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Line Messaging App Inks Deal With Carrier Telefónica For Exclusivity In Key Firefox OS Markets

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The Line messaging app that spent last year pushing beyond its home market of Japan has inked a deal aiming to bolster its presence in markets in Latin America. Today it’s announcing a partnership with telecoms giant Telefónica focused on building traction via exclusivity on the lower cost Firefox OS (FFOS) platform.

The partnership gives Telefónica subscribers exclusive access to the Line app across what is described as “key Telefónica Firefox OS markets”,  including Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, Uruguay, Brasil and Mexico. The deal also includes Spain. The pair said additional markets will be announced “shortly”.

This could be a big win for Line — if FFOS takes off. Telefónica has 320 million global subscribers using its network infrastructure, including a significant presence in the LatAm region where Line believes its cuddly cartoon messaging style, which features a range of cute sticker characters and games, can find a Hispanic home from home.

An attempt by the company to crack the U.S. market, this time last year, has evidently proven harder, as Line appears to be reconfiguring its strategy around other regions where growth has been easier to come by, such as LatAm and Spain.

Turning to the Mozilla flavoured portion of this partnership, the platform launched with much fanfare and a raft of operator supporters at last year’s Mobile World Congress. It’s since been filtering into various markets via carrier launches, with a focus on developing regions where the network operators see a gap to compete with Android at the lower end of smartphones.

Since June, Telefónica has launched FFOS in seven countries, while other carriers such as Telenor, Deutsche Telekom and TIM have also started ranging phones running the HTML5-based platform.

However it’s unclear exactly how many users there are of FFOS at this point as its carrier backers have not disclosed sales figures. It seems unlikely growth has been rampant or the carriers would have been shouting about it. Still, FFOS’s backers are evidently continuing to push the platform — and to seek ways to differentiate on it via the likes of today’s messaging partnership between Line and Telefónica.

Telefónica is presumably hoping to drive interest in its FFOS devices by leveraging Line’s regional popularity, and the popularity of over-the-top mobile messaging in general. So, while the Line application is now available globally via the Firefox OS Marketplace its FFOS app will be exclusive to Telefónica subscribers in the aforementioned (mostly LatAm) markets.

That may seem an oddity — i.e. for a platform apparently built to champion the open Web to allow controls on how apps are distributed — but it’s exactly the kind of carrier-focused flexibility that enabled Mozilla’s platform to attract such significant mobile network operator backing in the first place. FFOS gives them back an element of control that’s lacking on Google’s Android.

Telefónica FFOS devices preloaded with the Line app are expected to be launched in early Q1. The carrier will also include Line’s app in new OS releases delivered to existing Firefox OS users — so there is serious potential in this partnership for Line to build traction if Telefónica can also build traction around FFOS.

To that end, the pair said the partnership will be supported by what’s described as “significant marketing campaigns” by both parties (although they are not disclosing exact spending). Line is also apparently going to be encouraging its users to join Telefónica’s network via special offers pushed to them via Official Line Accounts in “select markets”.

Commenting on the partnership in a statement, Francisco Montalvo, Director of Group Devices Unit, Telefónica S.A, reiterated the telco’s commitment to FFOS and said the ecosystem has a “fast growing customer base”, adding: “LINE’s messaging app enables us to strengthen what we are already offering our customers and will open up even more collaborative opportunities in 2014.”

“By partnering with Telefónica we are underscoring our commitment to our expanding European and Latin American customer base,” added  Jeanie Han, Chief Executive Officer, Line Euro-Americas Corp, in a statement.