Ina Fried

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Meet Mozilla’s Host of New Mobile Partners

Mozilla’s efforts to build a Web-based mobile operating system around its Firefox browser took a significant step forward on Sunday.

Firefox event Barcelona

The company brought together several of its early partners in Barcelona to show the progress it has made in the months since it first unveiled the Firefox OS project.

The browser maker is looking to create for the phone an operating system similar to what Google is trying on the desktop with Chrome OS. It has been showing previews of the software since last year and last month said it was readying preview hardware for developers to begin testing apps.

Mozilla is among a number of companies seeking to provide an alternative to Android and iOS. It’s a crowded field, though, that includes BlackBerry, Microsoft and Canonical.

Among those slated to be on hand for the company’s press conference include the chiefs of carriers Deutsche Telekom, Telekom Italia, Telnor and Telefónica as well as Paul Jacobs, CEO of chipmaker Qualcomm.

We’ll have live coverage of the event when it kicks off around 9 am PT on Sunday. And Mozilla chief Gary Kovacs will have more to say about Firefox when he appears in April as part of our D: Dive Into Mobile conference.

5:36 pm Barcelona time: The event won’t begin for another 20 minutes or so, but the information is starting to trickle out. Among the additional partner names that have cropped up here at the event is Sprint.

5:47 pm: Telefonica R&D CEO Carlos Domingo is getting mobbed by reporters, most of whom want to get a photo of the Firefox OS phone he is holding.

5:49 pm: It looks like device makers LG, Huawei, ZTE and Alcatel One Touch are on board as well.

Alcatel, LG and ZTE will build the first devices, with Huawei’s first Firefox OS phones coming on later in the year.

Here’s ZTE’s phone:

ZTE Open Orange-white 20130129

Which looks to be headed to Telefonica’s movistar brand.

Telefonica plans a broad launch with devices headed to Brazil, Colombia, Spain and Venezuela around mid-year with more European and Latin American countries later in the year and into 2014. It will have models from Alcatel One Touch, LG and ZTE.

Here’s a look at an Alcatel model:

BeetleLite FF_2Jpeg3

6:09 pm: Firefox CEO Gary Kovacs kicks off the company’s press conference with a shout out to the company’s co-founders Mitchell Baker and Brendan Eich, who are in the audience.

6:10 pm: Kovacs has some trouble advancing his slides, quips he is using an iPhone to control them.

Kovacs notes that when the company announced its phone OS plans last year it had only a couple early partners and it now has support from 17 carriers and several hardware makers.

6:12 pm: “We’re on the edge of unlocking mobile,” Kovacs says.

6:14 pm: Kovacs notes that his company isn’t profit-driven and won’t be with Firefox OS; the company’s goal is just to keep the Web at the center of things. That will keep power from being concentrated in one or two app stores, to allow lots of over-the-top services and support Web standards.

There shouldn’t be one or two companies that can approve the content seen by billions of people.

“That’s a broken model and it needs to change,” he said.

Kovacs asks all the partners at the event to stand, noting that it’s not easy to support version one of a product.

“I know you are not timid,” he said. “I’m on the phone with you.”

Initial handset makers, as we noted, are ZTE, Alcatel One Touch, LG and Huawei.

“There are more coming,” he said.

6:16 pm: Speaking now is Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs touting HTML5. (Of course, Qualcomm’s chips also power a ton of Android phones and all Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8 devices.)

6:25 pm: Demo time.

Things start out simple and easy, says Firefox’s Jay Sullivan. That’s because most Firefox OS customers will be coming from feature phones.

There will be a Firefox Marketplace to highlight Web apps, but the company isn’t asking developers to do anything different.

“We’re not looking to create a new ecosystem,” Sullivan said.

Among the early Web apps for the Firefox Marketplace are: AccuWeather, AirBnB, Box, Cut the Rope, Facebook, MTV Brasil, Pulse News, SoundCloud, SporTV, Terra, Time Out and Twitter.

And maps are kind of important, Sullivan notes, adding that Firefox has been working with Nokia to make sure its Here Maps work well under Firefox OS.

6:29 pm: Sullivan notes that even though Firefox OS is Web-based lots of things can be cached, even running in Airplane mode. He demos it with an issue of Time Out Barcelona stored for offline reading.

And while Mozilla will have a marketplace, they won’t be the only one, meaning there can be lots of vertical marketplaces as well as the option for device makers to distribute directly.

Mozilla also has an open model for payments, including a carrier billing option.

6:36 pm: Sullivan touting ability to dynamically configure phone for a point in time, like having a bunch of movie-related content for Oscar night without requiring a user to visit an app store.

02_Left

6:39 pm: Now Mozilla is trotting out the carriers supporting Firefox OS, starting with Franco Bernabe, CEO of Telecom Italia, followed by Telefonica CEO Cesar Alierta.

Telefonica plans to introduce Firefox OS devices in many markets this year and in all of its markets around the world by the end of next year.

“Duopolies are not beneficial for any industry” and Firefox OS should help, Alierta said.

6:53 pm: Deutsche Telekom CEO Rene Obermann said that his company will launch first in Poland this summer and then expand to other Eastern European markets, if all goes well there.

Latin American carrier America Movil said it plans to launch Firefox OS devices in all the countries where it operates.

6:55 pm: Q and A time.

Asked how Firefox OS will stand out from Android and iOS devices, Kovacs said that they can deliver mid- to high-end smartphone performance for the price of a high-end feature phone.

In terms of the United States, Kovacs said the company has plans for its home market. “We have partners lined up,” he said. “It’s not the first launch country,” he added, saying devices are likely in the U.S. next year.

Notably, Sprint — which is listed as a partner — didn’t speak at the event, which just wrapped up.

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