Orange has lifted the lid on its 3G strategy at the 3GSM World Congress 2004 in Cannes, confirming that it will launch commercial services in France and the UK as early as June. Initially the cellco plans to offer access to 3G technology on a contract-only basis, but remains open to the possibility of making a pre-paid option available in the fourth quarter. The company has remained tight lipped about pricing, with John Allwood, the executive vice-president of Orange UK maintaining that it will not be following 3’s example of discounted pricing. Three handsets are likely to be available at launch, although no final decision has been taken on who its suppliers will be. It is, however, reported to be testing handsets supplied by both Motorola and LG Electronics.
As it stands 4,000 customers are testing Orange’s 3G network in France, in cities including Cannes, Lille and Toulouse, under a trial dubbed ‘Villes Orange 3G’. The pilot offers customers a chance to try out video calling and gain unlimited access to multimedia content for a minimal fee. In the UK, the company claims that its integrated 2G/3G network already has 40% population coverage, having installed infrastructure in ten major cities including London, Manchester and Bristol.
To further the advancement of 3G, Orange chose the 3GSM Congress to announce the planned launch of nine 3G development centres, in the UK (Maidenhead), France (Velizy), Thailand (Bangkok), the Netherlands, China, Japan and the USA (three). The centres – the first three of which are already operational – will house an Orange device lab, meeting spaces and an interactive demo environment, designed to encourage third party developers to generate new applications for the network. Six of the centres will be based within Alcatel’s 3G Reality Centres, strengthening the relationship between the two. Alcatel is Orange’s sole supplier of 3G network equipment for its network in the north and west of France, an area which includes Paris. Meanwhile in the UK, Alcatel is responsible for the rollout of Orange’s network in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North East of England.