Vodafone Showcases Portable 5G Network Built on Raspberry Pi
For the price of a Wi-Fi router, small business owners may soon have access to a 5G mobile private network.
5G networks usually require heavy and expensive equipment to provide spectrum over expansive ranges. But what if you could slip a personal 5G network into your laptop bag? Vodafone, a leading telecommunications company in Europe, recently announced a portable 5G network prototype built around the Raspberry Pi 4 with the hopes of making 5G networks more accessible and affordable.
Vodafone’s new 5G prototype. Image courtesy of Vodafone
Understanding the Underlying Hardware
To better understand Vodafone’s prototype, we must first explore some of the underlying hardware powering the solution. The new system combines a Raspberry Pi 4 with a small 5G-compatible embeddable software-defined radio (SDR) circuit board made by Lime Microsystems.
The Raspberry Pi 4 is a credit card-sized single-board computer popular with makers, educators, and hobbyists. Powered by a 64-bit quad-core Arm Cortex-A72 CPU, Raspberry Pi 4 is suitable for a wide range of computing tasks. The board also features dual-display support at resolutions up to 4K, 4 GB of RAM, gigabit Ethernet, and two USB 3.0 ports. The small form factor and low power consumption of the Raspberry Pi make it a useful platform for embedded applications such as Vodafone's portable 5G network.
Hardware on the Raspberry Pi 4. Image courtesy of Raspberry Pi
The SDR board, on the other hand, can augment most computing platforms with the functionality of a 5G base station. The Lime SDR XTRX board is based around a Xilinx Artix 7 35T FPGA. From a connectivity perspective, the SDR board features a Lime Microsystems LMS7002M MIMO FPRF transceiver, which can operate in a continuous frequency range of 100 kHz–3.8 GHz with bandwidth up to 61.44 MHz and power output up to 10 dBm.
The resulting system can then be used as part of either a dedicated private network, an extension of larger mobile private networks (MPNs), or connected to Vodafone's public network like any other base station. The board design is also fully compliant with Open Radio Access Network (RAN) standards, allowing the design to be compatible with any other compliant solutions.
Democratizing 5G in a Portable Prototype
While Vodafone isn’t offering anything new in the 5G world in terms of performance, what they are offering is a way to democratize 5G.
The power of Vodafone's pan-European 5G network combined with the versatility of a Raspberry Pi will enable small businesses and households to extend 5G coverage and increase capacity according to their needs. The new portable and affordable 5G network could also offer households an additional fast broadband link at times when many residents are online simultaneously.
Vodafone's prototype combines a Raspberry Pi 4 with Lime Microsystems' SDR XTRX board. Screenshot courtesy of Vodafone
Additionally, a 5G network based on a Raspberry Pi will lower the entry cost and reduce the resources needed to experience new digital services. Because of this, the design can extend the benefits of 5G and MPNs to previously unmet markets like small business owners.
While MPNs are typically used by large businesses or organizations with premises that need to connect a variety of devices and machines, such as autonomous vehicles and robots, Vodafone's portable 5G network enables small businesses and households to have their very own private 5G mobile network. The affordable network will also provide businesses and households with the flexibility to extend coverage to remote locations like basements and public places like coffee shops.