Vodafone launches 5G network-in-a-box – Fierce Network

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  • Lime Microsystems launches crowdfunding campaign for developer edition of Raspberry Pi-based platform
  • Ultimate aim is to bring down cost to the same level as a Wi-Fi router
  • Mobile private networks are seen as one of the first tangible ways to make money from 5G

Yago Tenorio, fellow and director of network architecture at Vodafone, said on Wednesday that the open RAN-based 5G network-in-a-box it unveiled at MWC Barcelona 2024 is now being launched commercially by its partner Lime Microsystems.

Speaking at the DSP Leaders World Forum in Windsor, England, Tenorio said Lime has kickstarted the crowdfunding campaign for the developer edition of the model.

“This is a software-defined radio base station,” he said. “You can use it in any network with any spectrum” and deploy it as a 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G base station.

As previously indicated by Vodafone, the product is designed with small businesses, schools and universities in mind, or “anyone who needs their own affordable, fast, and secure 5G network in a hurry.” The concept was co-developed at Vodafone’s R&D center in Málaga, Spain.

“I think this is part of the future,” Tenorio said, noting that the ambition is ultimately for the box to cost the same as a Wi-Fi router. “So you will have a 5G core and a 5G base station, your own mobile private network, for what the Wi-Fi router may cost you.”

According to Lime, the LimeNET Micro 2.0 DE (Developer Edition) is a modular radio platform that is based on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 (CM4) and LimeSDR XTRXfor their respective computing and RF features.

The crowdfunding campaign is on Crowd Supply, and purchasing options include the LimePSB RPCM board only, a complete LimeNET Micro 2.0 kit, and a “deluxe kit” that includes the Amarisoft 5G stack with core network, plus two 5G smartphones and ten SIM cards.

Vodafone first took a prototype of the 5G network-in-a-box to MWC in 2023. At the time, Tenorio said interest far outweighed initial expectations. “We thought it was cool but the demand for it – it’s gone out of proportion,” he said.

Vodafone said a key feature of the new version is that it can be configured and managed remotely. “This makes 5G Network in a Box ideal for customers who want all the benefits of a mobile private network (MPN) without the need for in-house IT or telecommunications skills,” it added.

5G: money talks

Tenorio framed the commercial launch of the 5G network-in-a-box within the wider context of how telcos can and should be making money out of 5G networks. 

“We are almost halfway through the 5G decade, and the question on what is the killer app for 5G, or how we’re going to make money from 5G, is still mostly outstanding,” he said. 

In addition to open RAN and mobile private networks, he highlighted artificial intelligence(AI), direct-to-cell satellite technology and network APIs as interesting opportunities in the future.

On AI, he noted that the computing power that AI will need “may actually require [digital service providers/DSPs] to play a role, and that’s very interesting. That’s probably going to happen in the next two three years … probably at some point in the second half of the decade.”

He also described the ability to provide satellite services direct to unmodified phones as potentially “very disruptive and a breakthrough innovation, and it may actually open new ways to monetize value” by supporting applications that require ubiquitous connectivity. Here, Vodafone is already investing in AST SpaceMobile, for example.

In terms of the broader application of open RAN in public networks, Tenorio reiterated Vodafone’s previously announced ambition to have 30% of its masts based on open RAN in Europe by 2030. The operator has recently launched a request for quotes for open RAN technology across its entire global footprint of 170,000 sites.

“If we’re talking about monetizing 5G, why do we talk about open RAN? Well, open RAN creates optionality. Optionality creates competition. Competition creates innovation, and innovation reduces cost. With a reduced cost, you can roll out 5G to more places more quickly,” he commented.

While noting that he was unable to reveal too much at present because of the RFQ, Tenorio said it is no secret that Vodafone is procuring 32 different radios in order to meet the varying spectrum needs of its markets. And when it comes to choosing the radios, power consumption will be a key criterion, he stressed.

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