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By Tarmo Virki, European technology correspondent
BARCELONA, Feb 16 (Reuters) - NEC (6701.T) and Panasonic (6752.T) will unveil on Monday nine new cellphone models running the open-source LiMo operating system, wireless Linux foundation LiMo said at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.
The focus of the cellphone market has been shifting to software development since Google (GOOG.O) and Apple (AAPL.O) entered the mobile market in the past two years, with phone vendors and operators increasingly looking for open source alternatives like LiMo to cut costs.
The market for software platforms on cellphones is led by Nokia’s NOK1V.HE Symbian operating system, but it has lost much ground over the last year to Apple and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion RIMM.O RIM.TO.
Computer operating system Linux has had little success in cellphones thus far, but its role is increasing with the LiMo platform, and Google is using Linux for its Android platform.
Linux is the most popular type of free or so-called open source computer operating system, which is available to the public to be used, revised and shared.
Linux suppliers earn money selling improvements and technical services, and Linux competes directly with Microsoft (MSFT.O), which charges for its Windows software and opposes freely sharing its code.
LiMo also said five firms — Aromasoft (072770.KQ), CasioHitachi Mobile Communications, Marvell (MRVL.O), Opera Software OPERA.OL and Swisscom SCMN.VX — had joined the not-for-profit foundation, increasing its membership to 55.
Google’s Android camp has so far announced 47 members.
However, LiMo has been missing support from the largest cellphone vendors — so far only NEC, Panasonic and Motorola MOT.N have unveiled phones using its software.
LG Electronics will be providing technology previews of its sleek touchscreen handset at the trade show, LiMo said, while Samsung will show plans of two devices.
LiMo hopes to benefit from its focus on giving greater say over software development to telecoms operators.
Last week its key members — Vodafone (VOD.L), Orange FTE.PA, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo (9437.T), Korea’s SK Telecom (017670.KS), U.S. operator Verizon Wireless and Telefonica (TEF.MC) — pledged to introduce LiMo phones in 2009. (Reporting by Tarmo Virki)