Qualcomm launches MuLTEfire unlicensed LTE initiative

Mobile chip giant Qualcomm has quietly taken the wraps off a new LTE-based technology that it claims combines LTE-like performance with wifi-like simplicity.

MuLTEfire, as Qualcomm has christened the technology, is being positioned as a new take on LTE-U (LTE in unlicensed spectrum) and LAA (licence assisted access), both of which Qualcomm has had a leading role in developing.

The thing about LAA, as the name implies, is that it also requires licensed spectrum, so is only available to license holders. Qualcomm stresses that MuLTEfire operates only in unlicensed spectrum, and it thus available to everyone.

The new technology broadens the LTE ecosystem to entities that may not own licensed spectrum, such as ISPs and enterprise/venue owners,” said Qualcomm’s Matt Branda in a blog post. “MuLTEfire also benefits mobile network operators, providing them with new deployment opportunities for offloading and augmenting their mobile networks. The ultimate goal of MuLTEfire is to ensure the best possible user experience for wireless access to the internet or when making video/voice calls, especially in hyper-dense environments as described earlier.

Essentially Qualcomm is positioning MuLTEfire as the best of both worlds – not only delivering a small cell boost to LTE networks, but offering LTE-like performance over wifi channels. The understated nature of the announcement implies this technology is still at an early stage, but Qualcomm wants to put an additional LTE-U stake in the ground.

The timing of the announcement seems to be far from random. The deadline for the FCC’s request for information on current trends in LTE-U and LAA is imminent and a flood of public filings were received towards the end of last week.

Many comments, such as this Google blog post, focused on concerns that LTE over unlicensed bands interfering with wifi and, to some extent, over-riding it. “Holders of licensed spectrum shouldn’t be able to convert the unlicensed 5 GHz band into a de-facto licensed spectrum band, and certainly they should not have the ability to drive out other unlicensed users,” blogged Google’s Nihar Jindal.

The FCC call for comment seems to have catalysed a bit of a scramble around LTE-U/LAA and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see other big networking players also announced initiatives equivalent to Qualcomm’s MuLTEfire in the near future.

Visit the world’s leading LTE conference and exhibition – LTE World Summit 2015 – in Amsterdam on 23-25 June.


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