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Spreadtrum, Mozilla to roll out $25 Firefox smartphone

Posted: 24 Feb 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:entry-level smartphone  Firefox  reference designs 

Spreadtrum Communications and Mozilla have come together to storm the world's emerging markets with a $25 smartphone. The two companies said they have completed the integration of Firefox OS with several of Spreadtrum's WCDMA and EDGE smartphone chipsets.

The first-generation Firefox OS smartphones, which were launched last year by companies such as Alcatel, ZTE, and LG, have been made available primarily through operator channels. Carriers like Telefonica have deployed Firefox OS smartphones, but many analysts see little impact so far on the smartphone market. Scott Bicheno, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, told us Firefox OS handsets make up "less than 1% of total global smartphone shipments."

The Spreadtrum/Mozilla strategy for $25 smartphones is to change that narrative. Diana Jovin, vice president of corporate strategy at Spreadtrum, told us the devices will be "sold on the open market" and will target "first-time smartphone users."

The integration of Firefox OS support into Spreadtrum's smartphone development platform is likely to play a key role. The Chinese vendor's so-called turnkey solution incorporates literally every piece of software and hardware necessary to build a finished handset very quickly, including all the chips, boards, and a display.

A number of Chinese handset ODMs—with a much better cost structure than Western mobile handset vendors—are expected to start flooding emerging markets this year with Firefox OS-based entry-level smartphones.

$25 price tag at retail?

That $25 price tag, predictably, has raised a few eyebrows in the analyst community.

Wayne Lam, senior analyst for consumer and communications at IHS, wonders if $25 is the manufacturing cost. "A smartphone has a cost budget that usually looks like 30% for display and 45% for core electronics and 25%" for things like the battery, camera, and enclosures," he told us

When we asked about this, Spreadtrum's Jovin made it clear that $25 is the retail price.

Obviously, a critical element of the price is the low memory configuration of the web-based nature of Firefox's OS. Jovin said a Firefox OS-based smartphone needs just half the memory of other smartphone, which typically require 1 Gbit of embedded DRAM and 2 Gbit of extended NAND.

Lam agreed with that assessment. "FireFox OS has less processing and memory requirements, since the OS and the services live mostly in the cloud. For example, most of the apps written for Firefox OS are written in HTML5 and can be run within a mobile browser."

Spreadtrum unveiled the SC6821 WCDMA smartphone chipset Sunday, Feb. 23, at the Mobile World Congress as the industry's first chipset for $25 smartphones. With this chipset, the company said, handset makers will be able to bring to market smartphones "with 3.5-inch HVGA touchscreens, integrated [with] WiFi, Bluetooth, FM and camera functions, the advanced phone and browser features of Firefox OS, and access to a rich ecosystem of web and HTML5 applications."

The price points of first-generation Firefox devices are "at the $60-$100 level, on par with low-end Android devices," as Lam said. However, the $25 Firefox phone pitched by Spreadtrum and Mozilla is aimed at people who have never used smartphones before—a market segment traditionally served by low-cost devices with minimal features.

Though the marketshare is gradually decreasing, 46.4% of mobile phones sold to consumers last year were still feature phones, according to recent figures from Gartner. That translates into roughly 838 million feature phones for consumers, who could be persuaded to try a very low-cost, Firefox OS-based smartphone.

Mozilla's Firefox OS is "an operating system well suited for this segment," Jovin said. "First-time smartphone users find it intuitive to have everything—from a browser to apps—on a seamless web platform." No switching from apps to the web is required. Moreover, the low-memory Firefox OS environment enables $25 Firefox OS phones access to Android KitKat-level of applications—which are out of reach for entry-level Android phones.

Lam also said a $25 smartphone (at retail) would bring the smartphone experience to developing markets traditionally served by the ultra-low-cost segment. "Think of it as direct competition to the $20 Nokia 105 feature phone."


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