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ZTE to launch Mozilla-based phone in Europe in 2013

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CES 2013 Chinese electronics firm ZTE is ramping up its efforts in support of the Mozilla Foundation's open source Firefox OS for mobile phones, and if all goes well, it could deliver a device targeting European customers as early as this year.

In an interview at the CES 2013 conference taking place in Las Vegas this week, Cheng Lixin, CEO of ZTE's US business unit, told Bloomberg that the company was already working with a European carrier to develop a Firefox OS device.

He didn't say which carrier, but Deutsche Telekom seems a likely candidate, given that Mozilla has already announced the German firm as a partner in its Firefox OS efforts.

Cheng also didn't say in which European country ZTE planned to launch its Mozilla-powered device. There's reason to believe it might choose somewhere other than the usual suspects.

Rather than going head-to-head with the likes of Apple for the top end of the market, Mozilla is developing Firefox OS to run on low-end smartphones for the developing world. It plans to launch its first devices this year in Brazil, in partnership with local carrier Telefónica.

If ZTE follows that pattern, it's possible it could pick one of the weaker European economies for a trial run of Firefox OS, then gradually broaden the platform's reach as time goes on.

But ZTE is interested in Firefox OS for another reason, too; namely, its desire to reduce its dependence on Google's Android. Samsung is planning to debut phones based on the open source Tizen OS this year for much the same reason. Both companies worry that Google is becoming not just a supplier but also a competitor, particularly in light of the Chocolate Factory's acquisition of Motorola Mobility in 2012.

Such concerns give ZTE plenty of incentive to promote Firefox OS aggressively, and if customers take to the platform, it could even abandon the slow-buildup strategy and charge straight ahead into rich markets.

"We closely monitor the ecosystem and how it evolves," Cheng told Bloomberg. "If that is ready and if consumer studies support that data, then we may launch [a Firefox OS device] in US also this year."

ZTE currently ranks fifth in the number of smartphone units shipped to the US, giving it around 5 per cent market share. Cheng said his goal is to boost the company into fourth place by 2015. ®

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