Could a $25 Firefox OS phone be a true game-changer in terms of linking up the developing world?

The Mobile World Congress is going on right now in Barcelona and Firefox OS (Mozilla) believes it’s “unleashing the future of mobile.” Here’s the big corporate money-shot in the press release:

“Firefox OS is off to an amazing start. We launched our first smartphones in July, and have since expanded into fifteen markets,” said Jay Sullivan, chief operating officer of Mozilla. “People in Latin America and Eastern Europe have eagerly upgraded from their feature phones to Firefox OS smartphones and now have rich access to the Web and apps. Sales have far exceeded our targets. But 2013 was just the beginning. In 2014, we are differentiating our user experience and our partners are growing the portfolio of devices. We are also enabling a whole new category of smartphone, priced around $25, that will bring even more people around the world online.”

Essentially, the idea here is a $25 handset in conjunction with a Shanghai-based company called SpreadTrum. There’s a chip set-up that can link to EDGE or 3G, but not LTE. Overall, it has a camera, a radio, a 3.5-inch screen, a bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connectivity. Could it do massive projects? Good Lord, no. But could it be an effective phone for the developing world? Yes. Problem is, this is a big market for companies who even remotely dabble in mobile — so if someone can come up with a low-cost option that can run faster and more effectively, Mozilla (the early leader) will be forced to the back of the line.

This is all a huge deal because in places that often lack roads and/or sanitation, mobile phone usage is still huge:

Mobile phones, though, can cut across that distance. Even in places that lack electricity, they are often plentiful. “The penetration of mobile phone networks in many low- and middle-income countries surpasses other infrastructure such as paved roads and electricity, and dwarfs fixed Internet deployment,” says the World Health Organization in the report “mHealth: New horizons for health through mobile technologies.”

Chart time!


The market for mobile in developing countries has increased 1700 percent since 2000. This company you’ve never heard of, Jana, can reach about twice the amount of people that Facebook can because of this increase in mobile in the developing world. 31 percent of Kenya’s GDP is spent through mobile phones. This, in some ways, is the market, so getting in early and keeping it effective and cheap is a good business strategy. Facebook, of course, has its own plans in this space.

Plus, there’s a broader ethos to all this — more cell phones in developing areas can mean more access to health care, which is a great thing for the world:

Ted Bauer