Orange brings it all together

No longer a mere telco, Orange launches its plans for world domination — through convergence, of course

Orange has launched the most ambitious programme of convergence yet seen in the UK communications industry.

Spanning fixed-mobile substitution (FMS), broadband, Voice over IP, VPN and IPTV technology, not to mention plans for IP-based home security systems, the former telco's offerings may even address the country's digital divide.

At a press conference in London on Wednesday, Orange chief executive Sanjiv Ahuja said that from Thursday the company would become a "one-stop shop for all the consumer's communications needs".

The hub of the new converged services will be a device called Livebox, which Orange inherited from Wanadoo after the two companies — which are both owned by France Telecom — merged earlier this year. France Telecom itself is now to be rebranded Orange as part of the new strategy.

Eric Abensur, the ex-Wanadoo UK head and now Orange UK's vice president of broadband, said he expected customers would soon be using the Livebox to wirelessly network everything from their TVs and PCs to their games consoles and MP3 players.

Orange Broadband — which still requires a pre-existing fixed home phone line — will be available in three price bands, ranging from a £14.99 per month low-speed "Starter" package to a £27.99 per month "Max" package, which allows unlimited usage and speeds of up to 8Mbps.

However, those who already pay £30 or more for an Orange mobile package will be offered the Max broadband package for free, a move likely to have been inspired by Carphone Warehouse's recent announcement that its Talk Talk customers would be eligible for free broadband.

For an extra £6 per month, customers can get unlimited calls to UK landline numbers and to Orange broadband or mobile customers.

Abensur said the new packages would increase the UK penetration of broadband, and claimed that Orange's approach "addresses the digital divide that some people are concerned about in this country".

Enterprise customers are not being left out. VPN provider Equant, which is owned by France Telecom and claims to supply two-thirds of the world's largest companies, will henceforth have its services offered as "Orange Business Everywhere". Businesses are also being offered an Orange landline, with broadband to follow soon.

Two additional products, likely to appear in the next year, look set to square up to other providers in the convergence market.

The One Phone system — trials for which are to begin in France from Thursday — will use dual-mode phones. They will automatically connect to the Livebox Wi-Fi network when the customer enters the house, switching to a lower-cost home tariff.

This provides an alternative and arguably more accurate model of FMS to Vodafone's At Home service, which will use a cell ID locator to identify the customer as being at home.

Bernard Ghillebaert, executive vice president of Orange UK, denied that encouraging customers to use Wi-Fi-enabled handsets would allow VoIP to erode Orange's voice revenue.

He claimed customers would prefer quality of service "from end to end", but added: "If you want a VoIP client you can download it — there is nothing stopping you".

One Phone will debut as a domestic product, although Abensur did not rule out a business version once the "right customer experience" was established.

The other upcoming product is IP-based television, which will again be hooked up to the HDTV-capable Livebox. Rather like BT's imminent BT Vision service, the system will initially use a combination of a satellite-based Freeview equivalent and IP-derived video on demand.

Orange even claim their integrated system will eventually let customers remotely monitor their homes using webcams and phones.

"We are not willing to be a security company, of course," said Ahuja, "but we will be working with a security company."