Seattle/Stockholm/New York: Microsoft Corp. is accelerating its push into mobile software, joining forces with chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. to develop cheaper smartphones aimed at markets such as China.

“The companies are working on a low-cost component design that developers and handset makers can easily adapt into their own devices," Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft executive, said on Sunday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

“They’re designing a basic core of a phone with the necessary processors and wireless chips that developers can start with as they design Windows phones for emerging markets."

Trailing Apple Inc. and Google Inc. in higher-end devices, Microsoft is now trying to build market share for its Windows operating system from the bottom up. Cheaper smartphones mean consumers in less-developed countries will have a chance to use the Internet for the first time, a fast-growing market that’s also attracting rivals such as Google, maker of the Android operating system.

“The story of Internet-for-everyone will be written at MWC this year," said Yves Maitre, head of devices at Orange SA, the French wireless carrier which has expanded to markets such as Egypt, Poland, Kenya.

“The last revolution in mobile communications happened when the smartphone was born more than a decade ago, and the explosion of cheaper Internet-developed smartphones for developing markets will be the next milestone," Maitre said.

Mighty rivals

“Microsoft also plans to update its Windows 8.1 software and Windows Phone software this spring, helping it target lower-priced devices," Belfiore said.

Microsoft’s push to broaden the reach of its mobile ecosystem comes as Satya Nadella takes over as chief executive officer from Steve Ballmer and the Redmond, Washington-based company prepares to complete the $7.2 billion takeover of Nokia Oyj’s handset business. Nokia is planning to announce an expansion into lower-end Android smartphones at the Mobile World Congress, people familiar with the matter said this month.

Microsoft’s effort to get more handset makers to offer Windows phones has so far failed to shake the dominance of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, which account for 96% of the smartphone market. Of the more than 1 billion smartphones shipped in 2013, only 3.3% ran Windows, according to market-research firm IDC. About 89% of the Windows phones sold were made by Nokia, said IDC.

This is only the latest attempt by Microsoft to spread Windows to more corners of the world. Last year, operating systems chief Terry Myerson floated the idea of free or low-cost Windows software to smartphone makers like HTC Corp., people with knowledge of the matter said at the time.

Nokia’s Android

Nokia, whose mobile-phone business will soon be part of Microsoft, has used Windows in higher-end smartphones since 2011, while relying on its own software in cheaper phones aimed at emerging markets. The company has lost share in the low end as Android smartphones costing $100 or less have gained users.

“Microsoft isn’t planning to build a long-term strategy around Android devices," a person familiar with the matter said this month. “Rather it may be planning to use the Nokia Android phones to bolster its sales in the lower end until it can produce Windows phones for that market segment," the person said.

Microsoft agreed to buy Nokia’s handset business in September. The companies have said they expect to complete the deal this quarter. Bloomberg

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