Mozilla’s Firefox OS looks closer than ever to actually happening with the news that Chinese smartphone giant ZTE plans to start selling handsets using the software by early 2013.

The move represents a third fork for the company which has built its stable of low-cost handsets on Android and, more recently, hinted of models based on Windows Phone 7.8 and 8.

"It's all part of our wider plans to create a better balance of products using various operating systems. We won't just rely on Android or Windows," ZTE’s David Dai Shu told Reuters.

Intriguingly, Dai Su also revealed plans to launch smartphones based on an operating system of its own design for sale outside China, an unexpected development that could be driven be anxieties about keeping control over development.

"We are trying to increase our efforts in coming up with our own operating system, while introducing products based on Android," he said.

This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the Firefox OS which in the short term at least is starting to look like a low-end, low-cost alternative to the big brands.

The OS’s backers have always been carriers, however, with Telefónica O2 firmly backing the software for use in low-cost smartphones to go on sale in developing markets.

ZTE’s remarks are no surprise. Only weeks ago a video of recent build of the OS made an appearance on a ZTE smartphone. Although looking in stable form for basic handset functions what will be missing at launch are third-party dedicated apps.

Mozilla's hope is that the same developers who embraced Firefox browser by building add-ons will do the same for its mobile foray.

The Firefox OS started life in 2011 as Mozilla's 'Boot to Gecko' project, at which point it sounded like an interesting punt but no more than that. Since then it has emerged as the open source world's brigtest hope but one dependent on the kindness of strangers.