Orange widens broadband arsenal

3GSM: Orange is pushing forward on several fronts in an attempt to present itself as a provider of mobile broadband services

Orange has been talking up its plans to be a mobile broadband provider, calling itself "the integrated operator", looking ahead to faster-than-3G HSDPA networks and bolstering its coverage in France using almost-3G Edge technology.

Sanjiv Ahuja, Orange CEO, speaking at a press conference in Cannes at this week's 3GSM show, talked up the company's place alongside Equant and especially ISP Wanadoo in the France Telecom stable of companies.

Part of the operator's 'Orange Everywhere' initiative is an end user being able to move seamlessly from a broadband session at home to one on the move, even using the same laptop.

Ahuja said Orange is learning about broadband from Wanadoo, which in the UK was previously Freeserve.

Orange is working with its existing main suppliers going forward but especially with Nortel for trials of HSDPA - which one executive described as "even better than broadband".

Edge, though an enhancement to GSM and not really a 3G technology, will be used in France to bolster coverage in areas where true 3G will take time or won't reach and where its many Wi-Fi hotspots cannot be used.

On take-up of 3G services since their launch late last year in France and the UK, Orange was bullish. Didier Quillot, Orange France CEO, said that unit has signed up 25,000 consumer 3G customers and 10,000 business customers. Eighty per cent are existing customers and 20 per cent new, with a skew towards men, those under 35 and those living in or near Paris.

Users are paying €100 to €150 per month for unlimited access, using a range of services such as the OrangeWorld portal, video on demand, MMS and mobile live TV, described as "a fantastic surprise". A France-based trial of DVB-H for mobile TV is being announced this afternoon at 3:00pm.

Rachel Lashford, analyst at Canalys, said Orange's strategy holds together. "They are serving businesses and seem to be getting consumers on board with 3G too, though I'm not sure how much of those early figures are due to a honeymoon period."

It wasn't all good news, however. Push-to-talk services were announced a year ago as TalkNow and the industry feeling is that take-up has been poor.

Orange described its situation as one of still "fine-tuning", with CEO Ahuja adding: "We are now moving aggressively in the UK and France. Watch this space."

Orange and Siemens have also announced a deal to sell the 'swivel' SK65 phone.

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