Today the MulteFire Alliance released its first formal specification Release 1.0. We spoke with Mazen Chmaytelli, President of the MulteFire Alliance, to understand the current scope, progress to date and the next steps towards commercial deployment.
MulteFire Specification 1.0 Released
MulteFire is a variant of LTE designed to operate entirely in unlicensed spectrum. It includes LBT (Listen Before Talk) so it can operate alongside Wi-Fi, and can either be connected to an existing mobile network or completely standalone. For a fuller description, read our popular whitepaper “MulteFire lights up the path for universal wireless service.”
Release 1.0 uses the global 5GHz band and builds on 3GPP standards features LAA and eLAA (Licensed Assisted Access for downlink and uplink respectively).
These have been/are being standardised in 3GPP Release 13 (completed mid 2016) and Release 14 (scheduled for functional freeze mid 2017).
The MulteFire specification references the 3GPP standards, stating which features are used, how they are configured and adds enhancements for operation solely in unlicensed or shared spectrum such as robust procedures for mobility, paging, authentication, initial access and efficient uplink control channels.
Many of the same experts are involved in both 3GPP and MulteFire specification work, ensuring close alignment. As with any 3GPP specification, ongoing testing and refinement continue both before and after each release, but Mazen believes these are now in a stable and mature state.
The specification is currently only available to the current 21 Alliance members but will be publicly released later this year.
Why make this spec only available to MulteFire Alliance members?
“We debated what was best for the Alliance vs the wider ecosystem. Many of our members have worked tirelessly to complete it, just one year after the organisation was formed, and should gain some benefit for doing so. That said, members will gain a few months’ time-to-market advantage with immediate access to the spec, before it is made widely available to the public by mid-2017. This gives credence to the members for their hard work, but will allow the ecosystem to flourish in the medium to long run.
“We are continuing to develop the specification and introduce related ones. Members will continue to have greater access to working documents and initial releases before these become public.”
What certification or approval scheme do you plan to put in place?
“Our Certification Working Group started work in November 2016. We want a framework scheme with a test specification, approved test labs and branded logos similar to other industry best practices. Our target timeframe is to be operational by 2H 2017.
“We want to offer a low burden certification program for both small cells and terminals/devices, thus encouraging more vendors to participate in the ecosystem.”
Is Carrier Aggregation likely to be used to achieve higher speeds?
“I think we can expect to see a race towards 1Gbps using LAA with 5x channel aggregation. MulteFire Release 1.0 also supports aggregating multiple channels, which can each be 10 or 20MHz wide.
“Whether this is used or not will be highly dependent on the end use case and whether it truly requires it.”
Where do you expect to see initial take-up of MulteFire?
“Rather than any specific region or country, I think it’s more likely to be private networks. Examples include the oil and gas industry, shipping ports, mines and healthcare. Some of these vertical industries need high mobility wireless service for which MulteFire is ideally suited. I could also expect to see larger IoT (Internet of Things) companies providing a lot of initial traction.
“MulteFire enables non-traditional players. We’ve had a lot of interest around new business models and applications.”
What are the timescales for commercial deployment?
“MulteFire follows on the coattails of new 3GPP standards so that wherever LAA is approved, then MulteFire is implicitly also. We don’t see a need for any additional regulatory approval on a regional or country specific basis. This avoids any additional delay in time to market.
You can expect to see plenty of MulteFire live demonstrations at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month, both on the MulteFire Alliance booth 7F81 in Hall 7 and at those of our member companies.
Field trials will start during 2H 2017 followed by early commercial solutions launching in 2018, most likely as private networks rather than directly traditional operator driven.