What Does the Announcement of Vodafone’s 5G Network on a Raspberry Pi mean for Enterprise Cellular Connectivity?

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By Leo Gergs | 1Q 2023 | IN-6856

This insight will introduce Vodafone’s recent announcement—to put a 5G Network on a raspberry pi—and discuss its relevance and most likely impact for enterprise cellular connectivity.

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Vodafone Announces 5G Private Network on a Raspberry Pie


While the industry recovers from this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), it is time to discuss some of the announcements that shaped the topic of discussions on the show floor. As one of these announcements, Communication Service Provider (CSP) Vodafone earlier in February 2023 unveiled a 5G prototype network built on a credit card-sized Raspberry Pi personal computer and an equally small, advanced silicon chipset. By combining the power of Vodafone’s extensive pan-European 5G network with the simplicity and versatility of a Raspberry Pi, Vodafone aims to make 5G-based Mobile Private Networks (MPNs) more accessible, particularly to small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across Europe.

The board design is fully compliant to Open Radio Access Network (RAN) standards, which means it can be used with any computing machine capable of running Open RAN compatible software. In line with the Open RAN approach, Vodafone expects these networks to be built on a mix of hardware and software from multiple vendors rather than today’s single-supplier networks, leading to greater innovation and a strengthened vendor supply chain.

Will Vodafone's Raspberry Pi Revolutionize the Enterprise Cellular Offering?


There are a few different reasons why this announcement is interesting for the wider discussion around enterprise connectivity. First, it is a good sign to see that the market is moving and new technology solutions are being proposed to provide reliable enterprise connectivity. Second, it shows that the telecom industry starts to move away from centering the enterprise cellular discussion on pure technology aspects and starts to consider logistic enterprise aspects as well, like the size of infrastructure and the work it would take to mount a cellular enterprise network. Furthermore, this is a good first step of CSPs as it shows their willingness to innovate and bring new technology solutions to the market.

At the same time, however, this announcement also sheds light at what the telecom industry still lacks at the moment in bringing cellular connectivity to enterprises. Certainly, size of equipment and implementation ease of implementation for enterprises do matter, but successful private network deployment requires more in terms of business model and monetizing strategy. Especially in the current macroeconomic climate, where rising costs of production squeezes enterprise abilities to invest large sums into upfront cellular connectivity. Consequentially, any private cellular network offering will need to be embedded into a comprehensive commercial strategy and combined with a sound business model and a transparent monetizing model that allow enterprises to calculate the ongoing expenses that would incur from the deployment of a private cellular network. All this shows that the conceptualization requires a lot more than just a small form factor and an easily deployable infrastructure hardware – as this needs to be embedded into a sound commercial strategy.

The Telecom Industry Needs More Blueprints & Reference Architectures


As the announcement of Vodafone further proved, the successful provision of cellular enterprise connectivity solutions will require joint efforts of the entire telecom industry. Certainly, a large portion of this falls in the responsibility of CSPs, especially when it comes to defining framework Service Level Agreements (SLAs), how services will be monetized, and what level of networking control can be handed over to enterprises.

This leaves other industry partners, like infrastructure vendors, hyperscalers and semiconductor manufacturers, with two possible options to act. Either they take a step back and develop their products, or leave fate of cellular enterprise connectivity to whatever their channel partners make out of this. Albeit a theoretical possibility, as to date that such a strategy has not been overly successful. To further the adoption of private cellular, infrastructure vendors, hyperscalers, and semiconductor manufacturers will need to step up their efforts and enable its channel partners to communicate the value proposition of private cellular much more effectively and provide more easily scalable solutions. This calls for the development of blueprints and reference architectures, which allow CSPs to utilize the deep technology know how of its component vendor partners and significantly eases the complexity for service providers (CSPs, System Integrators (SIs), or Managed Service Provider). Intel’s Internet of Things Group (IOTG) has done a good job with its Converged Edge Reference Architecture (CERA) already, but more needs to happen in this domain. These blueprints should offer a modularized architecture for channel partners to be able to pick individual infrastructure components based on each enterprises’ requirements.

In doing so, telecom industry actors should of course continue to work together with SIs as a channel into different enterprise verticals. However, they will need to realize that SIs themselves are, to a certain degree, technology agnostic as they have different connectivity technologies in their portfolio and will leave the technology choice to enterprises. Consequentially, it is the responsibility of telecom industry partners to design (business) blueprints and reference architectures that will resonate with enterprises and their key requirements.



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