Orange fights back… intelligently!

Orange No. 1
Orange (CC) avhell

Over the years I’ve been fairly critical of Orange both in the way they captured the NGA market and contributed to its slowing down in France and in the way they took a quasi-systematic anti-net neutral stance, even against their own best interests. Their latest service announcements, however, show a change of tracks, and one that I find interesting and mostly compliant with Net Neutrality. That’s not to say they’re not pushing the envelope, but at least they seem to have embraced the paradigm that traffic can stay on your network or it can go elsewhere, and that much of that depends on your own choices as a service provider.

Le Monde published an article today (in French) entitled L’internet “ouvert” d’Orange ferme les portes (Orange’s “open” internet closes doors) which I think misses the point but at least lists the main evolutions in services offered. In a nutshell, here are the big announcements:

  • a new super duper set-top box which… catches up with the latest evolutions in Free’s and Num√©ricable’s own set-top boxes. So not much there.
  • a million FTTH customers as a target for 2014. The article states this as ambitious considering Orange only has 150 000 customers today, but it’s actually fairly conservative considering there’s no advertising for FTTH of any significance today and the deployment targets by 2014 are at least 5 times that.
  • a new Orange Cloud service which is effectively a Dropbox by Orange. This is something that I’m surprised is coming so late, and that I think is both smart and commercially viable. It’s a natural extension of your broadband service and – provided the T&Cs are intelligently done and the sync clients work fine – should be successful. It’s not clear to me whether the 50GB offer is free and the 100GB offer not-free or if both are optional, I’ll have to investigate that. Orange mobile customers won’t have that traffic count against their caps (which is net-neutrality compliant since it doesn’t leave their network).
  • Orange wants to integrate more over the top services within its offerings (and not just Deezer and Dailymotion which they own) and have announced a big partnership with Akamai to maximise the hosting of said services in their network. Again, this is smart and totally net-neutrality compliant. It’s a way to enhance the quality of the service they offer to end-users and minimize the amount of peering/transit required to do so.

All of this, in my opinion, is smart. What goes untold of course is what (if anything) happens to genuine internet traffic ? If something isn’t cached in Orange’s network, will you still access it with the same quality of service as you do today? If the answer is yes, then I applaud Orange and would even consider (as a customer) switching to their network just for that reason. If of course the unsaid flip side of this is that they increase contention on the internet access part of the service, then I’d find this appalling.

Hopefully we’ll know more in the coming days and weeks.