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The Linux Foundation announced today that an open source Magma platform for building wireless networks will now be managed under its auspices.

Originally developed by Facebook, the founding members of the Magma consortium include Arm, Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, FreedomFi, Qualcomm, the Institute of Wireless Internet of Things at Northeastern University, the OpenAirInterface Software Alliance, and the Open Infrastructure Foundation (formerly the OpenStack Foundation).

Magma provides organizations with a modular approach to creating an access-agnostic mobile packet core that comes bundled with network automation and management tools that use open source software. The goal is to make it simpler for both enterprise IT organizations and carriers to set up a wireless network that can be deployed on standard IT servers rather than proprietary network infrastructure.

Up until today, Magma has been governed by Facebook. The goal is to create a vendor-neutral governing structure for the project that will encourage more organizations to participate and deploy the platform, said Arpit Joshipura, general manager for networking and edge at the Linux Foundation.

The Linux Foundation has launched a series of networking initiatives that are all intended to enable telecommunications carriers to deploy programmable network services based on virtual machines and containers. The goal is to make it simpler for carriers to more rapidly provision network services in an age where IT teams routinely provision infrastructure resources in minutes. In contrast, carriers are still heavily dependent on legacy proprietary network infrastructure that is still programmed manually. Carriers are now determining to what degree they want to replace that physical infrastructure with either proprietary software-defined networks (SDNs) or equivalent open source software.

Magma extends that effort by making it easier to deploy a wireless network in, for example, a remote area that extends the reach of a carrier’s service. Alternatively, enterprise IT organizations can deploy their own wireless network that can be integrated with services provided by a carrier. “The goal is to plug Magma into a larger ecosystem,” said Joshipura.

Wireless networks based on Magma are designed to integrate with existing LTE networks in addition to providing the foundation for delivering 5G services. FreedomFi, for example, has deployed Magma on a set of radio access gateways that enable organizations to cost-effectively deploy their own private 5G network, said FreedomFi CEO Boris Renski. “It’s a new architecture,” he said. “The total cost of deploying a private 5G network is dropping.”

Use cases for a private 5G network span everything from connecting drilling platforms in an oil field to providing access to wireless networks in remote areas not served well by carriers, such as Indian reservations, Renski said.

Despite the availability of smartphones that are touted as being 5G enabled, the backend infrastructure that carriers rely on is still being modernized. In many cases, enterprise IT organizations that deploy their own private 5G network may be able to make more dedicated bandwidth available to a narrow range of devices than a carrier can currently provide.

Regardless of approach, the need for increased bandwidth at the network edge will soon become acute. Many organizations are building applications that assume a level of bandwidth will be available by the time those applications are ready to be deployed. If that bandwidth isn’t available at the levels advertised, the performance of those applications will suffer.

In the meantime, enterprise IT organizations might want to evaluate how dependent they want to be on carriers to deliver those 5G services and beyond. After all, the 5G services provided by carriers are considerably more expensive than existing LTE services that many organizations are already paying a premium to receive.

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