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Life of Pi extended to create your own private 5G network

Santiago Tenorio and device.jpg

Vodafone has built a prototype 5G network using a Raspberry Pi computer that can serve a home or office.

The company says it aims to make private mobile networks more accessible to the 22 million small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across Europe.

Santiago Tenorio (pictured, with prototype), Vodafone’s director of network architecture, said: “We looked at what Raspberry Pi did for computing, in terms of making it more accessible to people of all ages, and we wanted to do the same with 5G.”

The Raspberry Pi is a series of small single-board computers developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in association with chip designer Broadcom.

Though the project originally envisaged using the device to basic computer science, its applications have extended to home and business automation. One London-based IT journalist has build a Raspberry Pi system to monitor her cat Daphne’s catflap.

Vodafone said its Pi-based 5G system could offer households extended coverage providing an additional fast broadband link at times when many residents are online simultaneously.

The new system combines a Raspberry Pi 4 with a small 5G-compatible embeddable software-defined radio circuit board, made by UK-based Lime Microsystems. This board can turn any computing platform into a miniature 5G base station.

Vodafone said: “The resulting system can then be used either as part of a dedicated private network, an extension of a larger [mobile private network] or connected to Vodafone’s public network like any other base station.”

The company said the design, from Vodafone’s new European R&D centre in Málaga, is fully compliant with open radio access network (O-RAN) standards, which means it can be used with any computing machine capable of running open RAN compatible software.

Tenorio said: “Whilst this is just a prototype, it has the potential to bring new cloud, AI and big data technologies within reach of many of the small businesses we support across Europe. The next step is to take ideas like this to a place where they can be developed and eventually produced. Our door is open to interested vendors.”