The Japanese company MechaTracks has announced a 4G LTE add-on board (commonly called a HAT) for the Raspberry Pi called 4GPi. The 4GPi is the first commercially produced add-on board which offers CAT4 LTE connectivity for the Raspberry Pi, with 150 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload speeds. Other existing solutions are bandwidth limited, or are adapters for LTE modems used in laptops, with smaller antenna connectors.

MechaTracks notes that driver support for the 4GPi add-on board is available for Raspbian, the Raspberry Pi specific variant of Debian. Additionally, the 4GPi includes extension pins for the Raspberry Pi GPIO connector, making it possible to use in conjunction with other HATs. The add-on is compatible with any Raspberry Pi model which has a 40-pin GPIO header. Presently, this includes the Pi 1 A+ and B+, Pi 2 Model B, Pi 3 Model B and B+, as well as the Pi Zero and Zero W.

SEE: Enterprise IoT research: Uses, strategy, and security (Tech Pro Research)

Sales of the 4GPi will start on November 1, for ¥25000 JPY ($222 USD / €195 EUR). It will be available from Amazon Japan (with international shipping possible), as well as RS Components and SwitchScience. Of note, the chipset used on the 4GPI supports LTE bands 1, 3, 8, 18, 19, and 26, which are bands more commonly used in Japan, Korea, Thailand, India, Australia, New Zealand, and across Europe and South America. According to the chipset documentation, this variant does not have fallback capabilities for UMTS / HSPA or GSM / GPRS / EDGE networks.

While the price of 4GPi is quite a bit steeper than that of the base Raspberry Pi board, the combination of the two is still substantially more affordable than other LTE-connected development devices on the market, making it an attractive option for projects which require mobile network connectivity, particularly digital signage, security and asset tracking, and agricultural/environmental use cases, where relying on a constant Wi-Fi connection is impractical.

As mobile network operators prepare for wide deployment of 5G, existing IoT devices, which rely on legacy 3G networks will be in need of a replacement in order to maintain connectivity with the servers which push updates and receive updates from these devices. In July, Verizon stopped activating devices which only support 3G, making new deployments of devices which rely on their legacy 3G CDMA network impossible. Verizon is planning to decommission their 3G CDMA infrastructure at the end of 2019. Other mobile carriers in the US and worldwide are expected to do the same, though AT&T and T-Mobile have not yet disclosed their plans for network management.

SEE: Inside the Raspberry Pi: The story of the $35 computer that changed the world (TechRepublic cover story)

The proliferation of IoT devices and the accompanying connectivity demands, which these deployments require has also prompted action by the FCC to open more spectrum for medium-range communications. On October 23, the FCC voted unanimously to open 1200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band for unlicensed devices, such as Wi-Fi routers, baby monitors, cordless landline phones and others.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • The 4GPi will be available starting November 1, 2018, for ¥25000 JPY ($222 USD / €195 EUR).
  • Despite being more expensive than the base Raspberry Pi board, the combination is still one of the most affordable and extensible LTE connectivity solutions available.