The killer tech that brings LTE and WiFi camps together

MulteFire makes sense for vendors, building owners and enterprises, and cable and fixed providers. What about cellular operators? And does it need to be adopted as a 3GPP standard in time?

At MWC the MulteFire Alliance held its first public event, following its launch in December 2015. MulteFire is the name given to the standalone version of LTE in unlicensed spectrum.

Unlike LTE-U (or its slightly better-behaved younger brother LAA) a MulteFire access point doesn’t need to be “anchored” in licensed spectrum at all. That means that anyone, including mobile operators of course, can set up LTE-like coverage within unlicensed spectrum.

At the press conference the advantages of MulteFire, as proposed by nearly everyone, were that it provides better coverage and capacity than WiFi, with the added advantage of including support for mobility and handover. LTE’s SON capabilities and the inclusion of WiFi-like coexistence technology means it will also be a good partner for WiFi.

Who benefits?

Of course, the opportunity is a good one for the telco equipment manufacturers. MulteFire gives them another potential market into which to sell LTE gear – direct to major enterprises, as well as to fixed and cable operators.

On the buy-side, building owners get a neutral-host, access model with controllable QoS. Fixed and cable operators get a chance to extend coverage in a way they haven’t had before (without WiFi). The mobile-only operators are perhaps the least obvious beneficiary of MulteFire, although the panel was keen to propose options such as signing neutral host agreements with other operators, and the ability to set up private networks for enterprise customers.

There’s also opportunity for those who already provide private, cellular networks to enterprises and MVNEs. One provider of private mobile networks, Druid Software, told TMN that MulteFire was on its radar as an alternative access method to the guardband spectrum within which it tends to deploy at the moment. Another private network provider, Athonet, was present at the MulteFire launch and said that had MulteFire been available at its previous deployments, it would certainly have used it. Athonet CEO Karim El-Malki described it as a “killer” technology.

Another important point is that WiFi providers (or most of them) themselves are pretty OK with MulteFire, in contrast to the way in which they have very much not been OK with LTE-U, and will get involved themselves.

Ruckus Wireless, present at the event in the person of COO Dan Rabinowitsj, said that the technology was “what we’ve been waiting for, for the LTE community to embrace the WiFi community.” In fact, it works the other way too. Having been pretty vocal in its distaste for LTE-U, and cautious about LAA, Ruckus is already heading towards products that operate in licensed spectrum with its OpenG platform.

Standards and the 3GPP

The Alliance looks unlikely to be a long-standing entity. It’s likely it will set up product certification, work on some overall market awareness and then, surveying a happy MulteFire planet, dust off its hands and declare, “My work here is done,” and head back to earth. But will it “return” to 3GPP as part of that process?

As TMN understands it, IEEE was keen to see a standalone version defined within 3GPP’s R13 specification of LAA. 3GPP didn’t see the need and said it would not include a standalone version within its standards. IEEE liaison letters said that this was a decision taken in the commercial interests of cellular operators, rather than a technical one.

Ashish Dayama, Senior Marketing Manager of the Mobile Broadband Business Unit, Nokia and a member of the Alliance, didn’t see any reason why MulteFire couldn’t head back into 3GPP at a later date. “It could be moved back into 3GPP,” he told TMN.

Peter Jarich, VP Consumer and Infrastructure Services at Current Analysis, told TMN that 3GPP could make a natural home for standardisation.

“It’s clear that the founding members of the MulteFire Alliance have a strong interest in seeing the technology standardised, and given the way MulteFire is being positioned as an extension to LAA, the 3GPP seems like a focal point for these efforts. Whether or not this is the only (or best) route depends on how you see MulteFire in relation to existing mobile networks and operators.”



[…] With advertised LTE-WiFi co-existence features such as listen before talk and “other proprietary anti-interference technologies” the LTE in unlicensed version (Huawei calls it LTE@Unlicensed to match the product banding) looks a lot like the sort of LTE base station, tweaked to operate in unlicensed spectrum, that MulteFire Alliance members are currently working on. […]

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