Firms get Orange convergence next year

As Orange launches its dual-mode GSM/Wi-Fi handset for the home, it confirms a corporate offering next year — but analysts believe fixed-mobile convergence may be the wrong approach
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Business customers will be able to use a version of Orange's new fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) suite from the first half of next year, a spokesperson for the operator said today.

A domestic version of the device was launched in Paris on Monday. Branded as the Unique phone, the dual-mode handset operates as a standard GSM phone but can also connect via Wi-Fi to the user's home-based Livebox hub, thus routing the call through their broadband connection rather than the cellular network.

According to Orange, this offers "enhanced coverage inside the house". Calls initiated while routed through the Livebox will continue to be charged at domestic fixed rates — including "unlimited calls" offers — even if the user moves into standard GSM coverage mid-call.

Orange's spokesperson said on Monday that a "similar concept will be launching [for businesses] in the first half of next year", but declined to further specify the timescale or comment on pricing.

"Today, people use the phone in a different way," said Didier Lombard, the president of Orange's parent company France Telecom, on Monday.

"With broadband, the use of Internet, mobiles, voice over IP, and high-definition technologies for sound and vision, our communication habits are changing very rapidly. Unique phone re-invents the telephone, by unifying fixed and mobile worlds," Lombard added.

The concept is similar to that of BT's Fusion hubs and handsets, which were first made available for the domestic market earlier this year and then recently launched as a corporate offering. 

The chief benefit of such systems is the promise of a unified bill for broadband, fixed and mobile communications, as well as the convenience of having a single telephone number.

But Unique has "the same weaknesses of the other current FMC offerings on the market or in development," said Ovum analyst John Delaney on Monday, adding that these included "a very limited handset choice and lack of true seamlessness in network handover".

Delaney also suggested that FMC compared negatively with other "one phone" offerings such as fixed-mobile substitution (FMS), where the operator — such as T-Mobile in Germany — simply evaluates when the user is at home and charges them accordingly, rather than switching between different connectivity technologies.

Orange's Unique system allows up to six phones to be connected to one Livebox, with three users being able to make calls or surf the Net simultaneously. The first handsets to be offered on the home service include the Motorola A910, Nokia 6136 and the Samsung P200. This service will become available from November.

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