The race to connect to put a smartphone in the hands of every person in the world is on. And Mozilla thinks it has a chance to shake things up.

Mozilla, which makes Firefox OS for budget smartphones, announced seven new devices that will ship to emerging markets in 2014. Alcatel is building the Fire C, Fire E and Fire S along with a Fire 7 tablet. Huawei will be releasing the Y300 while ZTE has two new devices in the Open II and Open C. In addition, Mozilla announced the Firefox OS Flame, a reference phone for developers to tune their HTML5 Web apps to Mozilla’s range of devices.

Mozilla also announced a $25 smartphone with chipmaker Spreadtrum, the SC6821 that should ship later this year.

Mozilla is expanding from 15 markets in 2013 to 12 new markets in countries in South America, Africa, Europe and Asia. 

The Low End Phone Market Is Getting Crowded

Mozilla COO Jay Sullivan said that the analyst estimates of Firefox OS devices shipped was between 500,000 and 750,000 in the first six months. That may not be a lot when you think that more than a million Android devices are activated every day, but it is still a decent start for an upstart operating system in a crowded market.

At Mobile World Congress, Mozilla and woebegone Linux-based operating system Tizen held simultaneous events at Hotel Arts. Tizen did not have much of anything to announce and as of today it has never actually been used or shipped in a smartphone. Yes, smartwatches from Samsung using Tizen have been announced but still have not actually reached the consumer market. Downstairs from the Tizen event, Mozilla announced a slew of new devices and expansion to more markets. Firefox OS may be the little competitor, but at least it has traction. 

Everybody seems to be focusing on emerging markets these days. Lenovo bought Motorola in part because the Moto G has a foothold in Latin America. Apple still wants to penetrate immense markets like China and India while Microsoft announced a broad manufacturer partnership program at an event in Barcelona today to reach into the budget device market across the world. 

“The way that we compete is through building a community. So, what we’ve done is that Firefox OS is completely open source,” said Sullivan in an interview with ReadWrite. “We don’t build it and open source it when it is done. It is open source. So, Telefonica, Qualcomm, KDDI … many organizations are actively contributing code. So, we feel like we punch way beyond our employee base.”

When compared to the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple, Mozilla is a fairly small company. It’s modus operandi since its inception is to get its partners and the greater open source community to help it developer and distribute its products. When it comes to marketing and retailing smartphones running Firefox OS, Mozilla has taken very much the same type of strategy.

“What has been amazing is our partners in marketing retail and launches and retail training,” Sullivan said. “I spent a lot of time traveling in South America when we launched. And, just to pick a country like Venezuela, we had community members come to Venezuela and train the local retail sales staff and design highly localized, relevant marketing campaigns. The idea about Mozilla is scaling with people who really love what we do. So that’s how we kind of punch above our weight.”

Top image: Mozilla's Jay Sullivan with Spreadtrum CEO Leo Li by Dan Rowinski