Qualcomm recruits allies for its MulteFire unlicensed LTE initiative

Having quietly launched its MulteFire take on the LTE-U concept back in the summer, Qualcomm has formalized it into an alliance that includes Nokia, Ericsson and Intel.

MulteFire derives its name from LTE and calls itself “an LTE-based technology for small cells operating solely in unlicensed spectrum”. It’s not immediately obvious how its differs from the broader LTE-U concept, although it is specifically targeted at small cells, with the aim of improving indoor coverage and performance especially.

It’s also hard to see how it can avoid being dragged into the broader dispute over the potential effect on wifi channels by allowing LTE to use the same unlicensed spectrum. As a major chipset provider for both Qualcomm finds itself right in the middle of this debate, but it’s clearly in favour of LTE-U. Nokia is the other founding member of the MulteFire alliance, with Ericsson and Intel the only other named members at launch.

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

“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.”

“With MulteFire, consumers and network providers will enjoy the combination of 4G-LTE like performance with wifi-like deployment simplicity in local-area deployments,” said Ed Tiedemann, SVP of Engineering at Qualcomm 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.”

Forming an alliance is the easy bit, bringing the technology to the masses is a bit more tricky. The initial objective of the alliance seems to be to establish broader consensus on this matter by recruiting more members. Then there needs to be a formal specification proposed and rubber-stamped by someone like the 3GPP or IEEE and, perhaps most importantly, it will need to demonstrate conclusively that it can co-exist peacefully with wifi.

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