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T-Mobile joins effort to bring Ubuntu phones to US mobile market

Signs on with Verizon, global carriers in Linux-based smartphone effort

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Fourth-ranked US wireless operator T-Mobile has become the latest mobile carrier to join Canonical's Ubuntu Carrier Advisory Group (CAG), bringing the group's total membership to 13.

"T-Mobile USA reaches almost 300 million American consumers and business people today," Canonical said in a statement on Thursday. "As a member of the CAG, T-Mobile USA will join discussions to influence the development of Ubuntu for smartphones."

The move makes T-Mobile the second US carrier to participate in the Ubuntu smartphone effort, after market leader Verizon Wireless signed up in June.

Other members include China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Everything Everywhere, Korea Telecom, LG UPlus, MTN Group, Portugal Telecom, SK Telecom, Smartfren, Telecom Italia, and Telstra.

As members of the CAG, carriers "have the opportunity to be a launch partner and gain the right to ship Ubuntu in markets they serve," according to Canonical's Ubuntu phone website.

Not that there's much to ship, so far. Canonical has been working to transform Ubuntu into a viable smartphone platform for more than half a year now, but progress has been slow and handsets running the OS in its current form function as little more than developer prototypes.

There haven't been many signs of support from hardware makers, either. Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth has been pitching manufacturers a unique, hybrid computing model, in which an Ubuntu phone will function as a full-fledged Linux PC when it's plugged into a keyboard and monitor.

"The phone makers I speak to are excited about this," Shuttleworth says – but they don't seem to be so excited that they're kicking in funds to make it happen. Instead, the erstwhile space tourist has launched an unprecedented $32m (£20.8m) crowdfunding campaign to build his pilot device, the Ubuntu Edge.

"This is an interesting exercise in working with the phone industry to see if we can connect to an early-adopter crowd," Shuttleworth says.

Unfortunately, the effort doesn't appear to be going all that well. Despite a strong start, donations to the project have slowed, and according to consulting firm Open Analytics, it has little chance of reaching its funding goal.

Even so, Canonical claims the Ubuntu Touch OS itself will be ready to ship for smartphones and tablets by the fourth quarter of 2013, should any manufacturers choose to preload it on more-typical hardware.

While they wait, T-Mobile and the other CAG members will meet to discuss such issues as how to build a developer ecosystem around the mobile Ubuntu platform, how to avoid platform fragmentation, and the best ways to implement payment processing and revenue sharing models, among other topics.

They'll also try to figure out how best to market Ubuntu to consumers. The carriers are hungry for an alternative to Android's market dominance, but with rival open source platforms Firefox OS and Tizen nipping at its heels, Ubuntu enters an increasingly crowded market, and it can afford few missteps. ®

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