Vodafone Group director of network architecture Santiago Tenorio presented a prototype open RAN compliant 5G network-in-a-box produced at the company’s innovation lab, a breakthrough heralded for its potential to widen private network availability.

The device is around the size of a standard home Wi-Fi router and was unveiled to media by Tenorio ahead of being displayed at MWC23 Barcelona next week. It uses a Raspberry Pi platform with small 5G compatible embeddable software defined radio (SDR) circuit board.

Tenorio noted the SDR board was made by specialist Lime Microsystems and can turn any computing platform into a small 5G base station, complete with radio and core.

He highlighted Vodafone had used Raspberry Pi for its simplicity, adding “if you can turn this into a base station, you can turn anything into a base station”.

Changing the properties of the software over-the-air also allows the box to offer accessibility to 4G, 2G and Wi-Fi. It can also be turned into an FM radio.

The technology in the box is fully compliant with open RAN standards and can be used as part of private networks or connect to a public infrastructure to improve localised coverage. Tenorio estimated should it enter full production, the box would have a similar cost as a home Wi-Fi router.

“We think there is a lot of potential…to enable a new generation of radios”, he added noting 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”.

The company believes these new-style radios could aid spread the availability of private mobile networks to small- and medium-sized businesses currently priced out of the market.

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