Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What is MulteFire?

MulteFire is an LTE-based technology for small cells operating in solely unlicensed spectrum. MulteFire is envisioned to broaden the LTE ecosystem to new markets and new entities without licensed spectrum and to enhance consumer experience for local area Internet access including voice and video services:

  • An LTE-based technology that is intended to operate solely in unlicensed spectrum combining the performance benefits of LTE with the simplicity of Wi-Fi like deployments.
  • Expected to deliver enhanced coverage, increased capacity, full mobility for better user experiences, and security in local area deployments. A future proof technology that will enable self-organizing hyper dense small cell deployments.
  • MulteFire is expected to provide mutual value across the ecosystem—acting as a neutral host to serve multiple entities—or provide dedicated broadband services at enterprises, venues or for clusters of residences.
  • It is being designed to be deployed at enterprises for employees and beyond, in large venues for everyone, in small businesses for customers, for clusters of residences, or by existing wireless operators.
Q: How is MulteFire different than current LTE technologies in unlicensed spectrum (LTE-U/LAA)?

LTE-U and LAA require an anchor channel in licensed spectrum, primarily enabling mobile operators (the primary owners of LTE licensed spectrum) a better solution to use unlicensed spectrum. Unlike LTE-U/LAA, MulteFire is expected to operate solely in unlicensed spectrum without requiring an LTE anchor in licensed spectrum. As a result, MulteFire is suitable for neutral host services where any MulteFire deployment can serve any MulteFire device out-of-box (also to offload mobile networks), using neutral unlicensed spectrum like 5 GHz and 3.5 GHz in the United States—either deployed by private users directly (such as venue owners or enterprises) or by wireless service providers (like Wi-Fi operators or even LTE operators e.g. where licensed spectrum is unavailable).

Q: What are the performance benefits of MulteFire?

Anticipated performance benefits of MulteFire in unlicensed spectrum are:

  • Enhanced capacity and coverage
  • Security inherent in LTE
  • Full mobility within MulteFire deployments providing quality-of-experience for services such as voice and video
  • When authorized by MNO, full mobility between MulteFire and 3GPP RAT networks (2G/3G/4G)
  • Leverages LTE technologies designed for self-organizing small cells—truly unplanned deployments—suited for hyper-dense deployments

Simplicity of Wi-Fi-like deployments:

  • Designed to operate solely in unlicensed spectrum (e.g. 5 GHz globally, or 3.5 GHz in the United States)—no anchor in licensed spectrum
  • Access nodes (small cells) can act as a true neutral host—service any MulteFire device out of box
  • Leaner, self-contained network architecture that can be installed at premises or hosted virtually

Will provide flexible business models:

  • Neutral host, nomadic access services to any end-user (no subscription or SIM required)
  • Interface with mobile networks to offer neutral host data offload services (SIM required)
  • Opportunity to leverage proven LTE features such as broadcast/multicast and VoLTE (voice)
Q: How will MulteFire broaden LTE technology and the LTE ecosystem to new deployment opportunities?

MulteFire will expand small cell deployment opportunities both indoor and outdoor, deployed as coverage islands, or bigger clusters with mobility in local areas, with the simplicity and self-organizing features to enable deployments also by end-users. MulteFire will create opportunities for new entities, including entities without licensed spectrum:

  • Internet Service Providers, Cable Operators, and enterprise/venue owners
  • IT service providers and DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) installation companies that also may lease networks
  • Allowing entities to leverage key assets—such as fixed broadband, location/venue, building, customer relationships to offer own services and provide neutral host offload to mobile operators
  • Opening opportunities for new business and deployment models—such as provide mutual coverage and capacity benefits across various deployments
  • Optional use of mobile network (e.g. via MVNO agreement) to deliver wide area coverage
  • MulteFire will expand existing MNO coverage in harder to reach – typically indoor places – and also enable new markets for MNOs where licensed spectrum is unavailable
Q: Will MulteFire require new devices? How will you ensure that a large ecosystem of compatible chipsets and devices will be developed?

Yes, MulteFire will require new devices that conform to the MulteFire Alliance industry-wide specifications. The MulteFire Alliance (MFA) announced its formation on December 16, 2015 and issued a call for global industry participation through voluntary membership—which was the foundation of the MulteFire ecosystem starting with the specification development. The purpose of the MFA is to support the common interests of members, developers and users in the application of LTE and next generation mobile cellular technology in configurations that use only unlicensed radio spectrum. Release 1.0 is expected to be finalized in Q4’2016.

Q: Is MulteFire a separate standard from LTE in 3GPP?

MulteFire is based on the LTE 3GPP standard and its evolution. Specifically, the MulteFire standard is based on LAA that defines LTE operation in unlicensed spectrum when assisted by an anchor in licensed spectrum. The MulteFire Alliance will propose changes to the 3GPP standard required to operate LTE without an anchor in the licensed spectrum. As 3GPP evolves LTE and the next generation mobile cellular technology, MulteFire will also evolve and stay aligned with 3GPP to leverage these enhancements.

Q: Is MulteFire based on 3GPP R13 LAA?

MulteFire is based on 3GPP R13 LAA which defines the downlink operation of LTE in unlicensed spectrum when assisted by an anchor in licensed spectrum—also known as supplemental downlink. LAA R13 uses the licensed spectrum for the uplink, with planned support for uplink in unlicensed spectrum in 3GPP R14. Since MulteFire only relies on unlicensed spectrum, MulteFire will support R13 components for the downlink and align with the definition of R14 LAA components for the uplink in unlicensed spectrum.

Q: Will MulteFire provide mobile operators an enhanced option for neutral host offload?
  • Although possible on a technical level for licensed spectrum (known as multi-operator core network MOCN), the spectrum license regulation in many countries may not allow mobile network operators, using their licensed spectrum, to offer “neutral host” access to other operators’ subscribers. Because indoor owners often prohibit multiple, overlapping small cell deployments, this situation makes it very complex and costly for operators to use small cells to offer quality mobile services in all venues, enterprises and homes.
  • Neutral host solutions, such as Wi-Fi and MulteFire using neutral spectrum such as unlicensed 5 GHz or 3.5 GHz bands, provide common spectrum and common access points i.e. small cell deployments to serve any devices
  • The MulteFire Alliance will define interworking functionality between MulteFire deployments and LTE networks to allow for voice and data service continuity and SIM-based authentication when a mobile operator’s subscribers are served by a MulteFire neutral host deployment.
Q: How will MulteFire cater to regulations?

MulteFire is designed to meet global unlicensed band regulations, including “Listen-Before-Talk” features required in regions such as Europe and Japan, for a truly global reach. MulteFire will cater to all regulations in unlicensed spectrum, including power levels, channel sensing for coexistence and Listen Before Talk (LBT) requirements using Clear Channel Assessment Procedures and channel occupancy limits. As MulteFire is based on LTE with LAA functionality, it inherits the coexistence functionality and will offer the same fair coexistence and be an equally good neighbor in unlicensed spectrum as has been demonstrated for LAA.

Q: When/Where is MulteFire useful?

MulteFire is ideal for local area small cell deployments, especially for dense environments for indoor and outdoor locations. It is envisioned to be deployed by small businesses, enterprises, venue owners, Internet service provider/cable companies and mobile operators in various deployment models such as 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 (also offload mobile networks), using neutral unlicensed spectrum like 5 GHz or 3.5 GHz—either deployed by users directly or by service providers.

Q: Does LTE-U/LAA have performance benefits over MulteFire?

Yes, LTE-U and LAA with a licensed anchor and carrier aggregation are very robust as the essential procedures of acquisition, access, registration, paging, mobility and control signaling are carried out over the primary licensed anchor LTE carrier. It is therefore required that the operator already has access to licensed spectrum to build upon, hence limits its reach to licensed spectrum owners only.

MulteFire will operate solely in unlicensed spectrum for all purposes — including for data, signaling and all other operations. As a result, MulteFire is different in that manner and its performance is optimized for the unlicensed case without a robust anchor in licensed spectrum. However the coverage and capacity performance of the LAA unlicensed spectrum would be very similar to that of MulteFire.

Q: When will MulteFire become available?

The MulteFire Alliance (MFA) through its members is actively pursuing MulteFire technology and has initiated work to develop industry-wide specifications for this technology. The Release 1.0 specification is planned to be completed by Q4’2016. At this stage, the MFA members are not making public announcements on commercial support for MulteFire. However, multiple member companies have demoed the technology.

Q: Do you propose MulteFire to use regular LTE in unlicensed spectrum?

Similar to LTE-U/LAA, MulteFire will use the signals and channelization of LTE, while needing to support the specific unlicensed band (e.g. 5 GHz) and follow country specific regulations defined for unlicensed spectrum. MulteFire is also envisioned to support waveform enhancements to LTE for wider bandwidth.

Q: How do you protect Wi-Fi, what is the impact?

Fair sharing with Wi-Fi, and also with LTE-U/LAA, is at the core of MulteFire’s requirements. Similar to LAA, the MulteFire Alliance will extensively define and test MulteFire coexistence leveraging primarily coexistence work that has been defined for LAA. This includes support for ‘Listen Before Talk (LBT)’ regulatory requirements to make MulteFire a truly global solution.

Q: What unlicensed spectrum frequency bands are envisioned for deployment of MulteFire?

LTE-U/LAA initially targets the 5 GHz and 3.5 GHz frequency bands, as there is plenty of spectrum. With up to around 500 MHz available in most countries and more in the pipeline, we also envision 5 GHz to be the prime initial target band for MulteFire as well. From a technology standpoint, MulteFire can be deployed in any unlicensed band and/or band that involves spectrum sharing.

Q: Will MulteFire replace Wi-Fi?

No, unlicensed spectrum has multiple uses and technologies; its shared use may lead to unpredictable quality, but it is ideal for local area access (WLAN)—such as private/residential or enterprise user, where Wi-Fi is used today. MulteFire is envisioned to be the highest performance solution to solely operate in unlicensed spectrum. We expect Wi-Fi and MulteFire to coexist as both will have different use cases, and specific deployment scenarios will determine which solution is chosen.

We also expect many MulteFire deployment scenarios to include both technologies, especially to provide backward compatibility and support for legacy Wi-Fi devices.

Q: Can MulteFire be as cost effective as Wi-Fi?

Yes, depending on the deployment scenario. In fact, the key benefits of MulteFire around increased coverage and multi-user capacity should lower the overall cost of networks where multiple access nodes are required. MulteFire is targeted for these high-performance use cases, especially where many cells are needed to form a large high-performance and large coverage network and/or where mobility and seamless hand-over to 3GPP networks are important. LTE in unlicensed spectrum is expected to evolve further with optimizations in performance and cost, especially in the high-bandwidth scenarios which will become common with MulteFire.

Q: Wi-Fi supports wider bandwidth than LTE today; will MulteFire?

Yes, we envision that MulteFire will support wider bandwidths following the progression of LTE which currently supports the aggregation of three carriers (total of 60 MHz) as of early 2016, but with public announcements of upcoming support for 80 MHz carrier aggregation with LAA.

Q: Can MulteFire perform as well as LTE in licensed spectrum?

No. Licensed spectrum provides a noise free environment and controlled environment as opposed to MulteFire solely operating in unlicensed spectrum with potential bursty uncontrolled interference from other networks and technologies such as Wi-Fi. LTE in licensed spectrum will therefore provide higher capacity and a more reliable user experience, but is limited to operators owning the license.

Licensed spectrum also allows for much higher transmit power which is key for wide area coverage needed to blanket complete countries.

Q: Will MulteFire replace 3G/4G LTE?

No, 3G/4G LTE mobile networks, which operate with an anchor in licensed spectrum, will continue to provide the reliable, ubiquitous and pervasive wide area coverage necessary for mobile broadband services—with optional interworking with MulteFire for localized data traffic offload. In many cases, 3G/4G LTE mobile networks could also complement MulteFire to add wide area coverage services.

Q: Who can deploy MulteFire small cells?

Small cells that are based on MulteFire technology are expected to operate solely in unlicensed spectrum bands, and therefore anyone can deploy MulteFire small cells—the technology is suitable for both end-user and provider deployments—similar to Wi-Fi. MulteFire, similar to Wi-Fi, also provides scalable deployment models. Enterprises, private building owners, new operators (neutral host), shopping malls are few examples of MulteFire deployments.

Q: How will MulteFire become an industry-wide standard technology?

The MulteFire Alliance is working to produce fundamental industry-wide specifications based on LTE technology in unlicensed bands. MulteFire is based on the LTE 3GPP standard and will evolve with the standard. The MulteFire Alliance announced its formation in December 2015 and issued a call for global industry participation through voluntary membership. The purpose of the MulteFire alliance is to support the common interests of members, developers and users in the application of LTE and next generation mobile cellular technology in configurations that use only unlicensed radio spectrum. The Release 1.0 specification is expected to be finalized in Q4’2016. The Alliance also plans to develop a certification program.

Q: Does MulteFire benefit Mobile Network Operators?

MulteFire provides new opportunities for mobile operators. It allows mobile operators to use neutral host offload with enhanced performance, especially suitable in hyper-dense deployments, such as at large venues, or for customers such as enterprises that traditionally are quite volatile in their choice of mobile network provider. Traditional mobile deployments in these locations face the challenge of requiring separate spectrum bands and infrastructure for different mobile operators. This challenge may prohibit reaching all venues, enterprises and homes. Alternatively, neutral host deployments, like Wi-Fi and MulteFire, provide common spectrum and common deployment enabling neutral host services OR rapid change of operators.

Q: What is the Purpose of MulteFire Alliance?

To support the common interests of members, developers and users in the application of Long Term Evolution (LTE) and next generation mobile cellular technology in configurations that use only unlicensed radio spectrum. The Alliance’s mission is to evangelize MulteFire technology, use cases, business opportunities, and to drive global technical specification development, establish a world class product certification program, drive future evolution of MulteFire technology and promote effective legislation and regulatory policy.

The MulteFire Alliance announced its formation on December 16, 2015 and issued a call for global industry participation through voluntary membership. As of August 2016, more than 15 companies have joined the alliance.

Q: Who can become a member of MulteFire Alliance?

Mobile operators and non-mobile operators, technology and infrastructure providers, OEMs, retail/service companies, test companies, new entrants like ISPs (Internet Service Providers), fixed network operators, cable companies, IT providers from SMB, large corporations’ verticals like Healthcare, IoT, Public Venues can all become a member of the MulteFire Alliance with a given selection criteria.

Q: How to become a member of MulteFire Alliance?