Consolidation in the mobile operating system space continued on Thursday as two Linux groups merged operations.

From the start of next month, the Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum will fold its activities and membership into the LiMo Foundation, pooling efforts and resources to help unify Linux-based mobile platforms and accelerate the emergence of common mobile Linux specifications.

The LiPS Forum’s member base counts players from across the mobile ecosystem, including chipset suppliers, Linux OS and mobile stack vendors, handset designers and OEMs and regional and global wireless operators.

The organisation said its decision follows announcements by a number of LiPS members earlier this year that they would be joining LiMo – Access, France Telecom / Orange, Open-Plug, Purple Labs and Texas Instruments.

“LiPS Forum is proud of our standardisation efforts, development activities and other achievements of the last three years,” said Haila Wang, LiPS Forum president and CTO of Orange Labs. “Today, our membership agrees that LiPS’ greatest impact can be realized by adding our members’ expertise and resources to LiMo Foundation.  Together, the member companies can better strive for a unified and ubiquitous Linux-based mobile platform”.

The news comes as competition in the mobile operating system space heats up. Earlier this week, Finnish handset vendor Nokia made what appears to be a reactionary move and bought up the rest of Symbian.

In what some see as a long anticipated move, the world’s biggest handset vendor snapped up the remaining 52.1 per cent of Symbian that it didn’t already own, merging it with its own S60 and S40 platforms.

Analysts estimate Nokia paid out more than $250m in Symbian licence fees last year, so it makes commercial sense to buy up the mobile handset OS for about $410m, rather than keep paying a subsidy to other shareholders.

The newly created Symbian Foundation, with the backing of Sony Ericsson, Motorola and NTT DoCoMo, will also introduce an open source licence model for the Symbian operating system and the S60, UIQ and DoCoMo’s MOAP platforms.

Ben Wood, analyst with CCS Insight, sees the move as a shrewd response to growing threats from other providers of mobile phone software. “Over the last ten years, Symbian has grown into the dominant supplier of smartphone operating systems, but it’s being challenged by a variety of new contenders,” said Wood.

Of the main contenders, Apple has raised the bar from a technical perspective, and Wood believes that Symbian licensees need to respond quickly to its touch screen user interface, high performance and easy to use development tools.

Meanwhile, the Linux crowd, spearheaded by the LiMo Foundation, has strong support from network operators, which have been attracted by its governance model, believing they have more opportunity to influence the direction of this open source platform than with Symbian and its S60 and UIQ user interfaces.

And let’s not forget Google, which Wood notes as having challenged the commercial model, stating that its Android platform has reduced the cost of software to “close to zero”. However, rumours currently abound that the Android platform is flagging and might not appear until very late in the year, or maybe not until next year.