Vodafone has unveiled a prototype 5G network built on a credit card sized Raspberry Pi personal computer and an equally small, advanced silicon chipset.
Beyond the “network on a chip” aspect, the pre- Mobile World Congress (MBC) Barcelona 2023 announcement is notable for the British telecom major’s eagerness to position the concept as a solution for private 5G in the small business segment—which represents a much larger addressable market than current solutions enjoy today, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
Reportedly, the prototype cellular base station uses a small 5G compatible embeddable software-defined radio (SDR) circuit board, supplied by UK-based semiconductor firm Lime Microsystems, which is also compatible with Open RAN software.
John Marcus, Principal Technology Analyst for Enterprise Technology and Services at GlobalData, says: “Beyond the low-cost “network on a chip” aspect, the next most provocative piece of Vodafone’s announcement comes from the vendor’s highlighting of new, large, market segments that can be served by a credit card-sized 5G network. The first of these is private 5G for small and medium-sized enterprises, which would represent an exponentially larger number of potential customers than today’s target market of large industrials.”
GlobalData analysis finds that the concept could serve several use cases, from campus networks to indoor coverage, and from private network applications including industrial IoT to providing boosted public 5G coverage where an enterprise needs it. Finding traction in the small business segment for private 5G, however, is unlikely to materialize any time soon. It is important to note that the Vodafone concept is only a prototype, with no further published plans for commercialization of the technology.
Marcus concludes: “Vodafone has not launched a product or service, but it is easy to imagine what it might look like when it does. In some ways, it resembles 5G fixed wireless access (FWA), but it could also become part of vertical IoT solutions which require the throughput and latency of 5G but so far ca not justify the cost of private networks.”