WLAN are able to provide wireless networks using IEEE standards, in reality, there are many differences in both their features and therefore their uses.

For example, while WLAN (Wi-Fi) is great for providing a personal network in a home, office or business, you are realistically never going to use WiMAX for this use.

However, WiMAX’s extended range and high number of potential simultaneous users mean that it is a great way to give areas a network connection. For example, this can provide service in areas where it is difficult to install the infrastructure for a wired network.

If you are still unsure about the differences between WLAN and WiMAX please leave a comment below.

2 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. · Edit

    My wife and I have recently moved to a small village in Granada, Spain. We have been told that the Jetnet WIMAX service is good at around 30 Euros per month for a 10mb connection, it appears that there is a fixed line to our home so WLAN would be available at about 40 euros per month, would it be beneficial to pay the extra for the fixed line connection?



    1. · Edit

      Hi Christopher,

      There’s no straight answer for this, but generally, fixed line will be better. BUT, it depends on the advertised speeds (and more importantly minimum guaranteed speeds – i possible) how far away you are from the exchange and how reputable your ISP is.

      I recommend you research the options available only for your address and read as many reviews as you can.

      Is it possible to ask your fellow villagers for advice?


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