Device compatibility is the biggest obstacle facing the mass adoption of MuLTEfire technology, SCWS World has heard.
The cross vendor technology, which is backed by the likes of Ericsson, Nokia and Qualcomm, offers an "LTE-like" experience on unlicensed spectrum. The first deployments are expected in the fourth quarter of this year.
At the London event, formerly known as Small Cells World Summit, delegates heard that the technology faces a number of challenges if it is to resonate fully with the market.
James Body, Head of Research and Development at MVNO Truphone, said: "Until this technology is adopted in iPhones or high end Android smartphones, you are not going to see high levels of take up."
According to Sami Susiaho, Head of Edge Technologies at Wi-Fi provider The Cloud, even that level of backing would not be enough. He said: "With the best will in the world, we could deploy this technology immediately. But if it is to take off, it will not just need a push from Apple or Samsung. Rather it will take the entire industry."
Juan Santiago, Director of Product Management, Ruckus, said MuLTEfire capabilities need to be built into devices from the start, like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
"There are billions and billions of Wi-Fi devices out there and those are going to keep operating for some time," he said. "What needs to happen is [we have to solve the problem of] how do we get MuLTEfire onto devices like these?"
However, he added that he was sceptical about people buying a smartphone specifically because it had MuLTEfire capabilities.
The panel also raised the question of whether it does enough versus the likes of Wi-Fi or cellular networks. Truphone's Body suggested future MuLTEfire networks need to be plug and play, with an enterprise able to buy a box from an electronics retailer and set it up easily. He added: "If you get big, there are better choices out there, like licence shared access. If it's mission critical you can lease a network."
Susiaho said he felt that while MuLTEfire's promise that it would be a good neighbour to other types of unlicensed spectrum was valid, network quality would degrade as more players wade into unlicensed bandwidth.
MuLTEfire has said it would offer mission critical quality networks, but Susiaho said these concerns were optimistic, especially amid areas where Wi-Fi struggles. He said: "The reason why we turned Wi-Fi off in Waterloo station [in central London] was it wasn't fit for purpose. It simply couldn't work."
The panel also said even if the technology is there, ensuring the business case for it is answered was a key issue facing MuLTEfire.
However, Stephan Litjens, Vice President, Portfolio Strategy and Analytics, Mobile Broadband, Nokia, and MulteFire Alliance board chair, argued the technology would be able to fill the gaps that cellular and Wi-Fi cannot. He said: "MuLTEfire is for mission critical applications...If you are outdoors at a campus area, Wi-Fi is not the right connectivity solution for it."
He said when the first deployment of the technology is made it would be within an industrial context. He said the Internet of Things is one area that the technology could power.