Nokia fires up private LTE in 5 GHz spectrum

Nokia is adding a MulteFire router series to its Digital Automation Cloud private wireless solution. MulteFire uses the unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum band for LTE and 4.9G, and supports listen-before-talk in order to minimize interference with Wi-Fi in the same band.

Like Wi-Fi, MulteFire is a technology enterprises can deploy without a spectrum license, but it offers more coverage, security and reliability than Wi-Fi. In the U.S., it is comparable to CBRS, but devices operate at lower power (1 watt vs. 10 watts). Nokia said the cost will also be lower than CBRS in many cases.

Nokia said value-added resellers and systems integrators will be able to market its MulteFire router 700 series to enterprise customers, making the sales channel similar to that for Wi-Fi.

“Nokia's focus on easing deployment based on a plug-and-play approach could make [MulteFire] a compelling consideration for enterprises concerned about the complexities of managing cellular networking infrastructure,” said Will Townsend, senior analyst for security, carriers and enterprise networking at Moor Insights and Strategy.

In order to use Nokia's new routers, enterprises will need the company's Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) to create a private core network. This can be hosted on premise or in a Nokia cloud environment.

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Stephane Daeuble, head of marketing for enterprise solutions at Nokia, said there are several target markets for the MulteFire 700 router series. One is Nokia's 290 existing private wireless customers, more than half of which use "vertical industry spectrum," according to Daeuble. He said MulteFire offers some of these customers a cost-effective way to extend their private wireless networks.

“You could run your most critical ... communication services or sensor data on the licensed spectrum, but then you can use MulteFire to increase capacity," he explained.

Another target market for Nokia is enterprise customers in countries that have not set aside spectrum for industrial or commercial use cases. Unlicensed spectrum is the only option for private wireless in these countries, and MulteFire can offer better performance than Wi-Fi.

Finally, Nokia is selling the MulteFire routers to companies that need to build "temporary networks." These are private cellular networks created to support construction projects or events. 

Safari Solutions, a company that specializes in connectivity solutions for sporting events, is using Nokia's MulteFire solution. “A core part of our business is event services such as sports, trade shows and broadcast services, which involve frequent, fast deployment of IT systems where reliable communications connectivity is business critical," explained Safari Solutions CTO Hien Nguyen. "Nokia MulteFire opens up a range of new possibilities in terms of what we can offer our clients. .... We now have a major boost to our connectivity options with fast, reliable and easy-to-deploy mobile broadband."

In terms of coverage, Nokia's Daeuble described MulteFire as better than Wi-Fi but not as good as CBRS. He said his team's outdoor tests have shown Wi-Fi connections dropping at 200 meters, while MulteFire stays connected up to 750 meters. CBRS offers even wider coverage because radios can operate at higher power.

Daeuble said that while Nokia is pleased to be first with MulteFire for private wireless, the company is hoping its competitors will see its success and decide to invest in MulteFire as well. This will help to jumpstart the chipset and device ecosystem. For 5G, 3GPP is specifying 5G NR-U for unlicensed spectrum, and Daeuble hopes 5G NR-U will be included in standard chipsets.