Mozilla previews Firefox OS with four phone makers and 18 operators onboard

The first phones will come from Alcatel One Touch, LG Electronics and ZTE

Mozilla previewed the first commercial build of its Firefox OS and announced several operator and smartphone rollout plans on Sunday at Mobile World Congress.

The OS is being pitched as a better alternative for low-end smartphones in developing markets and is built around applications written using HTML5.

The first phones using the OS are all powered by Qualcomm processors and will be offered by Alcatel One Touch, LG Electronics and ZTE starting this summer, according to Mozilla. Huawei Technologies will also come out with products later this year, it said.

ZTE will officially announce its first phone in Barcelona on Monday.

In addition to the phone makers, 18 operators are also lining up behind Firefox OS, including América Móvil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Japan's KDDI, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and Telenor. The operators will first launch phones in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela, they said.

Mozilla expects more phone makers and more markets to added going forward. The U.S. market will have to wait until 2014, it said.

For any operating system, the availability of apps and support from developers are both very important.

Mozilla said it doesn't need to build a new ecosystem for Firefox OS because it can take advantage of all the HTML5 developers already writing software. At Mobile World Congress, it demonstrated integration with Facebook and mapping based on Nokia's Here platform. Applications for the OS will for example be available on Firefox Market.

Considerable operator support underlines the desire for an HTML5-based alternative to iOS and Android, but the depth of commitment is unclear, according to CCS Insight. Success hinges on apps, attractive devices and operator subsidies, it said.

The real acid test for Firefox OS and its long-term prospects is the quality of the software itself and the user and developer experiences that it fosters, according to Ovum. However, it will be difficult to say whether it meets those needs sufficiently until we have seen retail devices.

"What is clear from the Firefox OS demonstration handsets that we have seen was that they are still some way from being market ready, being both slow and buggy," it said in a statement.

At Mobile World Congress, Mozilla has also joined forces with Ericsson and AT&T to show WebRTC, a framework that allows browsers to perform functions usually confined to mobile phones such as voice and video calls and messaging.

The joint demonstration builds on Mozilla's Social API and WebRTC support in Firefox, Ericsson's Web Communication Gateway and the AT&T API platform to enable the browser to sync with a user's existing phone number and provide calling services without any plugins to download.

WebRTC (real-time communications) is being standardized by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The demonstration is taking place at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which opens its doors on Monday.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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Tags Internet-based applications and servicesapplicationsTelephony/conferencingbrowsersMozilla FoundationsoftwaremobileinternetMWCmobile applications

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Mikael Ricknäs

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