MulteFire Alliance formed to drive LTE use in unlicensed spectrum

Nokia, Qualcomm, Ericsson and Intel promote MulteFire which is designed to deliver an enhanced broadband experience and to coexist with other unlicensed spectrum technologies including Wi-Fi

MulteFire Alliance formed to drive LTE use in unlicensed spectrum

The MulteFire Alliance, a new industry organisation devoted to promoting the use of LTE in unlicensed spectrum, was announced this week by founding members Nokia and Qualcomm, joined by new members Ericsson and Intel. The members issued a call for global industry participation through voluntary membership.

The Alliance is an independent organisation dedicated to developing and promoting MulteFire – an LTE-based technology for small cells operating solely in unlicensed spectrum, such as the global 5GHz unlicensed band.

Utilising the robust radio link, ease of management and self-organising characteristics of LTE and its 3GPP standard evolution, MulteFire is envisioned to deliver enhanced performance in local area network deployments.

Because it relies solely upon unlicensed spectrum, MulteFire expands the ecosystem of LTE-based technologies to new and established service providers, including internet service providers, cable companies, mobile operators, small medium and large enterprises, and venue owners. For mobile operators, MulteFire is an attractive solution in cases when licensed spectrum is unavailable or when a multi-operator system is required.

“By bringing the benefits of LTE technologies to unlicensed spectrum, MulteFire helps provide enhanced coverage, capacity and mobility. It can also improve the Quality of Experience and security in private network deployments” said Stephan Litjens, Vice President, Portfolio Strategy & Analytics, Mobile Broadband, Nokia, and MulteFire Alliance board chair.

“This technology is also aimed to deliver value to existing mobile networks and private customers such as building owners. MulteFire can act as a “neutral host” with the ability to serve users from multiple operators, especially in hard to reach places such as indoor locations, venues and enterprises.”

The MulteFire Alliance confirmed it has commenced operations with an open call for participation. It’s objectives are:

• To promote MulteFire technology, use cases, and business opportunities
• To drive MulteFire global technical specification development
• To establish a world class MulteFire product certification programme
• Too drive future evolution of MulteFire technology, while ensuring fair coexistence with Wi-Fi and other technologies in unlicensed spectrum.

MulteFire is designed to meet global unlicensed band regulations, including “Listen-Before-Talk” features required in regions such as Europe and Japan. This is designed to ensure other unlicensed application users have fair access to spectrum – the lack of listen-before-talk in some proposals for the use of licensed cellular in unlicensed bands has been a source of controversy in the Wi-Fi industry.

“With MulteFire, consumers and network providers will enjoy the combination of 4G-LTE like performance with Wi-Fi-like deployment simplicity in local-area deployments,” said Ed Tiedemann, Senior Vice President, Engineering, Qualcomm Technologies, and MulteFire Alliance board member.

“Users will benefit from an enhanced connectivity experience when moving across spaces such as shopping malls and corporate offices thanks to MulteFire’s mobility features and optional integration with wide-area networks.”

There are three main approaches to enable the use of 4G LTE cellular in the 5GHz band.

LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U)
LTE-U is the most divisive because it does not implement ‘listen before talk’ (LBT) mechanisms to avoid interference with other signals such as Wi-Fi. This technology is already part of the 3GPP standards, but could only be used in countries such as the US and Japan, which do not mandate LBT in the 5 GHz band.

LTE-LAA (Licensed Assisted Access)
LTE-LAA uses the 5 GHz spectrum for supplemental downlink, boosting the capacity of a host network in licensed frequencies. Unlike LTE-U it does implement LBT to ensure no disruption to Wi-Fi.

LTELWA (Wi-Fi Link Access)
LTELWA splits the LTE data payload and tunnels some traffic over Wi-Fi. In effect it creates a tunnel for LTE traffic inside 802.11ac frames. It accesses the spectrum like Wi-Fi does and looks like Wi-Fi to other Wi-Fi networks in the same channel.

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