Orange yesterday finally launched its 3G service in France and the UK, following a series of delays and technical glitches to its network. The new service, called Orange Intense, will be available to customers in the UK at as little as GBP30 a month, matching the cheapest service available from its largest rival 3, and undercutting Vodafone’s 3G offering; the latter rolled out its own 3G service late last month. Orange has six 3G handsets on offer, supplied from Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Sanyo, LG Electronics, Nokia and Motorola. It hopes to sell between 1.5 million and two million handsets by the end of 2006.
The operator says that more than 2,000 people have trialled 3G services in the UK since July, with over 10,000 already having registered for the service. According to the vice president of the UK operation Bernard Ghillebaert, Orange’s selling points for the new service are superior population coverage – it claims to have 70% coverage at launch, a wide handset range, and a wider range of services than its rivals – including video answer-phone and access to the internet. Ghillebaert also said that pre-paid 3G services are planned for the future. The new 3G handsets will only be available to buy from in Orange retail outlets and over the internet before Christmas.
Orange has made no secret of having had technical problems in its network rollout, and has been under particular pressure in France where rival operator SFR launched 3G services a month ago. French CEO Sanjiv Ahuja had previously warned that the rollout could be delayed until next year, and yesterday’s launch has come as a relief both to the operator and potential customers, soothing concerns in the country that the cellco was still suffering teething problems.
In the UK, 3 has experienced impressive growth over the last year, after a slow start linked to concerns over the service quality levels and poor handsets. It claimed 1.2 million 3G subscribers at the end of September 2004, up from 850,000 three months earlier and 361,000 in March. Orange hopes that its service will see similar success.