Where next for Orange?

Where next for Orange?

In the past, mobile operators looked upon Orange with awe as it led the market with innovation in almost every segment. Now the company lacks sparkle, is renowned for poor customer service and has unimaginative tariff plans. Not surprisingly, it has slipped to fourth place in the U.K. subscriber tables, with only the relative newcomer 3UK doing worse.

The new CEO, Tom Alexander--who joined from Virgin Mobile six months ago, has committed to doing the obvious. The focus now will be on improving its customer service and encouraging greater loyalty. Building loyalty is now vital in the U.K., as the market is mature and fiercely competitive, and a new structure that will see consumer and business customer teams working closer with the sales and loyalty team, should help the company to do better here.

Orange is increasing its retail stores and bringing back offshore call centres to the U.K. It is also creating up to 500 new customer-facing roles, replacing up to 450 admin, management and support roles (what were all these people doing?).

But this is fixing the necessary, and would probably enable Orange to stay where it is.

Where the company might claw its way back, according to Ovum, the U.K.-based market research firm, is with new services. Analysts with the company believe that Orange's emphasis on "totally connected" devices (for example, laptops with embedded cellular modules) that optimise both fixed and wireless broadband access has potential due to the relatively large installed base.

But is this enough to rebuild Orange? The company seems to need a huge injection of fresh thinking--something that its founder, Hans Snook, had by the bucket load. -Paul