Says more to come
By Keith Dyer at the 3GSM Congress in Cannes
Thankfully the corporate image presented by Orange at its headline press conference, five middle aged men in dark suits and Orange ties, and one woman, is not yet imprinted on the personalities and thought processes of all its staff.
For those bred on the antics of the volcanic dust-munching Dutch founder and ceo Hans Snook, current Orange press conferences are stultifying. But between the France Telecom-speak there were a few announcements that should give suppliers and competitors pause for thought.
On the network side Orange is pushing ahead with the idea that it can be a converged broadband provider, offering users seamless access to content and services whether they are at home or out on the move. Of course, in France its home fixed network and 6,500 WiFi hotspots help in that instance. But they have also been pushing on in the UK, exploiting the Wanadoo ISP property, to integrate services between the Orange World portal abd the ISP.
It also announced that, following EDGE rollouts in Slovakia and Romania, it will be introducing EDGE in France this year, with perhaps five to ten dual mode EDGE, WCDMA handsets available by the end of the year. EDGE will give the operator “better than GPRS” coverage of 80-85% of the population by the end of the year.
Then there is HSPDA, and the operator could give no timelines but it was prepared to say it was currently trialling with Nortel an HSDPA network.
There was also emphasis on the amount of fantastic content available on the Orange World portal. This includes the Live TV service in France, which has been upgraded to include 21 channels. The success of Live TV has rather taken the operator by surprise, as it accounts for 55% of all 3G data sessions, and has proved very popular. The operator is also currently working on a DVBH version of mobile TV. Other finding of the first few tens of thousands of 3G customers in Orange also proved a very high take up of MMS and Orange World content.
So there is still much that is innovative at the operator, but the question remains how operators that provide seamless broadband connectivity will be able to control the behaviour of their users when it comes to content. The fear for operators is that they become dumb pipes, mere access providers. Having exclusive on-site content gives them a way out of this. Sanuv Ahuja reacted aggressively to the hint that Orange has a closed garden policy. “Unlike other operators’ portals, Orange World is an open ended site,” he said, “Orange absolutely does not have a walled garden philosophy. Any content can be openly accessed from our portal.” And he also pointed to Orange’s commitment to Simpay, a payment mechanism to allow users to purchase off-portal content, as evidence of their commitment to open content access.