Is Microsoft Giving Away Windows Phone 8?

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There already have been reports that Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) is offering makers of laptops that will sell for less than $250 a license fee of just $15 for the latest version of Windows 8.1. The usual license fee is $50 a copy.

The Times of India reported Thursday morning that Microsoft has offered Windows Phone 8 to two Indian phone makers at no charge. The two Indian companies are believed to be Lava and Karbonn, both of which were identified by Microsoft at last week’s Mobile World Congress as additions to the makers of Windows phones. Both companies currently make phones using the Android operating system from Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG), which has always been free.

An executive at an unidentified Indian phone maker said:

For our planned Windows Phone handsets, we are not paying Microsoft a licence fee. The company is obviously exploring new models for Windows Phone. It must have realized that the older model where it licensed the OS did not work out well, even with Nokia’s support.

Microsoft would not comment on the report other than to tell the Times, “We have extensive programmes to help our partners build great devices. Our licensing model allows us to partner with OEMs across the world.”

India’s smartphone market is expected to double from 40 million last year to 80 million by the end of the current fiscal year, according to Samsung’s head of mobile products in India. The country is already third in smartphone sales, trailing only China and the United States, and ahead of Japan and the United Kingdom.