Comment When a company that is known universally as one of the worst managed operators in the world finally gets its brand unification act together, it is something of a landmark.
In the case of France Telecom finally unifying broadband, ISP services, IPTV, VoIP and mobile services under the Orange brand, this is effectively a declaration of war on the rest of Europe.
Under the banner of convergence the announcement says a lot of waffle, and simply put this is Orange, Wanadoo, Equant and Etrali brands across Europe changing their name to Orange, and a first stab at bundling, little more. Even the MaLigne IPTV service is expected to operate under the Orange name eventually.
But underneath that is a gargantuan effort of combining sales and service organisations, websites and helpdesk, and the beginning of meaningful new "converged" bundles across the quadruple play marketplace.
This is not just about France, this is the first blow in the long awaited confrontation between France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Telecom Italia, British Telecom and to a lesser extent Telefonica, which is likely to change the telecoms landscape in all of Europe and take in all the new Europeans, to the east, and Scandinavia, to the north.
It is a war that is based on using a quadruple play where unbundling of the local loop and broadband wholesaling legislation across all of Europe has made it possible for ISPs to enter other broadband markets.
It's a fight that's been brewing for some time and the opening shots are fired fairly and squarely at British Telecom with Orange announcing a totally free broadband line, running at up to 8 Mbps in the UK for Orange mobile monthly contract customers that spend more than £30 ($56).
Orange has also launched new VoIP services including one called Anytime, which offers free evening and weekend calls to UK landlines and has free calls to Orange mobiles for just £6 ($11) a month. Eventually Orange will bring in a "One Phone" offering, a mobile and Wi-Fi phone that works at home and at work through Wi-Fi connection and then is a cellular phone when on the move. Orange has also promised to merge address books across mobile and broadband telephony.
Orange has also said that it will launch music, gaming, communication and security services in the near future, but we would expect even more from the company, and an onslaught in hybrid IPTV services will be launched right across Europe.
Orange is also merging all of its enterprise telecoms offerings under the Orange brand, but that's not really what we’re analysing here. The visions for all of this goes back to early 2004 when France Telecom bought out the other 29.4 per cent shareholders in Wanadoo, at the time painting a future where it would offer IPTV, online games, VoIP and other broadband services Europe wide. It floated off its Yellow Pages operation after the acquisition of Wanadoo to help pay for the Wanadoo deal which it then integrated with its other ISP businesses.
Today Orange is one of Europe's biggest broadband providers with 8.1m broadband customers across Europe and it is these customers that are the heart of any challenge that Orange and France Telecom can mount outside of France.
In the meantime, much the same has been going on at Telecom Italia. Last month it revealed that its IPTV service in Germany, would launch on the back of the World Cup, selling the Alice brand of TV services that Telecom Italia has already launched in its home country.
The Alice service in Germany is very different from its home service and this difference gives us a ready made shape for the future of European Telecoms. The Alice services outside Italy, such as the German service owned by its subsidiary ISP HanseNet, is a hybrid DVB-T digital terrestrial TV service, with VoD over the internet, and the rest of TV broadcast through the air.