This past Tuesday, the MulteFire Alliance announced the completion of Release 1.0 of the MulteFire specification. This is a big step toward the realization of LTE operation using only unlicensed/shared spectrum. As you may recall, we announced the first MulteFire over-the-air connection using listen-before-talk back in October, so the completion of the specification enables the industry to move on to the next step with field trials.
We started the work on expanding LTE to unlicensed spectrum a couple of years ago when we introduced LTE-U/LAA, which can be used to boost data speed as high as Gigabit speeds in more places by aggregating LTE in licensed and unlicensed spectrum. With MulteFire, we now also enable LTE operation solely in unlicensed spectrum (i.e., without an ‘anchor’ in licensed spectrum). The ability to deploy LTE without licensed spectrum will enable new innovations that benefit both consumers, enterprises and service providers.
Today, we enjoy LTE in cellular networks with high performance benefits such as consistent high data rates, high capacity, superior indoor and outdoor coverage, robustness, seamless mobility, guaranteed QoS, low latency, security and more. With MulteFire, anyone gets the opportunity to operate a high-performance LTE-based network solely in unlicensed/shared spectrum. We believe this will bring innovation with new kinds of deployments offering new services and increased productivity to a wider ecosystem. MulteFire is not limited to unlicensed spectrum, such as the global 5 GHz band. It can also be deployed in shared spectrum, such as the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the U.S. 3.5 GHz band. (For more info on CBRS, see my previous blog post.)
Examples where we see MulteFire enabling new kinds of deployments are Industrial IoT and enterprise services, where companies using MulteFire can deploy their private high-performance LTE-based network that is fully under their control and tailored for their applications, being it a factory floor, warehouse, container port, remote site, hospital, smart building, etc.
Another deployment scenario where MulteFire brings new benefits is ‘neutral host,’ where it can serve subscribers from any service provider to provide additional LTE capacity and extended LTE coverage in challenging places such as a sport stadiums, airports, etc. Compared to today’s solutions, such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), MulteFire brings the next level of neutral host performance.
MulteFire is also an important stepping stone to 5G. We are contributing to the new radio (NR) design in 5G to ensure that it will natively support available spectrum in multiple dimensions. This includes spectrum bands from sub-1 GHz all the way up to the so-called mmWave bands, as well as any spectrum type whether it’s licensed, shared or unlicensed. By pioneering spectrum sharing technologies today in LTE, including MulteFire and LAA, we are accelerating the path to 5G spectrum-sharing technologies, where we also see potential for new sharing paradigms.