Mozilla, a company best known for its Internet browser, plans to release a $25 smartphone. The inexpensive phone is not intended to compete with existing markets where Android and Apple dominate, but rather to be sold in emerging markets in places like India and Indonesia.

The phone will run Firefox OS — Mozilla’s HTML-5 web-based operating system. A notable quality of the operating system is its open ecosystem that allows for a wide choice of applications.

Collaborating with handset makers and wireless carriers, Mozilla has already provided Latin America and Europe with $60 smartphones. However, that price is too much for most consumers in developing countries where the dollar goes a long way. Feature phones still dominate in India and Indonesia due to their low cost.

Working with Chinese chip maker, Spreadtrum Communications Inc., Mozilla hopes the $25 price point will compel consumers in emerging markets to make the switch from feature phones to smartphones.

Mozilla also hopes to distribute in China. However, whether Mozilla is able to compete in a country where smartphones are already prevalent remains a mystery. Currently there is no timetable for the company’s expansion into China.

To distribute their phones, Mozilla has typically relied upon carriers, but in this instance plans to work with electronics retailers and local handset brands to expand its distribution operations. Mozilla expects to ship more than 10 million units over the next 12 months.

The largest problem Mozilla faces is the lack of infrastructure. Although India and Indonesia have been improving their mobile broadband infrastructures, they are nowhere near satisfactory.

If Mozilla is able to generate enough consumer demand, it is possible that it may encourage the lawmakers and telecom companies to make investments to improve the infrastructure of their networks.

For those in poverty, the expansion of smartphones is good step forward. Studies have shown that cellphones may improve literacy rates, as well as allow people to send money and communicate with family members.

With low cost smartphones, Mozilla is helping to bridge the gap between those in poverty and those in developed countries. And with that narrowing gap comes new benefits, skills and possibilities for people to escape poverty.

— William Ying

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, PCWorld, BBC, Time, The Borgen Project
Photo: The Wall Street Journal