Orange is set to start offering landline services to small businesses.
The company said that its existing small to medium-sized business customers will be able to sign up for Orange fixed line phone services in the office and receive a single bill for their mobile and landline services. Customers will be able to call a single customer service line for help with both services, and they'll receive discounted rates for calls between Orange landlines and Orange mobile phones.
Some customers are already testing the service but the full commercial launch will happen in the second quarter, Orange said.
"We're seeing this as a stepping stone to how we become an integrated operator," said Jason Ellis, head of convergence for business solutions at Orange in the UK. Orange intends to offer additional services in the future, including broadband connectivity and voice over IP, he said.
Orange won't sell the fixed line offering without also selling a mobile service, he said. "If you come for the fixed line, the assumption is you'll also get mobile," he said.
Orange is initially targeting customers with as many as 250 users but in the future may broaden its offering to businesses as large as 500 users, he said.
The initial voice-only offering is unlikely to make a major stir in the market, said James Enck, European telecom analyst at Daiwa Securities SMBC Europe. "It's the right thing to do but I wouldn't expect any sort of big bang financially [for Orange], and probably the increased marketing expenditure will pressure them in the short term," he said.
With landline voice prices already quite low, customers would need a compelling reason to switch to Orange, he noted. Some customers might not see the benefit yet because they'll still have to use a different telecom supplier for broadband access.
But operators like Orange must begin to offer bundled services as competition increases. BT resells mobile services. Cable operator NTL has been in talks to purchase Virgin Mobile Telecoms in the UK. And a wide variety of new types of companies are entering the telecommunication space. For example, Tesco now offers mobile phone services as well as voice over IP.
Orange has said that it is pursuing an integrated services strategy in Belgium, Spain and the UK, Ellis said. Orange is a unit of France Telecom, which offers a variety of fixed line services in France.