Friday, June 23, 2017

Profile of Orange, a global operation with big ambitions - part 5

Preamble

Orange SA is perhaps the global carrier with operations in the most diverse geographies and cultures. From its headquarters in Paris, Orange (formerly France Telecom) now serves 265.162,000 subscribers worldwide with mobile, broadband, fixed telephony, TV and a range of advanced enterprise services. Part 1 covered the company's recent performance indicators, Part 2 discussed two growth segments for Orange: Africa and mobile money, Part 3 discussed the spirit of innovation and its growth in Spain, Part 4 covered Orange Business Services and the company's efforts in SDN and NFV. Part 5 of the series will look at the mobile operations, especially as Orange readies for 5G.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Quarterly and annual financial reports from Orange S.A. paint the picture of a mature mobile market, where ARPU remains flat despite increases in data traffic and continual capital expenditures. While this article has focused on areas of new investment, there has also been a very significant divestiture - the sale of its 50% stake in Everything Everywhere (EE) in the UK. In 2015, BT acquired EE from Orange and Deutsche Telekom for GBP 12.5 billion, giving it the leading mobile network in the UK with 31 million customers (including 24.5m direct mobile customers and 834,000 are fixed broadband customers). EE had previously operated the Orange and T-Mobile networks in the UK. At the time of the deal, EE was regarded by many as the UK's most advanced 4G network.

The joint venture was established in 2009 as a cost-sharing project of France Telecom (now Orange) and Deutsche Telekom. The operation also scored several notable MVNOs, including Virgin Mobile UK, The Co-operative Mobile and Asda Mobile. The sale its 50% stake in EE provided Orange with GBP 4.5 billion in cash and a 4% equity stake in BT. There has been speculation that Orange will use these proceeds to consolidate its position in Europe. Last year, Orange negotiated to buy Bouygues Telecom, the number three mobile operator in France, but these plans were scuttled.

The 5G rollout may be slower than in the U.S., Nordics, Japan and Korea

Unlike some other mobile network operators who are rushing to claim bragging rights as the first carrier to deploy 5G, Orange appears to be holding fast to previously published timelines to commercialise the next generation of mobile technology in 2020. This news emerged at Mobile World Congress earlier this year when major mobile operators and leading equipment vendors issued a call to accelerate the 5G New Radio (NR) standardisation schedule to enable commercial deployments based on the standard in 2019, one year ahead of schedule. The list of supporters notably did not include Orange.

Currently, Orange is conducting 5G demos and is planning large-scale field trials during 2018 and 2019. However, Orange was not an early mover for 4G, and here again the carrier has stated that it will no rush ahead with a pre-standard implementation that has not been fully vetted. In a press event following publication of its Q1 2017 results, company officials stated that capex plans for a 5G rollouts have not yet been budgeted as the standards are still evolving. 3GPP Release 15 is tentatively scheduled for phase 1 release in mid-2018; Release 16 specs should be out by the end of 2019. So far, Orange has announced 5G partnerships with Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei.

Related items

In January 2017, Ericsson and Orange exceeded 10 Gbit/s peak rates in 5G lab testing using beam tracking in France. In November 2015, Orange obtained two 5 MHz frequency blocks (10 MHz in total) in France at the end of an auction process for 700 MHz frequencies for a total sum of Euro 954 million. This will enable Orange to offer better quality of service, particularly inside buildings and in rural areas, and to prepare for the introduction of 5G technology, making Orange the only French operator to own 30 MHz in low frequencies.

In Poland, Orange Polska has also won auctions to acquire two frequency blocks on the 800 MHz band and three others on the 2,600 MHz band for the total amount of around Euro 700 million. In addition, the deployment of 4G+, which provides speeds which are twice as fast as 4G, is continuing in Europe.

Orange continues to deploy the 4G/4G+ networks in the European countries where it operates. For example, in Autumn 2015, Orange Spain commercially launched LTE-Advanced, which supports speeds of up to 336 Mbit/s. In Romania, where Orange is rolling out 4G+, the agreement signed with Telekom Romania in late 2015 for use of its fibre network in urban areas provides access to 20 million connectible homes, enabling the launch of convergent offers.

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