MulteFire Alliance on the hunt for new members at CTIA

MulteFire AllIance
A demo at the MulteFire booth at CTIA Super Mobility 2016

LAS VEGAS—The MulteFire Alliance is out to recruit new members at CTIA Super Mobility 2016, where a lot of operators and vendors are talking about getting the most out of LTE and LTE-Advanced.

The MulteFire Alliance was formed last year with founding members Nokia and Qualcomm, along with members Ericsson and Intel, describing itself as an independent organization dedicated to developing and promoting MulteFire, an LTE-based technology for small cells operating solely in unlicensed spectrum, such as the global 5 GHz unlicensed band.

Because it relies solely upon on unlicensed spectrum, MulteFire is designed in part to bring newcomers into the LTE ecosystem, including internet service providers, cable companies, enterprises and venue owners. For mobile operators, the alliance said MulteFire is an attractive solution in cases when licensed spectrum is unavailable or when a multi-operator system is required.

The desire for a multi-operator system by venue owners could be a driving force for operators to go with a MulteFire approach. If enough venue owners insist on a multi-operator solution for their buildings or sites, mobile operators may be more encouraged to get on board.

One of the targets for MulteFire is high-capacity venues or stadiums where a lot of users gather in a small location, which means the venue owner itself could deploy MulteFire, Rasmus Hellberg, marketing director for the MulteFire Alliance and senior director of technical marketing at Qualcomm, told FierceWirelessTech at the CTIA event this week.

That’s one use case, where the consumer walks into the venue and gets better service without knowing it. The alliance has defined service continuity between MulteFire as well as traditional mobile networks. The alliance and its members haven’t yet made any announcements about chipsets addressing that. 

MulteFire is a way to get more leverage out of LTE. Gradually, during the evolution, LTE expanded into new areas that weren’t targeted initially, such as Internet of Things. All these efforts are setting the path to 5G. Even before 5G happens, it’s important to expand the ecosystem to new players to benefit from LTE, which will have a long runway, according to Hellberg.

But isn't enabling more competition to mobile operators going to upset some long-time customers of LTE? Some operators may see it that way, he acknowledged. But from the mobile operators' side, they can also see opportunity in leveraging these deployments to get additional capacity and coverage in places where the mobile operator could benefit. “It could be both [viewed] as a threat as well as an opportunity,” he said.

The MulteFire brand was introduced by Qualcomm, but as similar efforts were ongoing at Nokia, the two combined their efforts and formed a support group in the form of the alliance. Other members include Athonet, Bai Cells, Boingo, Casa Systems, Ruckus Wireless, Sercom, Softbank and SpiderCloud Wireless, with Rohde & Schwarz being a test lab participant.

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MulteFire needs support from wireless, cable to stand out amongst LTE-U, LAA and Wi-Fi
Qualcomm hunts for carrier support for MulteFire
SoftBank, others join MulteFire Alliance