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World’s largest mobile operator takes LiMo

Feb 4, 2009 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

The Linux Mobile Foundation (LiMo) got a huge boost today, when global carrier Vodafone, world's largest wireless operator (by sales), tapped U.S. software firm Azingo to develop Linux-based mobile applications. Reuters called the news “the latest sign (Vodafone) is keeping Linux operating system LiMo as one of its key choices.”

Azingo Mobile 2.0
(Click for details)

Separately, Azingo also announced a major upgrade to its LiMo-compliant Linux phone stack, now called Azingo Mobile 2.0. (pictured at right). The updated mobile stack features touchscreen support, a web widget- and flash-enabled UI, and a host of other upgrades over the previous stack, which targeted lower-end devices.

Vodafone “playing the field”

Vodafone in December joined the Open Handset Alliance, the open industry group backing the Google-led Android smartphone platform, also based on Linux. The move led to speculation that Vodafone would distance itself from LiMo, which it helped found in 2007 (though LiMo was conceived in 2006).

Now, Vodafone has strongly affirmed its commitment to LiMo, with Guido Arnone, director of terminals technology at the carrier commenting, “We (want) to develop cutting-edge applications for our mobile phones based on the LiMo platform.”

Vodafone and Azingo revealed little about the specific terms of the partnership. However, Reuters quotes Azingo CEO Mahesh Veerina as having said, “We are building their next-generation application strategy on that,” presumably referring to the LiMo platform.

Vodafone operates in more than two dozen countries, with partner networks in an addition 40-plus countries. Based in Silicon Valley, Azingo has development offices throughout India, and employed about 250 engineers when LinuxDevices last spoke with them.

Azingo, formerly Celunite, launched its Linux-based Azingo Mobile middleware and browser stack just prior to last year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The Azingo Mobile stack is positioned as a comprehensive software/services offering for mid-tier feature-phones compliant with LiMo (Linux Mobile Foundation) requirements. The company is contributing some high-level tools to LiMo's common integration environment (CIE), and recently added Flash to its Linux-based phone stack.

Android vs. LiMo: a different approach to licensing

Android offers a fairly complete stack that operators can use to build phones quickly. However, its Apache 2.0 license places little obligation on users to contribute improvements and additions back to the community of users. That could give phone vendors more room do differentiate in the short term, but over time could cause fragmentation, something operators wish to avoid. Vodafone, in particular, has “stressed the importance of cutting the number of different operating systems,” Reuters notes.

LiMo, meanwhile, uses a “Foundation Public License” (FPL) that demands more reciprocity from member companies, who must pay organizational fees to gain access to the technology. Think of it like a normal open source license, but one that applies only within the membership. LiMo's membership also boasts a diverse mix of operators, software stack providers, and handset vendors — including NEC, Panasonic, Samsung, and Motorola, the most successful Linux phone vendors to date.

An earlier Linux phone organization, LiPS, had an even purer “open source” approach than LiMo. It aimed to define real standards, through a formal community process. However, that kind of democracy can take a lot of time, making it perhaps less suited to the early days of the fast-moving smartphone market. LiPS cast in with LiMo last summer, just after finalizing its first specification.

Azingo CEO Veerina is reported as having said, “Linux, including Android, will reach 500 million phone volume (units) in five years.” The overall annual cellphone market, meanwhile, is estimated by Veerina and market research firm ABI to be holding steady at one million shipments per year.

LiMo's membership includes many of the world's largest mobile operators, including NTT DoCoMo, Verizon (VZ.N), France Telecom's Orange, and SK Telecom, Reuters noted. Veerina is said to have commented, “Operators are looking beyond voice revenues.”

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