Marquette - This fall, a student at Northern Michigan University will be able to live in the middle of the woods and still get wireless Internet access.
The Federal Communications Commission granted NMU an Educational Broadband Service license that will allow the university to provide wireless high-speed Internet throughout Marquette County. The service will only be available to NMU students, faculty and staff.
"I think we'll be one of the few places in the United States to have WiMax," said U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, at an announcement ceremony at the university's Learning Resources Center last fall.
Eric Smith, director of broadcast and audio visual services at Northern Michigan University, shows U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, the university’s technology hub. The Federal Communications Commission granted NMU an Educational Broadband Service license that will allow the university to provide wireless high-speed Internet throughout Marquette County. The service will only be available to NMU students, faculty and staff. (Journal photo by Miriam Moeller)
Stupak said it's difficult to keep up with technology advancements, but NMU is doing a good job of it.
"I was just understanding WiFi, now it's WiMax," he said.
WiMax and WiFi are wireless digital communication systems that work similar to cell phones, receiving signals from transmitters - such as towers or antennas - strategically located to provide the service.
The difference between the two systems is that WiMax has the capability of providing wireless Internet access up to 30 miles from fixed stations. WiFi - currently available on NMU's campus - is limited to a range of a half mile from the transmitter.
Computers will have to have special connection devices to access WiMax, according to Eric Smith, director of broadcast and audio visual services at NMU.
"The equipment is just now becoming available," Smith said. "We haven't actually built a WiMax facility yet."
Currently, NMU is purchasing equipment and testing it to make sure it works, according to Cindy Paavola, NMU communications director. A test network will be set up in June and WiMax should be ready for students in the fall, Paavola said.
"I think for Northern to be in this position is good," Smith said. "It makes it a lot easier for communication. The other big winner in this are teachers for continuing education. This is going to really help them."
WiMax is also faster than WiFi. For example, a one-hour video takes 8 minutes to download via WiFi. Via WiMax it will take 2 minutes.
NMU President Les Wong said the service will only be available to the NMU community because there are federal rules that prevent Northern from offering Internet service to non-educational institutions. "I think the future indeed looks bright for NMU and the U.P.," Wong said.