MulteFire is a scheme to operate LTE in unlicensed spectrum. Potentially anyone could install and operate a system in a very similar way to Wi-Fi. We asked Stephan Litjens, Chairman of the newly formed MulteFire Alliance and Head of Innovation Steering, Nokia, to explain the purpose, method and timeline of the solution. He’s confident we’ll see commercial deployment in about a year from now.
What exactly is MulteFire?
"We’ve taken the standard LTE solution and adapted it to run solely in unlicensed spectrum. We’ll incorporate the Listen-Before-Talk and related features of LAA to ensure it behaves nicely with other unlicensed use such as Wi-Fi.
"It can be run completely standalone as a private network in a similar way to Wi-Fi, or connected through roaming agreements with existing network operators. We plan to engineer fully seamless and secure handover to/from the outdoor networks.
"Engineering quality will be better using MulteFire than Wi-Fi. There’s no doubt about this under low load conditions but it really excels at handling interference in busy environments."
Why does this initiative need (yet another) new Alliance?
"Time to market is the answer. By targeting the right audience, we think we could move very quickly to achieve something real. We felt that if could attract the right core members, we could focus and develop a technical specification for the ecosystem to build to.
"We are talking with other groups including the Small Cell Forum and 3GPP. Perhaps in the future, MulteFire might become one of the 3GPP standards."
How does the Alliance Chairman role fit with your role at Nokia?
"I have a product background, having run Nokia’s portfolio for mobile network products and led our Small Cell business. Previous roles have looked at making products more useful, with easier deployment in Enterprise, Hospitals etc.
"Today, my role at Nokia is Innovation Steering where we want to grow in the future towards a “programmable world” where high quality Internet connectivity is essential for that to flourish. MulteFire fits nicely with what Nokia does, so I spend most working days on activities for both organisations."
Do you expect many network operators to join?
"We recently announced our first operator – SoftBank. We are talking to several others and think they will join in due course."
What’s the business model?
"MulteFire opens up a host of new opportunities, really opening the door for creativity and innovation. I think it will provide a huge boost for Small Cells which haven’t fully achieved their potential yet.
"Some scenarios are purely for private, dedicated networks. For example hospitals could install their own internal private network for staff which supports the full range of voice, text and data services. This could also be used to connect medical appliances and sensors.
"A popular scenario might be to provide neutral host service in public venues and hotels, shopping malls etc. Visitors from all other networks could seamlessly access service through a single set of small cells. Today, hotels would like to see DAS installed onsite at operator expense but this is proving too costly. Instead, I expect to see third party neutral hosts who aggregate and consolidate traffic from many Enterprise and public venues, interconnecting through roaming arrangements with mobile networks.
"We think that roaming will be much more seamless than we’ve seen with Wi-Fi. One of our biggest feature requests for the first release is to ensure truly seamless handovers between MulteFire and surrounding networks. It should be transparent to users who can continue their conversations or data sessions without interruption."
What needs to be developed and what is the likely timescale?
"Our own Roadmap is to finalise our Release 1 specification during Q3 2016. This is very much our most urgent objective, and in parallel all our members are already building something. We will then refine and update it with new features for a subsequent point release. Release 2 is likely to follow in a year or two.
"Network equipment will be based on Small Cells and build on the LAA standard.
"Smartphones will need to evolve to support it. In the future, there will be only two radios: LTE and Wi-Fi. There are perhaps only five or six global vendors of the smartphone chipsets today and they are involved. It will take time for these hardware features to feed through into mass deployment – it’s not just a software upgrade – but it will become the default hardware platform.
"We plan to establish a certification program and are looking for a partner who could run it. This will be a similar scheme to the Wi-Fi Alliance certification program. It won’t be an extremely heavy process but I expect we’ll run regular “plugfests” and that certification will evolve to become little more than a formality."
"The momentum behind MulteFire is already good. Our experience at Mobile World Congress revealed that operators are interested and many see this as an opportunity rather than a threat
Watch this space!"
ThinkSmallCell White Paper on MulteFire
We've just published a White Paper which gives a clear and straightforward introduction into MulteFire technology and opportunities, sponsored by the MulteFire Alliance. Download here.
You can also find out more by visiting the MulteFire Alliance Website