Last week, I attended Open Tech Days, Orange’s innovation and technology event. It was hosted at the operator’s Orange Gardens research campus in Chatillon, in south-west Paris.
During a briefing for the media, Orange’s newish chief technology and innovation officer, Bruno Zerbib, set out a future vision for the company and a new era for the industry. This was underpinned by greater openness and agility, as well as the use of new technologies such as cloud and artificial intelligence (AI).
In candid opening remarks, Mr Zerbib said that the mobile industry had been stuck in a “generational paradigm”. He explained that customers haven’t noticed a major change in moving from 4G to 5G and that marketing has overblown expectations by focusing too much on bandwidth and not enough on energy efficiency and reliability. Instead, he advocated a concept of “continuous innovation”, in which network and service improvements are rolled out constantly.
But like it or not, 6G is going to happen. And there’ll probably be a 7G too. Equipment providers like Nokia and Ericsson, whose business models are predicated on major network upgrades, will see to that. But I agree with Mr Zerbib that the time has come for the industry to evolve “beyond the Gs”.
Mr Zerbib also talked a lot about culture, suggesting telecom operators have been too arrogant in the past. He said they need a new mind-set with a greater willingness to partner and to try different things, even if that means pulling back if it’s clear they’re not working. The ambition is laudable but may prove difficult to instil in a decades-old organization like Orange, which has over 130,000 employees.
The event included an impressive 60 demonstrations showcasing Orange’s latest innovations and partnerships. They were split into four categories: new retail connectivity, customer experience, telecom networks as a platform and cybersecurity. I didn’t get the chance to see them all, but here are the five that caught my eye.
Orange will be the sole connectivity provider at next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games. It’s the first time the organizing committee has trusted one company with such a huge responsibility, which will encompass 878 sporting events, 120 official venues and 14,900 athletes.
TeamConnect is a secure push-to-talk solution that will run over Orange’s 4G mobile network at the event. It offers instant and prioritized communication, for example, to support crowd management or for emergency services.
Portable cameras connected to private 5G networks will offer enhanced bandwidth and low latency, enabling immersive live images, such as behind a cyclist at the velodrome or among performers at the opening ceremony.
In partnership with a company called BodyCap, Orange is helping Paralympians monitor their body temperature to prevent dehydration and mitigate stress. Athletes ingest a connected capsule which transmits data that is then processed in real time on Orange’s Live Objects platform.
Orange “Max it”
Max it is Orange’s new “super app”, which launched in an initial five African countries last month and aims to combine telecommunications, financial services and e-commerce. It’s available to anyone, whether an Orange customer or not, and is set to expand into a further 12 countries in the Africa and Middle East region in the coming months. Orange aims to have about 45 million active users by 2025.
Super apps are an emerging trend in the telecom market. EE recently unveiled a new digital platform to enable customers to manage the services they take in a single place (see Instant Insight: EE Launches New Platform to Spearhead Push Beyond Connectivity), and in the Middle East, e& offers an app with a range of financial services (see Insight Report: Etisalat’s New Brand Identity Set to Spearhead Expansion).
Find is an AI-powered application that Orange is trialling in France and Luxembourg. It helps call centre advisors quickly identify information from various sources such as the company’s website and internal databases. The overall aim is to improve the quality and speed of responses to customer enquiries. The operator insists that the service is a tool to support its agents and not to replace them, by helping them validate their answers.
Hookalert Trust System
Using data analytics and AI technologies, this application aims to protect enterprise and consumer customers from phishing attacks. The demo comprised two solutions. The first, Hookalert, is a browser extension that alerts employees if they visit a suspicious website. The second — called Trust System — is a machine learning model to block attacks and suspicious behaviour without the user knowing. So far, Orange has rolled it out across its websites and apps in France, and is evaluating about 500 million requests per month.
Network Profitability through APIs
This demonstration showed how Orange is opening 4G and 5G network capabilities to developers using APIs. This is an important topic in the mobile industry and one CCS Insight analysed in detail in a recent report (see Insight Report: Operators Open Networks in Renewed Bid to Lure Developers).
The showcase explained how the quality on demand API could improve the quality of a 360-degree video when network conditions deteriorate. Supported by Microsoft’s Azure Programmable Connectivity platform, a live event could benefit from guaranteed data flow rates and reduced latency, according to the operator.
The event highlighted not just the breadth of Orange’s innovation credentials but also its keenness to partner and willingness to become more open. This desire to change is refreshing, and although it may take longer than Orange realizes to achieve some of its transformation ambitions, the Open Tech Days event showed that the operator is heading down the right path.
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