Firefox Smartphones Have Backing of Sprint, 16 Other Carriers

Mozilla says 17 major carriers are backing its smartphones, which will run the Firefox OS and be made by LG, ZTE, Alcatel and Huawei.

Mozilla is introducing the first commercial build of its Firefox mobile operating system and says it has the backing of 17 major operators worldwide, including Sprint in the United States.

Mozilla officials, announcing their mobile OS and the carrier support Feb. 24 at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain, said the first phones will be built by Alcatel, LG and ZTE, with devices from Huawei following later in the year. All will run Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors.

America Movil, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and Telenor will be the first to begin selling the phones, likely around midyear.

"Our goal is to level the playing field and usher in an explosion of content and services that will meet the diverse needs of the next 2 billion people online," Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs said in a statement.

"Firefox OS smartphones are the first built entirely to open Web standards, enabling every feature to be developed as an HTML5 application," Mozilla explained in its statement. "Web apps access every underlying capability of the device, bypassing the typical hindrances of HTML5 on mobile to deliver substantial performance."

Mozilla officials added that the platform's flexibility will make it easy for its carrier partners to tailor the interface—and even local services—to their customers.

In rallying the level of support that it has so early in its development, Firefox "has achieved something that no device software has previously managed," Ovum analyst Tony Cripps said in a Feb. 25 statement.

"This is a huge achievement for what, in fairness, has looked like an underdog among the plethora of alternative software platforms currently vying to power the so-called 'third ecosystem,'" Cripps said. "Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10 and Tizen all look like better bets on the surface. As such, the Mozilla Foundation and its early sponsors, especially Telefonica, deserve considerable credit."

The "acid test" for the Firefox OS and its long-term prospects, he added, will be the quality of the software and the user and developer experiences that follow from it.

"What is clear from the Firefox OS demonstration handsets ... was that they are still some way from being market-ready, being both slow and buggy," said Cripps.

In January, Mozilla showed off two developer preview smartphones, the Peak and the even more affordable Keon. Neither supported Long Term Evolution (LTE), but for value-geared markets—in which the phones will be offered unlocked, without subsidy—they offered nice-enough specs. The Peak, for example, features a 4.3-inch multi-touch display, an 8-megapixel back camera and a 2-megapixel camera up front.

America Movil expects to see the strong response to its upcoming Firefox phones in Peru and Central America.

With only 15 percent of the carrier's 261.6 million customers currently using smartphones, "the opportunities for growth are huge," America Movil Chief Marketing Officer Marco Quatorze told Bloomberg.

Fared Adib, Sprint senior vice president of product development and operations, said in a statement that Sprint supports an "open mobile ecosystem that enables freedom and creativity for developers. Firefox OS provides a new level of flexibility for developers to create innovative apps our customers can enjoy."

During the fourth quarter, Android was on 70 percent of the 207 million-plus smartphones that shipped, according to Gartner analysts. Apple followed with a 21 percent share, and behind it the OS makers scrambled for single-percentage shares.

BlackBerry, with its new BlackBerry 10 platforms, and Microsoft, with Windows Phone 8, will this year each push to grab more than 3 percent, as still other platforms try to break into the highly competitive, feast-or-famine market.

Samsung, which shipped more phones than any company last year, thanks to its line of Android-running Galaxy devices, has said that this year it will also launch devices running the Intel-backed, Linux-based Tizen mobile operating system.

According to Cnet, the first Samsung Tizen phones will be released in "July or August."

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.</p