MulteFire – Connecting the Unconnected

By Nanda Menon, Director – Corporate Development, Athonet srl

It has become a truism to say that today internet connectivity is as essential to modern life as air and water. Yet for more than 4 billion people, access to the internet is an idea as fanciful as a trip to the moon. This is a divide that creates vastly diverging life chances and denies some of the most deprived communities in the world of access to education, healthcare and employment. This is a global challenge as the digital desert is not just found in some of the poorest countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia, but also, surprisingly, in many communities in developed regions such as the USA, Canada and Europe.

Bridging this digital divide will require a Herculean effort and no one technology can provide the silver bullet. WiFi, TV Whitespace, conventional LTE and LTE on shared or lightly licensed spectrum all have an important role to play. By decoupling LTE from expensive licensed spectrum, technologies such as MulteFire can make a very significant impact on bridging this divide, and it can shoulder the lion’s share of the burden.

Photo by Thomas Layland on Unsplash

Rural coverage – Wi-Fi has a very large ecosystem of devices but struggles in rural areas due to the cost and complexity of wider area coverage. LTE-based technologies using unlicensed and shared spectrum, such as MulteFire, can help because they require 3-4 times less access points than Wi-Fi at the same power output, drastically reducing the cost and complexity of covering a small village, town or farming community. Rather than build Wi-Fi or traditional LTE networks, a mobile operator, rural community or government agency can self-deploy MulteFire-based networks in an incremental way depending on their budgetary constraints. These can be combined with whitespace technologies for backhaul or CPEs and MiFi devices for capillary coverage that gives access to existing handsets and devices.

Urban coverage –  Unfortunately large numbers of people still live in densely populated, underdeveloped urban areas and cannot afford LTE data services on expensive licensed spectrum. Many communities have tried to cover these areas with Wi-Fi but find that the networks cannot support the density of users, suffers from poor mobility aspects and becomes very expensive to build backhaul. Many such projects have had to be curtailed or abandoned due to the cost and complexity of roll-out. MulteFire can support a far greater number of simultaneous users within a particular coverage area with predictable quality of service. Over time, as the MulteFire ecosystem expands, it can play an increasingly greater role in capillary coverage.

MulteFire has a key role to play in bridging the digital divide and helping to uplift the lives of many who are today denied opportunity for education, healthcare, safety and governance. Together with other complementary technologies, we hope the MulteFire Alliance can build bridges of digital hope.