There is a delicious sort of irony in this story.
Wireless carriers, long among the fiercest critics of open source as a concept, are now turning to an open source project in hopes of building a phone they can control.
The project in question is Firefox OS, a new smartphone operating system based on the open source Firefox browser. It was originally called Boot2Gecko (Gecko is the name of the browser's layout engine. You didn't know that? That's why they're calling it Firefox OS.)
A collection of carriers, including two that work in the U.S. - Deutsche Telekom and Sprint (NYSE:S) - have lined up behind phones with the Firefox OS, would be made by two Chinese companies, ZTE (OTCPK:ZTCOF) and TCL. TCL was created as a joint-venture with the French equipment maker Alcatel (NYSE:ALU) in 2004. The Chinese bought out the French a year later, and also control the RCA brand and Thomson, another French name.
ZTE was founded in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, in 1985.
As with Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, the Firefox OS is based on a version of Linux, but since it's run by an open source foundation, rather than a powerful Internet search company, it's expected that the sponsor will be more pliable to carrier demands than Google has proven to be.
Trouble is those demands, to insert software controlled by the carriers, rendering some features consumers thought were free as open into costly and closed, are what has hurt Android most in the market. As Google has sought to gain more control over its Android brand and experience, then, the carriers who ruined that experience are rebelling by backing another open source project.
Expect the Firefox OS phones to be offered cheap, even free, by carrier partners and their reseller channels starting next year. If anyone's going to make trouble for the carriers with Firefox OS, expect it to be unorganized users who have the strange idea that open source means they are in control.