France Télécom brings Orange brand to France

France Télécom will rebrand its French mobile phone activities on June 21st with the Orange mark, which it acquired last year. With the rebranding will come a range of integrated international services, the company's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michel Bon said at a news conference Thursday.

"The brand isn't just an Orange square that we stick on our phones and posters. It's a way of doing business," said Jean-François Pontal, chief executive officer of Orange SA.

Simplified roaming tariffs and easier access to voice mail services from abroad will be the first signs of that way of doing business in France, said Didier Quillot, chief executive officer of Orange France.

From next week, Orange customers will pay 1 euro (US$0.85) per minute for roaming calls to or from anywhere within Europe. In 25 countries, customers will be able to call their voice mail service in exactly the same way as when at home. Today, users wanting to listen to their voice mail when travelling abroad have typically been required to set up special passwords on their mailbox and memorize new access numbers before leaving home -- a communications minefield for those who forget. France Télécom calls the feature a "virtual home environment."

For business users, Orange will also sell services internationally through France Télécom's global networking subsidiary Equant-Global One.

The rebranding was not unexpected; France Télécom signalled its intention to extend the Orange brand when it acquired the Orange group and merged it with its existing mobile holdings to form Orange SA last year.

The Danish subsidiary, Mobilix, turned Orange two weeks ago, and the company's operations in the Netherlands will follow shortly, said Jean-François Pontal. "All the group will be Orange by the end of next year," he said.

One area where complications are foreseen is Belgium. Orange changed hands several times last year, first being acquired by Mannesmann AG, with was subsequently bought by Vodafone Group PLC. The European Commission later forced Vodafone to sell Orange to avoid a concentration of market power in the U.K., where it would have owned two of the four mobile telecommunications networks. The upshot of this is that France Télécom's mobile operation in Belgium is called Mobistar -- and the Orange brand is owned by its competitor. An exchange of prisoners is planned for October 2002, when Orange SA will regain the right to use the brand there. Pontal said he expected the competition will stop promoting the Orange brand "pretty soon, to avoid investing too much for us."

Arch-rival Vodafone Group PLC began rebranding its global holdings under one brand last December. Its subsidiaries in Sweden and Greece, Europolitan AB and Panafon, were among the companies to tack Vodafone onto their new name.

"Vodafone and T-Mobil have also announced their plans to be global brands. That's what we call a me-too strategy," Pontal said.

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