Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., has opted to deploy mobile WiMAX technology instead of expanding its Wi-Fi hotspots, in the process offering service to students, faculty, some government entities and campus security officials equipped with laptops and WiMAX data cards.

The university has deployed the network in the 2.5 GHz band using equipment from Motorola and is providing WiMAX-enabled Lenovo ThinkPad computers to students this fall, which will be covered by their tuition.

The university required a wireless broadband network that offers greater range than Wi-Fi, given the fact that the school is located in a rural area and commuter students and staff typically live several miles away from campus. Over the past few years, NMU covered about 10% of the city of Marquette with Wi-Fi hotspots.

"With our new WiMAX network, NMU is providing greatly enhanced wireless broadband coverage across a 30-mile radius," said Dave Maki, NMU chief technology officer, in a statement. "Through our Educational Broadband Service 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."

NMU's license is restricted to education or government use, and the university is in discussions with some area K–12 schools about assisting in enhancing their wireless capabilities.

Motorola WiMAX devices, including USB adapters and CPEs, will be available in the future to students and others with older laptops so they can connect to the network. The network is launching with four sites, with plans to expand it to seven.
Dave Wangrow, senior director of WiMAX product management with Motorola Home & Networks Mobility, said it's difficult to tell whether this is the beginning of a trend for universities, but added that WiMAX operators, namely Clearwire, will look to partnerships to expand coverage.

"We recognize that as a vendor to Clearwire, we're going to need to support [these types of deployments] to help them grow," he said. "This fits for a lot of universities around the country. ... Operators are going to look at serving the primary and secondary coverage areas. Major college campuses don't fall under that. Universities can ride the price curve driven worldwide by demand."

Clearwire is aiming to offer mobile WiMAX service in more than 25 markets by year-end, reaching approximately 30 million people. The company recently revealed that it has applied for federal stimulus money to bring WiMAX to undisclosed areas that are underserved by broadband services.