Today, the MulteFire Alliance released version 1.0 of its specification. The spec, according to the consortium’s press release, is based on Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) releases 13 and 14.
Release 1.0 enables LTE to operate in unlicensed, shared spectrum. Essentially, as I wrote last week, there are two kinds of spectrum: licensed and unlicensed. The capacity and cost advantages of unlicensed spectrum have led powerful cellular companies and their ecosystems to try to solve the sticky issues that were a barrier to their use of the bandwidth. MulteFire is one such effort.
Unlicensed spectrum is as available to mobile cellular companies as it is to anyone else. The challenge is that their technology was developed in a landscape in which an individual cellular company plunked down a lot of money and got exclusive rights to a portion of bandwidth. For this reason, technology enabling cellular systems to share spectrum – a huge requirement in the fractious world of unlicensed spectrum – was not needed and never developed. The question now is the fairest system way to give cellular carriers that capability.
That is not wholly a technical question. There is a lot of money in unlicensed spectrum. The politics of how cellular access is written into networks using unlicensed spectrum is tricky and controversial. The issue is even more of a wildcard as a new administration – and one with a very different philosophical orientation – takes the reins.
MulteFire, according to the press release, enables operations to be carried on entirely in the unlicensed spectrum. The key question is what safeguards will be in place to prevent cellular communications from interfering with the tenants who already use the spectrum. That question has caused a long debate between the telephone and cable sectors. At times, the debate has been caustic, and at other times civil.
The spec implements “Listen-Before-Talk for fair coexistence with technologies using the same spectrum such as Wi-Fi and LAA, as well as co-existence between different MulteFire networks.” It will be interesting to see if that is seen as being a viable answer by the cable companies and other current users. The smart money says that it will not be enough.
PC World says that MulteFire 1.0 will be demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress next month in Barcelona. The group has powerful backers, including Qualcomm, which originated the approach, Intel, Nokia, Ericsson, Cisco, Huawei and others. Consortium member Ruckus Wireless has developed its own approach, OpenG, which it says will be compatible to MulteFire.
In its story on the new spec, RCR Wireless quoted Mazen Chmaytelli, MulteFire Alliance’s president and Qualcomm’s senior director of Business Development. He said that private LTE networks will be the earliest MulteFire adopters. The full specification will initially be available to consortium members, with outsiders gaining access mid-year.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.