Sanjiv Ahuja (above), CEO of Orange, chose
his modern headquarters, build alongside the splendour of some
of Europe's greatest 19th century industrial heritage -
Paddington railway station and canal basin in central London -
to announce a radical restructuring of the strategy for the
whole France Telecom group.
It had been rumoured and discussed for months. A couple of
weeks earlier, at the TeleManagement World conference in Nice
in the south of France, executives from France Telecom were
clearly excited about the strategy and the rebranding. They
couldn't say what the new brand would be, but the colour orange
would feature prominently, they smiled.
As Ahuja and his colleagues from Paris outlined the conversion
of France Telecom, it was clear that the conversion was more
profound than most had expected. Even the phone kiosks and the
engineers' trucks in France itself will be branded with the
"It is a wonderful day for Orange," said Ahuja, who joined the
company three years ago as COO, and took over as CEO in March
2004 when Sol Trujillo left. Trujillo, an American who was
previously CEO of US West, is now tussling with Australia's
lively politicians as CEO of Telstra. Ahuja himself is a former
president of Telcordia, after a 15-year spell at IBM, including
helping it move into the telecoms software industry. Before
Orange he ran Comstellar, a technology incubator in
It was appropriate that he should be making his announcement
in London: that is where Orange started, just 12 years ago,
when it was set up as the UK's fourth mobile operator,
controlled by Hong Kong's Hutchison group.
Mobile phones till then were seen as an expense-account luxury
or a toy for those who'd made lots of money in the exploding
financial markets - remember the "yuppiephone"? But Orange's
innovative branding and advertising helped pushed it past its
rivals so it became the biggest UK operator.
After an IPO and then a takeover, and then another takeover,
Orange became part of the France Telecom group in 2000, but for
a few years there appeared to be a tension between the culture
at the parent's head office in Paris and Orange's headquarters
The brand was adopted by France Telecom for its mobile
operations - in place of Itineris and other now-forgotten names
- in France and a few other territories, but it took a long
time to unravel deals dating back to the early years:
Hutchison's mobile businesses in Australia and Hong Kong still
used the name Orange until relatively recently, and KPN had
also used Orange for its mobile service in Belgium under a
franchise agreement, with its shops almost indistinguishable
from Orange's shops in the UK.
Meanwhile France Telecom had acquired a bunch of other brands
which were desperately in need of consolidating. Its ISP was
called Wanadoo, a unit that included Freeserve, originally set
up in the UK by the Dixon's store group. Its enterprise arm was
Equant, already a rebranding of the ill-fated Global One joint
venture with Sprint and Deutsche Telekom: the name was taken
over from the air transport industry's in-house networking
cooperative, Sita, which is still its biggest customer.
And the world was starting to talk of triple play and
quadruple play, of all-IP networks and of single billing.
Operators in the US - AT&T and Verizon - were consolidating
to offer fixed and mobile voice, data and video. BT is
re-engineering its network to offer new services. France
Telecom needed to develop its own strategy.
In the past year or two it has gradually become apparent that
France Telecom has been preparing itself to adopt the Orange
brand wholeheartedly for its unified services. Equant and
Wanadoo people indicated that they were going to be Orange. The
main doubt seemed to be over whether the brand would be adopted
as thoroughly in the home market, France, as in the group's
The answer, says Ahuja and his colleagues, is yes, it will.
"We are opening a new world of communications services that
will transform the telecommunications landscape," he says.
"Orange becomes a one-stop shop for all a customer's
Orange is "the first operator to provide this one-stop shop"
and the company plans "a truly seamless and open experience"
for communication, information and entertainment. There will be
what he calls a "a consistent Orange experience" every time a
customer interacts with Orange - whether it is an Orange shop,
the portal, a call centre, or email. "Across every single
touchpoint, the same Orange experience," says Ahuja.
Orange plans to deliver all services - from pay-as-you-go
mobile to a fully converged package. Indeed, according to
France Telecom CIO Nicolas Ruelle, speaking at TeleManagement
World in May, even in countries where Orange currently has only
mobile services it will seek to provide converged services,
including IPTV - see Plan for domestic network factories panel,
Orange has already launched mobile TV in France, the UK,
Romania and Slovakia. "Soon customers will get television over
an IP connection at home," says Ahuja. They are already
available in France, and the company's LiveBox set-top terminal
will be marketed in its other territories.
What does convergence mean? Practically, says Ahuja, "services
like a single address book, that will store your contacts in
one place, safe and secure", plus "services to manage personal
content, whether it's photos, videos or music". In "the near
future" Orange will provide services "to remote control your
home, secure your home" and "services to monitor your health",
he says. "All of these from one single provider."
France Telecom's group CEO, Didier Lombard, laid out the
groundrules for this strategy, called NExT, about a year ago.
NExT, which stands for "new experience in telecom services", is
due to run until 2008.
"NExT has aligned every single part of our business around the
needs of our customer base," says Ahuja. In the UK, Orange has
fixed network activities as well as mobile, which allows him to
claim it is the only operator to own both fixed and mobile
It's an arguable point: BT certainly lost its mobile business
years ago, when O2, now owned by Telefónica, was split
off. Vodafone has a small, almost unknown, enterprise-oriented
fixed network. T-Mobile is part of Deutsche Telekom, whose
T-Systems is also present in the UK. But in the UK retail
market, he's probably got a case.
Wanadoo, now Orange Broadband, does have unbundled fixed
customers in the UK. "We can be faster and more responsive than
any other operator in this market," says Ahuja. "We control the
infrastructure so we can deliver a truly consistent customer
experience across every interface and every transaction."
Equant - now Orange Business Services - has a literally flying
start. Because of its contract with Sita, reconfirmed days
after the rebranding announcement, it reaches 166 countries.
Virtually everywhere with an airport has an Orange Business
Services point of presence. "No other business telecoms
provider can match Orange for the range and the scope of
services we offer under one single brand," he says.
Ahuja doesn't give a figure for how much the France Telecom
group is spending on all this. He says that the group is
currently spending 1.5% of its revenue on R&D, and that
this will rise to 2% by 2008. Much of this will be aimed
at reducing complexity, so that "what the customer gets is a
simple and seamless experience".
Bernard Ghillebaert, executive VP of Orange in the UK, says
more about what the company is planning, building on what he
calls "an incredible set of assets". In particular "Orange is
one of the best-loved brands in the world", he says. In the UK
the company already reaches 17 million customers and 8 million
households, through its mobile operations and its ISP, formerly
That means "we are the number two telecoms provider" to BT in
the UK, he says. And the UK, he points out, is where the
Orange brand began. "This is where the customers have known us
So it's fairly clear that France Telecom is rebranding as
Orange in most of its territories, but there was always a
suspicion that national loyalty would persuade it to keep its
name at home. What is the strategy?
Ahuja turns to the person who led the rebranding across the
France Telecom group, Didier Quillot. He has been CEO of Orange
France since 2000 and became chairman in 2003, but also has
responsibility for branding and marketing for the entire group.
Until France Telecom took over the Orange group, he was general
manager of Itineris - so he's already been through one process
of putting little Orange squares on services and products that
used to be France Telecom's.
"In France Wanadoo becomes Orange, MyLigneTV, the IPTV
business, becomes Orange, the business services are becoming
Orange Business Services," says Quillot. "This is a huge step
for France Telecom, to use the Orange brand in order to brand
all products, all services - mobile, TV, internet, multi-play,
voice over IP."
But there's more: "All the FT shops are becoming Orange. All
the email addresses for employees are moving from
francetelecom.com to orange-ft.com."
And more all the 25,000 field repair crew for the fixed line
business will be working under the Orange logo, "and I'm not
joking", says Quillot, recognising that it will be significant
to see Orange-branded trucks rolling through Paris, Lyon and
Marseille. "So, France Telecom is becoming Orange. This is
what's happening in France."
And the group "is doing the same all over the world by the end
of the year: Netherlands, Spain, all Middle East countries, all
African countries. Spain is unusual, in that the Orange brand
is not known locally: France Telecom bought 80% of mobile
operator Amena for €6.4 billion in July 2005, and will
rebrand it and its Spanish Wanadoo operation as Orange "by the
end of the year".
TPSA Poland will almost certainly be rebranded Orange, though
Quillot was unwilling to say much: the France Telecom group has
to get agreement from other shareholders before making an
In Belgium, where KPN Orange rebranded to Base only a few
years ago, France Telecom still uses Mobistar as its mobile
brand - though the home page of www.mobistar.be is now labelled
"Orange group", in green, and www.orange.be is now registered
to the Orange group.
This is all "a really big step for France Telecom, using
Orange all over the world, all over the businesses", said
And it's a big step for the brand, adds Ahuja. Orange started
in the UK in 1994 "and we got our first million customers in
1997. Today we are over 85 million customers, almost 85 times
in less than nine years and now we're taking it all round the
It is critical for Orange own the infrastructure, says
Ghillebaert, "to manage and master the customer experience". It
has an advanced 2G network and it has installed EDGE technology
in its 3G network.
"For fixed broadband our objective is to unbundle 500
exchanges by the end of 2006, and this will give us access to
around 40% of the UK's population."
It will be promoting LiveBox, which the company has installed
in 2.4 million customer homes, mainly in France. "LiveBox is
the home gateway. This is the piece of equipment we put in the
customer's premises and it is a central piece of our strategy."
It will enable the company to roll out new services to
It is upgradeable remotely. "We won't need to change anything
in the LiveBox," says Ghillebaert. The company will be able to
download overnight software for its OnePhone service - a
fixed-mobile convergence product - "and all of a sudden all
households with the LiveBox will be enabled for this new
OnePhone service". Customers will still need "the right device
to use it", though.
Orange has already installed, quietly and without much in the
way of any publicity, LiveBox in 200,000 UK homes, before the
brand changed from Wanadoo and before the converged services
were announced. "We are Britain's number one voice over IP
provider, with more than 150,000 users. We got to be number one
by making voice over IP simple and hassle-free," says
What makes people want to switch? Exclusive content, he says,
pointing to a deal with Madonna which gave customers access to
her new album more than a week before it went public. "We were
the first provider ever to do that with such a great
The company has started to launch services such as Orange
Photo - allowing people to transfer pictures from their camera
phone to a website, a photoblog. "Picture by picture your photo
album builds up," and users can share it with others. It's an
idea that was pioneered in companies such as SK Telecom in
South Korea two or three years ago.
Services are accessed via a single home page, he says - Orange
mobile, broadband and business services. "Behind the scenes the
portal is quite sophisticated because it will recognise who you
are and whether you are a mobile customer or a broadband
customer or a new prospect. Then we can better give you the
pages which are most suited for your context."
Orange Business Services has grown its market share by 40% in
the UK over the past four years. "We are the second biggest
provider of mobile services for business in this country." Now,
the former Equant will be combining with the former business
unit of the mobile operation to promote remote access services
for travelling business people.
"When you are at home you can use your PC and the data card
will connect through the LiveBox to the local area network of
your company, and you can work from where you are."
Eric Abensur, former CEO of Wanadoo, and now Orange's VP in
charge of broadband, explains what LiveBox is all about: "The
teams from Wanadoo and Orange have been working pretty hard
over the last 15 months," he says. "We want to open the door to
our customers to a world of new services. To get those services
we need to have broadband. We love broadband, and that's what
we want to say to our customers."
Hence Orange's new broadband slogan. "We do love broadband and
we set it free," he says. He sees a world where all the devices
in the home will be connected into the LiveBox. Not just the
PC, but both mobile and fixed phones, "but also the TV, MP3
devices and hi-fi equipment." They will be connected to each
other and to the world wide web, he says.
"Not every customer is comfortable with broadband," so Orange
is starting by inviting its mobile customers "to just try
broadband". Try it for a month with no commitment, he says: if
users don't like it, they can cancel the deal.
Orange customers who have a mobile plan of more than £30
a month can get broadband free on a permanent basis, says
Abensur. Well, an 18 month contract with no connection fee, so
the company is reserving its position. But the deal appears
attractive: a connection up to 8 megabits, a LiveBox, no
connection fee, and free, unlimited calls via VoIP using a
digital cordless phone evenings and weekends to landline
Free landline calls
For an extra £6 a month landline calls are free at any
time, plus unlimited calls to any Orange mobile customer - 15
million of them in the UK. "In terms of size and scale this is
absolutely unique," says Abensur.
"This is a journey," he adds - unconsciously using a
cliché also favoured by Paul Reynolds, CEO of BT
Wholesale, the man in charge of the rival 21CN project. "We
want to bring over the next 12 months more products and more
services to our customers. We want to bring them the world of
Ghillebaert has already mentioned OnePhone, without much in
the way of explanation. Abensur fills in the details. "We will
be launching OnePhone in the next few months. The trial has
started in France. We are in the process of selecting the first
customers who will test the new service."
The OnePhone works with the LiveBox. "We are going to call
each LiveBox customer over the next few months to let them know
they can have this new service. We already have the LiveBox in
place, with more over the next few months. Only LiveBox owners
will receive the OnePhone promotion."
When the OnePhone customer is at home, or within range of his
or her own LiveBox, calls will automatically route through the
home network, giving cheaper outgoing calls using VoIP. Fixed
phones can be connected within the house.
"The box that is installed in our customers' homes will
provide the service," says Abensur. "We don't need to change
the customer premises equipment."
According to Ahuja the OnePhone service is "very different
from what you see from our competitors" - services such as BT's
Fusion in the UK, with a specially supplied Bluetooth phone
that connects to a wifi hub, or the Zuhause service that
Vodafone offers in Germany, offering low rates for calls made
from the cellsite that covers the customer's home.
"This is one telephone number. This is not Bluetooth based,
that can't get through a typical wall in the UK. It is a
wifi-based technology. It is a very simple, easy-to-use
service," says Ahuja. "You have a device that works at home.
You're in the middle of a call, and you continue using that
when you are on the move, and you continue using the service
when you're at work. It's one voicemail, one phone number, one
device, and consistent experience."
Trials will start "in a few weeks", he says. "A critical part
is to make sure the customer experience is right. Not two
telephone numbers - one telephone number, one bill, one
voicemail." After trials it will be launched commercially:
"initial places are France and the UK, in the next few
Orange already offers IPTV in France, with more than 200,000
customers. It is controlled via a set-top box which is also
connected to the LiveBox.
Orange - still operating as Wanadoo - launched IPTV in Spain
in May. "The third country that will be offering this product
will be the UK in the next few months. We will be using the
same technology, the same platform, a platform that
The LiveBox can already be connected to a PC or a gaming
station. PDAs with wifi can connect. "We are working with
manufacturers to ensure that when they have a wifi connection
that will work as closely as possible with the LiveBox. We are
working with Nokia, for instance." It is developing a tablet
"that you can use in your home. It will be available in the
next few months and will work with the LiveBox."
What's going on at home?
The system will work with wifi-enabled cameras and "we are
developing a website so that wherever you are in any part
of the world you will be able to see what's happening in your
home". Orange is "not willing to be a security company", says
Abensur, but "we will probably be working in partnership with a
security company to deliver a full set of services".
There are few details so far about how Orange will roll out
IPTV services. There will be HDTV, says Ahuja. There will be
"video on demand and we are already discussing with all the
content owners", says Abensur. Negotiations are taking place at
group level "with all the major companies across the world in
order to provide content".
He doesn't see that Orange "will compete immediately and
directly" with Sky in the UK when it starts IPTV. But it wants
"to give back control to customers".
There will also be a strong element of self-generated content,
suggests Abensur. "The point of IPTV is that I want to give the
ability to my customers to create their own content, and to put
that content on a specific channel that they can share with
their friends, their relatives, their community. That's the
point of IPTV. If IPTV was just broadcast TV it would be a
major failure in the industry." GTB
Plan for domestic network factories to
launch multi-service operations
France Telecom is to set up "domestic network"
factories with one consolidated IT system to deliver
integrated services in each country where it operates.
This strategy was outlined in May at the opening
session of TeleManagement World by CIO Nicolas Ruelle
He made the statement in advance of the rebranding of
France Telecom's operations - though he did allow
himself to tell the audience of OSS specialists from
telcos around the world: "the future of our brand is
going to look orange."
France Telecom operates in the UK, Spain, Belgium, the
Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland and a number of other
countries, said Ruelle, and he suggested that these
countries are where integrated services will be
launched. "In every country we intend to operate as a
multi-service player," he said in his keynote address
to the conference.
He spoke of "convergent IP services including
television on all our networks".
Ruelle is applying a "one network and IT" concept
across France Telecom's interests, he said, as the
company rolls out an all-IP network delivering
"broadband everywhere" as well as "ubiquitous
The company has already installed its first
fibre-to-the-home connections in the Paris area, he
said, but customers are getting "exactly the same
services" as the company's 7.4 million DSL users. "It
is our objective to decouple services from access," he
France Telecom wants to give all its customers access
to a self-service portal, and has set itself a
challenging goal of delivering services "in one
minute", said Ruelle. GTB