US$100 3G Linux phone ups the mobile ante

A mobile Linux based 3G phone has been developed that could be made available to operators for less than US$100.

A mobile Linux-based 3G phone has been developed that could be made available to operators for less than US$100.

The result of collaboration between NXP Semiconductors and Purple Labs -- a mobile Linux development company with a focus on mass market devices -- the Purple Magic handset is a "reference design", meaning it can be tweaked by manufacturers to include or exclude various 3G features.

"During the recent holiday period, mobile operators were purchasing entry-level 3G phones for US$120 to US$145," said Simon Wilkinson, chief executive of Purple Labs, on Thursday. "[Using] our Linux technology, the Purple Magic design now enables manufacturers to deliver compelling 3G products at a [wholesale] price below US$100."

The Purple Magic handset could help spread the mobile Internet in the developing world

In a statement released on Thursday, NXP and Purple Labs suggested that the target market for the handset would be in areas such as South-east Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Jean-Marie Andre, the head of corporate development at Purple Labs, told sister site on Thursday that the 3G industry was currently hamstrung by the fact that there are "only a few players [who enjoy] a monopolistic situation".

"We don't see the same momentum in the 3G business as in 2G," said Andre. "I believe operators are keen to see the 2G approach transferred into the 3G business. Operators are very interested in the price side of things."

3G technology is seen as particularly important in the developing world because wired Internet infrastructure there tends to be sparse, making the wireless approach more cost-efficient and practical for most consumers.

The Purple Magic handset is far from the first handset to target the developing world -- last year LG won the GSM Association's "3G for all" contest with its similarly priced LG-KU250 device -- but it could mark a significant development for the mobile Linux industry.

"The Purple Magic reference phone clearly demonstrates our combined leadership in the mobile Linux arena," said Wilkinson. "While the mobile Linux industry has largely concentrated on high-end devices, the Purple Magic is the first 3G Linux mass-market reference feature phone available today."

Both NXP and Purple Labs are part of the LiMo Foundation -- an industry organisation dedicated to creating a common platform for mobile Linux devices -- but it is not yet clear as to whether the Purple Magic handset's specifications will comply with the foundation's nascent platform.