Some emerging service providers have expressed interest in LTE for use solely in unlicensed spectrum, according to Tolaga Research analyst Phil Marshall. In addition to cable operators that want to supplement their services with mobile, adopters might include wireless carriers that can't get spectrum licenses in all the places they want to serve. That might mean, for example, AT&T setting up LTE service in foreign countries on unlicensed spectrum, but it's more likely to be a strategy for service providers in Europe that want to cross borders, Marshall said.
"There's a few scenarios that work, but obviously the ecosystem has to be developed," Marshall said.
Wi-Fi network operators and vendors have worked for years to match cellular in one area: the ability to roam onto and among different networks. Hotspot 2.0 technology has been gradually refined and is in use on some networks, but the ease of use it's promised has fallen short, Jarich said. That might be behind efforts to bring LTE into the Wi-Fi band, he said.
"The experience hasn't been there," Jarich said. "Is that part of what's going on here?"
Qualcomm itself may be a major force in determining if unlicensed-only LTE catches on. The company says it's working to develop industry-wide specifications for the technology. Qualcomm's commanding share of the mobile-device silicon market might give it the influence to bring MuLTEfire — or whatever it's eventually called — to scale.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.