Vodafone has developed a “prototype” 5G network built onto a Raspberry PI using an “advanced silicon chipset”, and is hailing it as a means for small businesses and homes to get online cheaply.
Announcing the prototype in a press release (opens in new tab) and promotional video (opens in new tab), the company claims that the product will offer a portable 5G network “for the cost of a wi-fi router”.
The news follows Vodafone’s announcement in 2022 of its partnership with over 20 chip vendors, including Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom and ARM, aimed at producing new Open RAN-compliant products and services, such as within the mobile private network (MPN) sector, at Vodafone’s European R&D Center in Málaga, Spain.
Vodafone’s “democratization” of MPNs
Vodafone’s prototype works by fitting a Raspberry Pi 4 with a 5G-compatible radio circuit board produced by UK company Lime Microsystems, turning the Pi into a base station that can become part of a private network, an extension of a larger MPN, or connect to Vodafone’s public networks.
While an exciting development, it’s important to note that MPNs have been around for some time, with Cisco having detailed its own plans for a private 5G network platform at 2022’s MWC conference.
That being said, it’s encouraging that Vodafone wants to bring compact and portable MPNs to the masses. It notes that the technology is, so far, mostly used by large businesses who need a large-scale network to connect several devices at once.
But it also wants that to change, claiming that smaller businesses, and even households and individuals, could stand to benefit from the ease-of-setup, portability and privacy of MPNs.
Santiago Tenorio, Director of Network Architecture for Vodafone, notes that the prototype, developed, is aimed at bringing “big data technologies” to small businesses throughout Europe.
“The next step,” he says, “is to take ideas like this to a place where they can be developed and eventually produced. Our door is open to interested vendors.”
Vodafone will demonstrate a 5G network running on a Pi device at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, on Monday 27 February, 2023.