Verizon Embraces LiMo Foundation’s Brand of Openness

The Open Handset Alliance may have the power of Google behind it, but a surge of new members has just swelled the ranks of the competing LiMo Foundation to 40, the group announced Wednesday. Verizon Wireless is the marquee name on the list of new members, becoming the first U.S. wireless carrier to join the foundation.

Mozilla, Infineon Technologies, Kvaleberg, Red Bend Software, Sagem Mobiles, SFR and SK Telecom are the other newest members of LiMo, which six companies founded in January 2007.

“This latest group of new members demonstrates the rapidly expanding reach of the LiMo ecosystem, and we are very excited by their commitment to further enrich the LiMo Platform and accelerate its adoption within all markets,” said Morgan Gillis, the group’s executive director.

From Six to 40

LiMo was formed to deliver an open and globally consistent software platform based upon a mobile version of Linux for use by the whole industry.

Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung and Vodafone were its original founding members, and the group is open to all vendors and service providers in the mobile communications marketplace, including device manufacturers, operators, chipset manufacturers, integrators and independent software vendors.

LiMo members specify and contribute market-tested intellectual property to the development of LiMo’s middleware platform for mobile handsets, while still providing their own differentiated services to customers.

The Platform

The LiMo Platform is a modular, plug-in-based, hardware-independent architecture built around an open operating system, with a secure run-time environment for support of downloaded applications. It was released at the end of March.

The technology’s application programming interface (API) specifications are available for download at the foundation’s Web site.

LiMo unveiled the first handsets compatible with its platform at the Mobile World Congress earlier this year in Spain.

“Mozilla strives to promote an open, accessible and secure Web experience,” said Jay Sullivan, Mozilla’s senior director of mobile. “We believe the LiMo ecosystem affords significant opportunity for us to further that mission in a mobile environment. We look forward to playing a key role in shaping the Web experience for users of the next generation of Linux-based mobile phones and devices.”

Signs of Support

Of course, LiMo is not the only group working on an open mobile platform. The Open Handset Alliance is also hard at work on a similar effort with its Android platform.

T-Mobile, Sprint Nextel, Intel, Motorola, Nvidia, Qualcomm and HTC are also members of the OHA, and AT&T recently indicated it would support the Android platform as well.

While not earth-shaking, the news that Verizon has joined LiMo is a sign that “they are coming to the table,” Neil Strother, an analyst for mobile marketing and media with JupiterResearch, told LinuxInsider.

No More ‘Dumb and Stupid’

Conventional thinking may hold that the big carriers are “dumb and stupid,” hoping to keep their technologies closed, Strother explained, but “the reality is that they’re starting to get the picture. Some management in the carriers realize that the world is changing.”

Indeed, handsets have evolved a great deal over the past 20 years, and a lot of changes have been made, Allen Nogee, principal analyst with In-Stat, told LinuxInsider.

With the coming of WiMax and the C block of spectrum that has to be open access for open devices, “operators are now realizing that they’re going to have to open up,” he said. “We’ll be seeing more of this as time goes on.”

Unstoppable Force

The wireless business is “not just about voice anymore,” analyst Jeff Kagan told LinuxInsider. “It’s about wireless data. It’s about developing the third screen after the television and the computer. Wireless data is going to be an explosive area of growth, and we have just started that game.”

The closed system “was probably doomed to fail,” Strother added. “The mobile Internet is a world where people want to do lots of things, and that’s unleashing lots of innovation. If you try to control it all, you might miss out.”

In that way, carriers have to “balance their cash cow, and the idea of ‘owning’ the customer, with unleashing the customer to do other things,” Strother concluded. “That’s the struggle. With LiMo, Android and others, openness is something they can’t stop.”

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