Orange Woos the Mobile Workforce

The French telecom launched its fixed-line business broadband service giving customers access to 3G, GPRS, EDGE, and Wi-Fi networks

Orange has launched its fixed-line business broadband service, as predicted at the end of May.

Announced on Wednesday, the offering combines the fixed-line services launched earlier in the year with an extension of the Business Everywhere data card scheme which gives Orange's business subscribers access to 3G, GPRS, EDGE and wi-fi networks.

The telecoms provider said the service would deliver speeds of up to 8Mbps, with "free business customer service calls and a single consolidated bill to deliver added cost control and transparency".

Business Everywhere and Broadband for Business constitute a "major step forward" in addressing the growing trend of remote working, said Alastair MacLeod, the vice president of Orange Business Services.

Jason Ellis, Orange Business Services' head of convergence, told sister site ZDNet UK the launch represents "the realisation of Orange's transformation from being a mobile phone company into more of a communications company".

Claiming it was the "first time an operator like [Orange] can go to business customers and say 'we really are a converged operator'", Ellis denied Orange was stepping outside of its core competencies as a telco - an allegation that has been levelled at many amid the recent spate of converged offerings.

He said: "We are a telco but having the assets we do have, we're not stepping outside of our credibility and capability."

Orange Business Services was formed after France Telecom, Orange's parent company, decided to rebrand the France Telecom group - which covers subsidiaries such as VPN provider Equant and ISP Wanadoo - under the Orange umbrella.

Ellis did, however, admit such attempts at convergence currently fall short of providing a truly unified experience, as such services are "not all managed seamlessly on one core network".

Internet telephony (VoIP) is one example of where the system needs to improve, said Ellis. Such services are "currently running across a network that is inherently a best-effort network" and "not engineered to support [VoIP] in a way that a business might accept", he explained.

He added: "At the moment the network isn't engineered to make sure that real-time applications are working in a way you might want as a customer," giving the lack of traffic prioritisation as one explanation.

True convergence will not come until next generation networking (NGN), which runs over IP rather than the current PSTN phone networks, becomes standard, said Ellis, adding it would be "way past 2008" before this happened.

He also argued that Orange's early approximation of convergence would put it ahead in the race to offer the real thing. "I think we will start to bring services across our network with a quality of service a lot sooner," he said. "We actually own all the assets where we want to deliver all these services. You'll see more from us as we move forward."

The predicted timescale for NGN roughly fits in with that of BT, which intends to have its own IP-based 21st Century Network (21CN) replacing legacy networks by the end of the decade.

Predictions were already surfacing last year that BT could be beaten to the punch by a smaller operator - it remains to be seen if Orange is that operator.