Qualcomm furthers aggressive LTE push with MuLTEfire OTA test

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Qualcomm Technologies has delivered an over-the-air (OTA) connection via the MuLTEfire cellular network technology using listen-before-talk (LBT). MuLTEfire is a cellular technology developed by Qualcomm, so we don’t doubt the chip giant when it says this is the world’s first connection of this type.

The industry is well aware of the huge potential for disruption which could come with allowing LTE to work in unlicensed spectrum, by gifting LTE opportunities to companies without owning even the tiniest chunk of spectrum. But the significance of this week’s announcement is that the successful test with LBT means MuLTEfire could be used worldwide if regulators agree, as LBT is a necessity for coexistence in the 5 GHz band in many parts of the world, but not in the US.

The aim of Qualcomm’s MuLTEfire is to extend the reach of cellular into WiFi’s unlicensed 5 GHz channel, thereby building harmonized WiFi-LTE networks and opening up beneficial partnership opportunities for MNOs, cablecos and other players. It allows those with access to consumer or enterprise premises via broadband lines and contracts to invest in LTE small cells even without an MVNO or spectrum deal, by using methods such as MuLTEfire, and partner with the MNO for wide area roaming.

Cablecos can therefore combine WiFi and LTE technologies according to the requirements of the service – which represents a significant development from WiFi offload and WiFi-first.

There are similar emerging LTE options with LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U), LTE-LAA (Licensed Assisted Access) and LTE-LWA (LTE WiFi Aggregation), although LTE-U and LTE-LAA require a licensed spectrum anchor network, whereas MuLTEfire and LTE-LWA do not.

Liberty Global and cable R&D group CableLabs have both joined the MuLTEfire Alliance recently. The addition of Liberty Global and CableLabs to the Alliance comes at a time when there is an air of instability and uncertainty surrounding the ownership and control of RAN. The Alliance is working to adapt 3GPP-based mobile wireless standards for shared and unlicensed to broaden its availability and coexistence with WiFi and other wireless technologies. Other members include Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia and Intel.

The MuLTEfire Alliance was only formed last year, but already has a rather checkered past with the WiFi Alliance. Earlier this year, the WiFi Alliance published its proposed test plan for the coexistence of WiFi and LTE, much to the disapproval of Qualcomm, which blasted it for apparently being biased against LTE-U, and also that it supposedly rejected the input from Qualcomm’s own research.

The WiFi Alliance has been pushing to protect the high performance expectations of WiFi in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, in the potential coexistence with unlicensed LTE variants. Qualcomm is of course a major WiFi chip maker since it acquired Atheros, but cellular remains at the forefront of the firm’s ambitions as it continues to assert its dominance.

The MuLTEfire Alliance says it expects to deliver its Release 1.0 specification in the next few months.

“This OTA test is an important step forward in the development and commercialization of MuLTEfire technology. It is also an important stepping stone towards furthering 5G shared spectrum technologies, as 5G New Radio (5G NR) is being designed to support licensed, unlicensed and shared spectrum types,” said Matt Grob, EVP and CTO, Qualcomm Technologies.

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