Monday, 20 November 2017

Telcos take back control with Firefox smartphone OS

By Mary Lennighan, Total Telecom, in Barcelona
Monday 25 February 13

Telefonica, Telenor, America Movil and Deutsche Telekom share plans to bring Firefox-based smartphones to market later this year.

Mozilla on Sunday demonstrated its new Firefox smartphone operating system alongside a number of the 18 global mobile operators that have pledged to support it. The new open standards-based OS will run on lower-spec devices than existing smartphone platforms, meaning it will be a valuable tool in bringing smartphones to a greater proportion of the world's mobile users. But more than that, it gives mobile operators a greater opportunity to participate in the smartphone value chain and could break the stranglehold Apple and Google have on the market at present…

Mozilla on Sunday demonstrated its new Firefox smartphone operating system alongside a number of the 18 global mobile operators that have pledged to support it.

The new open standards-based OS will run on lower-spec devices than existing smartphone platforms, meaning it will be a valuable tool in bringing smartphones to a greater proportion of the world's mobile users. But more than that, it gives mobile operators a greater opportunity to participate in the smartphone value chain and could break the stranglehold Apple and Google have on the market at present.

Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs likened the mobile market to the way the Internet space was evolving a decade or so ago, before the company released its now widely known Firefox Web browser. ″It's being unnaturally controlled by a few parties,″ he said at a busy press conference on the eve of this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

An HTML5 device will ″enable everyone around the world to participate in mobile,″ he said. ″The Web itself is the ultimate leveller of the playing field.″

Firefox will make it easier for users to get access to all kinds of content and applications, Kovacs pointed out. It's not about having one or two companies approve every piece of content: ″that's a broken model and it needs to change,″ he said.

″[We're] removing the gatekeeper,″ added Jay Sullivan, senior vice president of products at Mozilla. Firefox enables developers to get their software direct to consumers, he said. However, there will be a Firefox Marketplace, the difference between it and existing app stores being that it will not be the only app store available to users. ″We're not going to have the only one,″ Sullivan said. ″There will be many market places,″ some of which will come from the network operators themselves, he said.

″It's going to provide a lot of flexibility for the operators,″ said Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm, which is the exclusive provider of silicon for Firefox phones. ″This is going to provide a very, very large ecosystem.″

Indeed, the operators themselves were upbeat about the project.

The OS will ″change the prevailing value chain in the digital world,″ said Telefonica CEO Cesar Alierta. Closed ecosystems are ″not good for us,″ or for developers, customers or OEMs: ″Firefox operating system is the answer,″ he said. ″Duopolies are not beneficial for any industry.″

Firefox will enable Telefonica to bring smartphones to many of its customers for the first time, Alierta said, listing Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and Spain as markets in which it plans to offer Firefox-based devices.

″We will launch the first device in the summer in Poland,″ revealed Deutsche Telekom's outgoing CEO Rene Obermann. Launches in other Eastern European markets will follow.

American Movil aims to launch Firefox devices in all the Latin American markets in which it operates, the company's CMO Marco Quatorze said. ″[It's] a really good alternative for our customers,″ especially the ones who are not currently smartphone users, he said, hailing ″the beginning of the end of the walled gardens.″

Meanwhile, Telenor CEO Jon Fredrick Baksaas highlighted the importance of operators participating more effectively in the mobile applications space. Telcos ″tried with WAC,″ he said, referring to the GSMA's Wholesale Applications Community, which was designed to give operators a stake in the apps space by exposing their network APIs to developers, but largely failed to get off the ground. ″I don't know what really happened,″ with WAC, he said.

Telenor will go to market with Firefox phones in Central Europe in the second half of this year, Baksaas said.

Speaking of the devices, the first to market will be from ZTE and Alcatel One Touch, but Huawei and LG have also committed to launching Firefox phones.

″There are more coming,″ said Kovacs.

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