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    Orange stresses the P word


    By Keith Dyer at 3GSM World Congress
    What do you do when a new gadget or technology comes on the market? Are you one of those who pre-registers for the latest DVD player or games console or are you the kind of person who likes to sit back, wait for the price to drop and then buy the same product for half the price later on?

    The question is relevant because if Orange’s cfo Sanjiv Ahuja is to believed, it was worth waiting around before making a commitment to buy UMTS RAN equipment.

    Ahuja said that the price of UMTS RAN equipment has been decreasing in price faster than the inverse of Moore’s law. Moore’s Law, you may remember, is now industry shorthand for something doubling every year. Therefore, we can surmise the price of the radio infrastructure for W-CDMA has halved year on year for the past three years. Therein perhaps lies the reason for the number of second and third round contracts operators have signed for 3G networks.

    Orange’s top brass, presenting at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes, used the word “pragmatic” the way that UK chancellor Gordon Brown used to declare his love for Prudence in his budget statements. But with Orange spending EUR7-8 billion over the 2003-2005 period on 3G, that pragmatism seems only sensible.

    Orange senior management were outlining their current and future progress in UMTS network rollout. Three cities, including the currently sensitive Cannes, are now live trial sites, being used by selected Orange subscribers. By the end of the year, 20 French cities will be covered by 3G networks, Orange said. In the UK the situation is that Orange will have 60% of the country covered by the end of the year, including coverage of the top ten cities.

    Each of Orange’s three cities is being covered by one of its three UMTS infrastructure providers. Nortel in Cannes, Nokia in Toulouse and Alcatel in Lille.

    In France the operator will also try to make best use of the fixed line network of parent company France Telecom. Bretton announced that the goal was to develop one “fluid” broadband services platform, which users could access either by mobile, WiFi or fixed line technologies. For the rest of Orange’s properties, there were hints that it would look for fixed line service partner providers to provision the fixed line side of that converged broadband platform.

    The operator also announced the launch of nine developer centres where handset manufacturers and applications developers could bring their products to play.

    LG and Motorola were the early announced handset vendors, but there will be more to follow. Lucent is providing its GPSR/UMTS PCMCIA cards to enable laptop users to get wireless access to corporate and other data services. 3G handsets would be available to business customers by around October 2004.

    In total it was a quiet message, underlined by the fact that announcements were restricted to Orange’s French and UK territories. It’s a long long road – and we’re still travelling along it.