I'm trying to set up a WiMAX and would like to know if I can use wifi usb's on the devices I plan to test with. If not what WiMax options are available that work via USB.

Also, I do not plan to have connection to the internet. You can consider this a closed network of sorts.


802.11 wireless (WiFi) works in different frequency ranges than 802.16 (WiMax). Generally speaking the radios in the hardware will be limited to the frequencies in use by their technology, so you can't mix the two.

Since WiMax can operate in a number of different frequency ranges, the hardware designed to operate in one frequency range may not be able to work with equipment designed for another frequency. Some will be able to operate in all of them, so you will need to research your hardware.

One of the major differences, is that WiFi operates entirely within unlicensed areas of the RF spectrum. Many WiMax solutions (Clear/Sprint for example) operate in licensed RF spectrum. If the equipment is designed to operate in one of these licensed frequencies, you can only operate the equipment if you have a license to do so or are authorized to do so by a license holder as part of their service (i.e. you are paying them for service).

So even with the closed network, make sure you are not operating in any licensed spectrum to avoid potential legal issues and fines.

  • While it is true that 802.11 and 802.16 generally run in different frequency bands that isn't strictly true and isn't a defining point of difference between them. The MAC is the key difference (802.11 vs. 802.16). You can buy WiFi devices that run in 3.65Ghz (commonly used for WiMax by small carriers) and WiMax devices that run in 5.8Ghz (used by 802.11a)
    – jda
    Mar 9 '14 at 19:29
  • 1
    @jona, technically, WiMax standard does encompass the entire 802.11 (minus 802.11ad) frequency range. However the question was not about the defining differences between 802.11 and 802.16, it is about whether an 802.11 adapter can work with an 802.16 access point. While there are exceptions, my "general" statement above still holds true. Radios in most adapters are limited in the frequencies on which they can transmit/receive. While the MAC may be different, if the radio in the adapter can work on the frequency, then you may be able to write a driver to do as the OP wanted.
    – YLearn
    Apr 4 '14 at 21:26

Wifi (802.11) and WiMax (802.16) are not the same thing.

Availability of WiMax USB devices will depend on the network operator.

  • It's one thing to say that "depends on the network operator" and a thing to say "depends on the availability of the market." In fact, both are fine, even if based on two different things; because the profile can be kind of just wi-fi (wlan adapter to) or modem and wi-fi. The latter is only an implementation
    – KJL
    Aug 15 '14 at 6:22

As others have mentioned WiFi (802.11) and WiMAX (802.16) are different technologies and generally different devices are used to connect to networks of these types.

USB WiMAX subscriber devices are available for purchase though typically you are limited to purchasing these through channels established by your WiMAX service provider such as Clear or AT&T as Ricky has indicated. Purchasing through these channels is meant to ensure compatibility with the network deployed and maintained by that service provider. Note that WiMAX deployments by service providers may vary and a subscriber device meant for one provider and region may well not be able to even see the network of another provider or in a different region.

I have a laptop equipped with an Intel half mini PCI-e WiFi adapter which also includes a USB WiMAX subscriber device on the same card (the Intel ProSet Centrino Advanced-N + WiMAX 6250 half mini PCI-e card). This WiMAX subscriber station and the Windows drivers provided by the laptop vendor for it are pre-loaded with profiles to connect to various national WiMAX service providers through some collaboration between the hardware vendor (Intel), the OEM system integrator (Dell), and the WiMAX service providers. You may be able to find a USB device that combines WiMAX and WiFi like this but I have not seen one to date.

One additional consideration for you ff you are connecting to a closed WiMAX network is to be sure to coordinate your selection of WiMAX subscriber station device, which is the WiMAX equivalent of a WiFi adapter on your computer, with your selection of WiMAX base station, which is the WiMAX equivalent of a WiFi access point, to ensure compatibility based on operational frequency and various other WiMAX network parameters.

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