Our growing reliance on wireless connectivity to deliver rich content to our ever-growing number of devices continues to put a severe strain on the resource that delivers it—network capacity. And the trend is astounding. In fact, the industry is preparing for an 1000x increase in mobile data traffic. At Qualcomm, we invent technology and solutions to cost-effectively meet this network capacity challenge. And now we are developing a new technology at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. called MulteFire, envisioned to play a critical role in addressing this 1000x mobile data challenge. But before I introduce MulteFire, first some background.
Solving the 1000x challenge will require multiple strategies. One key strategy is to make the best use of unlicensed spectrum. Of course licensed spectrum continues to be the most pivotal piece of the puzzle. And taking advantage of Qualcomm technologies, network operators are working to “densify” their networks—deploying more small cells in licensed spectrum, which ensures a predictable performance (thanks to its exclusive use). But to reach 1000x, we must opportunistically use capacity in unlicensed spectrum—such as 5 GHz—as well.
One challenge with unlicensed spectrum is that it is shared amongst multiple technologies and users, which impacts on the ability to ensure a seamless, high-quality experience at all times. This becomes especially challenging in large venues such as enterprises, stadiums, and campuses where large numbers of people (with a ravenous appetite for mobile content) come together.
LTE was designed for high-performance mobile broadband and hyper-dense deployments. So we asked, what if we took the benefits of LTE (and its vast ecosystem), and extended them to unlicensed spectrum?
The industry response was LTE in unlicensed spectrum—in the form of LTE-U (based on 3GPP Rel. 10/11/12 and defined by the LTE-U forum) and LAA (Licensed-Assisted Access as defined by 3GPP release 13). Thanks to a robust radio link, synchronized nodes with better coordination, and carrier aggregation with an anchor in licensed spectrum, LTE-U/LAA delivers better network performance and an enhanced user experience compared to carrier Wi-Fi, providing mobile operators a solution for making better use of unlicensed spectrum.
But could we extend the benefits of the LTE technology and ecosystem even further?
The answer to this question is MulteFire—a new, LTE-based technology that solely operates in unlicensed spectrum, and doesn’t require an “anchor” in licensed spectrum. The new technology broadens the LTE ecosystem to entities that may not own licensed spectrum, such as Internet Service Providers and enterprise/venue owners. MulteFire also benefits mobile network operators (primary licensed spectrum holders), 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.
MulteFire will accomplish this by combining the performance benefits of LTE technology (enhanced capacity, range, mobility, and quality-of-experience) with the simplicity of Wi-Fi-like deployments. MulteFire will use the signals and channelization of the robust LTE radio link, while also leveraging evolving LTE technologies for self-organizing small cells suited for hyper-dense deployments. MulteFire will deliver these LTE-like performance benefits to more deployment scenarios with Wi-Fi-like simplicity—a leaner, self-contained network architecture that is suitable for neutral deployments where any deployment can service any device.
Fair sharing with other technologies in unlicensed spectrum, such as Wi-Fi, is at the core of MulteFire’s requirements. Qualcomm Research, a division of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., has extensively studied and tested the coexistence on our over-the-air system to ensure LTE-U/LAA will be a good neighbor to Wi-Fi. These coexistence features ensure that Wi-Fi performance is not adversely impacted. To the contrary, in many cases, Wi-Fi performance will actually be improved by LTE-U/LAA. MulteFire will implement similar coexistence features and we envision similar results.
MulteFire will create expanded opportunities for small cell deployments, especially in hyper-dense environments and indoor locations. Who will benefit? It can be deployed by small businesses, enterprises, venue owners, Internet service provider/cable companies, and mobile operators in various deployment models including single access node, coverage islands, or bigger clusters for mobility (within the clusters).
MulteFire is suitable for neutral host services where “any deployment” can serve “any device” out-of-box, using neutral unlicensed spectrum like 5 GHz. And it can be deployed by service providers or directly by users. This will enable entities, such as Internet Service Providers and enterprise/venue owners, to leverage their deployment assets (fixed broadband, physical location, and customer relationships) and provide nomadic wireless access services to any end user (no subscription or SIM required). Additionally, MulteFire can interface with mobile networks to offer enhanced data offload services to mobile operators (SIM required).
At Qualcomm Research, a division of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., we are actively developing MulteFire technology, taking advantage of our decades of experience in 3G/4G and Wi-Fi. Our focus in the months ahead is to initiate work with the ecosystem to develop industry-wide specifications for this technology. The actual release of equipment for deployment of a MulteFire system will depend on market demand and customer requests. Meanwhile, Qualcomm remains committed to the best use of licensed and unlicensed spectrum, evolving LTE/LTE Advanced (including LTE-U/LAA) and Wi-Fi (including 802.11ax) to their fullest potential in parallel.
To learn more about MulteFire, go to: www.qualcomm.com/wireless.