Mobile Players Form Linux Platform Pact

By Marc Jones

A group of the world's mobile operators and handset makers said on Thursday they are to join together to develop an open-source Linux-based operating system that could to be used in phones by the end of 2007.

Mobile network operators Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo and handset makers Motorola, Samsung, NEC and Panasonic, said they would form an independent not-for-profit group to share the costs and speed up mobile software and handsets and cut the number of operating platforms on the market.

"We expect this initiative to speed time to market for new products and also enable us to create more personalized products and applications for consumers," said Vodafone's Global Director of Terminals, Jens Schulte-Bockum.

Similar to PCs, mobile devices use operating systems onto which applications such as text messaging and video and music players are loaded, much like a computer program would be loaded onto Microsoft's Windows platform or Apple's OS X.

With mobile technology advancing exponentially, the cost of development is soaring for handset-maker's devices. The problem is exacerbated by applications required to be written in a variety of computer codes to enable them to run on the different operating systems.

Linux software currently occupies only a tiny proportion of the mobile market, mainly in China, while market leaders Symbian and Microsoft dominate the space.

The attraction of Linux for handset makers is that as the code is not owned by any one company competition is likely to be fierce between firms supplying ready-to-use embedded Linux versions for phones, driving down fees, whereas Symbian and Microsoft can keep prices higher.

Mobile operators are also affected as they want as many of the phones they offer customers to have the latest must-have features and then charge for using them.

"The bigger cost saving elements will come from removing the number of small fragmented proprietary platforms and reducing long lead times for new services" Vodafone platform development director, Patrick Chomet, told Reuters.

"We have to adapt them each time we have a new game or a new service and we have to support ever single phone from every single supplier and that's huge effort in time and cost."

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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