Telefónica explains why it's selling ZTE's 'Open' Firefox phone

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BARCELONA, Spain--Telefónica plans to sell ZTE's "Open" Firefox OS phone sometime this summer in Europe and Latin America. The carrier said it will target the phone to younger customers who have not yet purchased their first smartphone.

ZTE Open Firefox phone

ZTE Open

The touchscreen ZTE Open has a 3.5-inch screen and a 3.2-megapixel camera. Although ZTE and Telefónica declined to say how much the phone will cost, the phone's low-end specifications and target market indicate it likely will be on the very low end of the smartphone pricing curve.

He Shiyou, the head of ZTE's mobile phone business, said the Open will be targeted at "young people who are adventurous and would like to try something new." A Telefónica representative pointed out that only 18 percent of the carrier's customer base owns smartphones, which indicates a potentially significant base of sales for the Open.

Interestingly, Telefónica said it will design a special service for the phone that will allow users to track their mobile service charges in real time.

Telefónica's action is notable because it is pushing to break the stranglehold that Apple and Google enjoy on the smartphone market. Mozilla's Firefox OS is being billed as an "open" platform, built on Web standards, that will give carriers and users more control over their smartphone experience. As for apps, the Firefox OS will run HTML5 apps, including games like Fruit Ninja and others.

The Firefox OS "makes users sovereign over their experience," said Brendan Eich, CTO and co-founder of Mozilla. "What this adds up to is the freedom to blaze your own path."

Telefónica was one of 17 carriers that announced support for Firefox's platform here at the Mobile World Congress trade show. Other carriers include América Móvil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Whampoa's Three Group, KDDI, KT, MegaFon, Qtel, SingTel, Smart, Sprint Nextel, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telenor, TMN and VimpelCom. Telstra indicated it is open to the initiative. Mozilla said the "first wave" of Firefox phones will hit Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela, with additional markets after that. Handset vendors building Firefox phones include ZTE, LG, Huawei, TCL's Alcatel and Sony Mobile Communications, which said it hopes to have a Firefox phone in the market next year.

"Firefox OS represents a good opportunity for operators to cost-effectively increase smartphone penetration," said Informa Telecoms & Media analyst Paul Lambert. "To make a success of Firefox OS operators will need to do a lot of work to convince the market about the benefits and capabilities of Firefox-based devices. They will also need to work closely with the manufacturers to make sure the devices are compelling enough - from appearance and usage perspectives - to help increase smartphone penetration among their target markets."

For more:
- see this Mozilla release
- see this CNET article

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