The not-for-profit organisation behind the Firefox web browser has announced handsets based on its operating system for mobile phones. In a press conference ahead of Mobile World Congress, Mozilla said that 18 operators including Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica, were signed up.

The mobiles will go head to head with established software from Apple and Google’s Android division.However like its Browser, Mozilla described the Firefox OS as an “open alternative”. Built entirely using HTML5 and other open Web standards, Firefox OS is free from the rules and restrictions of existing proprietary platforms.

Firefox phones are likely to be sold first in the developing world and Eastern Europe and will be at the cheaper end of the smartphone market, according to Jay Sullivan, vice president of products at Mozilla.

He said manufacturers LG, ZTE, Huawei and TCL had all committed to building devices, with more firms “to follow”. “If someone searches for content it will show any apps that have that content. The web can be searched, indexed and crawled in ways native apps cannot,”

“Developers are busy and don’t have time to learn a new programming language. We believe that the only remaining eco-system is the web and there are more developers for the web than for any other platform in the world.”

At the beginning of the year, Mozilla revealed a partnership with Spanish firm Geeksphone, with handsets made available to developers.

Analysts believe Mozilla faces an uphill struggle to be anything other than a niche player in the smartphone market.

“A Firefox phone may be slightly cheaper than an Android one but the latter has access to Google services and 700,000 apps,” said Nick Dillon, an analyst with research firm Ovum.

For him this year’s Mobile World Congress will be all about the “third eco-system.”

“We have several players including Jolla Mobile and Ubuntu. There are a lot of new entrants all vying for that third place,” he said.

Ovum also warned that the Firefox operating system was “slow and buggy” in its current state adding that it could not “hide behind price as a justification for poor performance” when Samsung and Nokia had their own budget devices on the market.

The full list of operators signing up to the Firefox OS is: America Movil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Three Group, KDDI, KT, MegaFon, Qtel, SingTel, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia Group, Telefonica, Telenor, TMN and VimpelCom.

The organization said the first countries to get the Firefox handsets would be Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela.

The big question is whether these Smartphones will as promised be cheap especially for the African market which is still virgin territory when it comes to the Smartphone industry

Credit: BBC