Mozilla said Monday that the organization's new Firefox mobile OS will be running on smartphones around the world beginning next year -- with partner Telefonica's first Vivo-branded models slated for launch in Brazil during the first quarter of 2013.

"The breadth of support for this initiative across the industry makes it clear that there is an opportunity in the market for a new, open mobile ecosystem," said Telefonica Digital CEO Matthew Key.

Formerly known as Boot To Gecko, Mozilla's coming Firefox OS platform will give handset makers wary of Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility an alternative to Android. According to Gartner, Android controlled 56.1 percent of the global smartphone market in the first quarter of this year.

In the United States, the first devices with Firefox OS aboard are likely to come from Mozilla partner Sprint. "Firefox mobile OS can help us drive an HTML 5-based platform for creating lower-cost smartphone options for prepaid, postpaid and wholesale customers," Sprint Product Chief Fared Adib said Monday.

Lowering Cost and Fostering Innovation

The global smartphone market has become highly commoditized of late -- and with differentiation becoming a challenge for manufacturers, said Anshul Gupta, a principal research analyst at Gartner. "This is particularly true for smartphones based on the Android OS, where a strong commoditization trend is at work and most players are finding it hard to break the mold."

Major smartphone industry players with intellectual property assets are able to launch high-end products with hardware features coupled with applications and services, helping differentiation, Gupta said.

"However, in the mid- to low-end segment, price is increasingly becoming the sole differentiator," Gupta told us. "This will only worsen with the entry of new players and the dominance of Chinese manufacturers, leading to increased competition, low profitability and scattered market share."

Mozilla is aiming to position Firefox OS as the best Android alternative for lowering the manufacturing cost of entry-level smartphones -- even as the platform fosters innovation via solid support from the open-source developer community. Among other things, the new mobile OS will enable handset makers to build smartphones based entirely on open Web standards.

With Firefox OS, the premier design goal is to enable HTML5 applications to gain direct access to the underlying capabilities of devices based on the new mobile platform. By contrast, the handsets running Android and iOS today limit access to the device's full range of capabilities to native smartphone apps, Mozilla said.

Overseas Expansion Plans

Through European partners such as Deutsche Telekom, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and Telenor, Mozilla hopes to rapidly gain support in western Europe -- where the wireless carriers have long been wary of what they perceive as the U.S. controlled Android-iOS smartphone platform duopoly. Europe is also the world region in which Mozilla's Firefox brand has gained a large measure of support from consumers and government organizations.

Mozilla is also eyeing other regional markets in the Middle East and Asia through the organization's new partnerships with regional carriers Etisalat and Smart. Moreover, Mozilla's China-based partners TCL and ZTE are already working on Firefox OS devices that will have Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors under the hood.

"As billions of users are expected to come online for the first time in the coming years, it is important to deliver a compelling smartphone experience that anyone can use," said Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs.

"The large number of operators and manufacturers now supporting this effort will bring additional resources and diversity to our global offerings," Kovacs said.