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November 29, 2005

Orange joins Cingular’s team to woo corp accounts

France Telecom's Orange mobile arm is joining Cingular Wireless' WorldView program for multinational corporate (MNC) customers with a view to driving more MNCs to each other's doors. The tie-up will not only bring in more corporate business but will also enable the operators to gain some ground on Vodafone, which has been aggressively pursuing corporate accounts lately.

By CBR Staff Writer

WorldView is a program whereby corporate mobile usage on the networks of Cingular and its partner operators generates discounts on a company’s Cingular bill.

A US corporation already gets a special rate from Cingular for usage by its US employees, but the program extends the base on which the discount is calculated to include all the voice minutes and data sessions its overseas employees chalk up on WorldView partner networks, of which the biggest is now Orange.

While the discount is always on the US bill, the offer is by no means limited to US MNCs. If, for instance, a European corporate that is a customer of Orange in any of the countries where it is offering WorldView is also a Cingular customer Stateside, its US operation can similarly enjoy a reduction in its mobile bill based on usage in the States and all the Orange networks where its employees have accounts.

Orange is not the first mobile operator to join WorldView, though it is the largest in terms of the number of properties it brings to the deal. Other operators taking part include O2 and Rogers.

The WorldView arrangement is clearly designed to drive more corporate business both to Cingular and its WorldView partners. As such, it is at least in part a response to the international reach of Vodafone, which has 28 properties around the world and a 49% stake in Cingular’s arch-rival Verizon Wireless.

Vodafone has been aggressively pursuing corporate accounts of late, touting its ability to serve them in multiple geographies and offer single-rate roaming throughout Europe, for instance.

It will be interesting to see whether the Cingular-Orange tie-up grows even closer further down the road. They are already roaming partners, but with this deal there are now actual financial incentives for corporate customers of Cingular to take their non-US business to Orange in its countries, and of Orange to take their US business to Cingular.

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As such, the moves by Cingular to embed cellular chips into laptops from next year to obviate the need for data cards and enable instant connectivity to its GSM network might could well add European frequency bands to the US ones and offer instant connections to Cingular’s WorldView partner networks for US corporate travelers going to Europe.

In only one geography, the UK, would there be any conflict, in that both Orange and O2 are partners there, in which case a best connection solution could be adopted on an ad hoc basis.

A transatlantic data roaming offer would thus become a possibility, putting Cingular and its partners on equal footing with Germany’s T-Mobile, which is the only mobile operator with networks in Europe and the US. Its CEO Rene Obermann said it is too early to talk about embedding chips into laptops, but acknowledged that it would be a relatively simple matter to enable both European and US data roaming.

In any case, such an arrangement would clearly give Cingular the advantage over Verizon, which has already announced plans to embed EV-DO chips into Lenovo, Dell and HP laptops, but faces the limitation that this will only work in countries with CDMA networks – that is, nowhere in Europe.

Of course, users can always resort to a 3G/GPRS datacard from Vodafone, but that would defeat the instant connectivity message that Verizon is pushing to counter the attraction of Centrino-based WiFi.

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