Orange goes live with 5G in Romania

Orange has joined the 5G fracas, launching the connectivity euphoria in Romania with a very attractive exclusive partnership with Samsung.

As the market leader in a fast-evolving market, Romania is a sensible option to lunch the Orange assault on the 5G world, but it also happens to be one of the regions where valuable spectrum assets are plentiful. With 115 MHz in the 3.4-3.6 GHz band, the much-heralded ‘Innovation Band’, this is a very comfortable position to launch 5G services.

And while the team are remaining tight-lipped on the European 5G strategy, spectrum will largely dictate how 5G services are driven over the coming months. Deputy CEO Ramon Fernandez highlighted the availability of spectrum and the success of auctions will largely inform the teams switch-on strategy over the next few months, though do not expect any major announcements before the end of the year.

Although Romania is not a market which attracts headlines consistently, there are some very interesting elements to this launch. First and foremost, the exclusive partnership with Samsung.

This is a partnership which works both ways. Samsung devices can only be sold by Orange, and Orange 5G tariffs can only be run through Samsung devices. It might sound unusual that two companies would want to limit this potential in this manner, but considering Orange is the market share leader for 4G (roughly 40%) while Samsung is the devices market share leader (estimates range between 50-55%), there are attractive gains for both parties.

The second interesting element of this announcement is the focus on Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). Orange has never been shy about its convergence ambitions, the success of bundling is evident in numerous markets but with no fixed assets in Romania it becomes difficult. There is a wholesale agreement in place with Telecom Romania, however this is far from an idea position.

With 5G, FWA becomes a much more apparent opportunity to compete with the fibre services which are being offered by competitors. It certainly isn’t perfect by any means, but if Orange can deliver the promised gigabit speeds over the air, there will certainly be demand from increasingly speed obsessed consumers.

The final twist to this story is an aspect which could count against the telco. After performing a number of speed tests across Bucharest, it became very apparent, very quickly, that the 4G network is excellent, providing speeds which even the most demanding consumer could not make use of. In delivering such eye-watering speeds over 4G, one should ask whether this weakens the selling point of 5G. As attractive as 1.2 Gbps download speeds are, who actually needs that much power now?

The initial data tariffs do look attractive, €25 for unlimited data, Orange TV, Deezer and number sharing eSIM features across multiple devices, but in creating such an comprehensive 4G network in Romania, Orange much have weakened the underlying argument for 5G.

This is of course until new services become available, though CTIO Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière highlighted the purpose of these new services is to demonstrate how the user experience can be enhanced. As new services emerge, whether they be in entertainment or the connected world, new features will be introduced. It does create a bit of a sense of purgatory, but this is a better looking 5G launch than most.

Orange hints it might be ready to take Romanian fixed assets off DT

Last week, reports emerged Deutsche Telekom had been given the green-light to sell its fixed network stake to Orange in Romania, and the French telco isn’t quashing the rumour.

With a 54% stake in Telekom Romania Communications, DT has a healthy position in the market, though it appears the country is no-longer part of the grand plan. Orange is reportedly in-line to purchase the fixed network stake, the remaining 46% is owned by the Romanian Government, and as you can see from the statement below, it is not denying the rumours.

“The Orange Group’s strategic ambition is to be a leading convergent fixed and mobile operator in Europe, and we are exploring all potential opportunities in Romania to further implement this strategy,” the company stated.

“Our analysis is still at a preliminary stage and no decision has been taken by Orange. In any case, such a decision would be subject to mandatory regulatory approvals.”

The reports in local press claim DT has received approval from the Romanian Government to sell its stake in one of the country’s biggest telcos. For Orange, this does look like it is a sensible move. It is the leading mobile provider in the country, though adding the fixed assets through such an acquisition would certainly make a more complete offering.

The convergence business model is one which is being firmly grasped across the Orange group. There are of course regional twists in terms of execution, though the over-arching strategy is fully-embracing convergence.

What is worth bearing mind is that there is enough nuanced language to add an element of doubt, but it does appear an announcement of some kind might be on the horizon in the not too distant future.

Orange picks Transylvania for 5G FWA demo

Operator group Orange took its mate Cisco and Samsung on a road-trip to northern Romania to show off its 5G multi-vendor fixed wireless access skills.

Orange says the test is the first of its kind in Europe and is a key step in the development of 5G in the region. At its core it seems to be a classic FWA set up, but using 5G architecture and millimetre-wave spectrum. The radio base station of the virtualized access network connects through fiber to the virtualized Core network installed in the Orange datacenter.

It took place in a village called Florești, near the town of Cluj, which is apparently the capital of the province of Transylvania. 15 Orange residential customers got to live the 5G FWA dream, which also involved Samsung 5G ‘terminals’ (which seems to mean small cells in this case) and Cisco routers.

“This is a test which brings us closer to the future, an opportunity to better understand the way in which technology works in real usage environment conditions, the challenges that we can face while deploying new technology and the benefits it can bring to both our residential and business customers.” said Liudmila Climoc, CEO of Orange Romania (pictured, center).

Perhaps seduced by the prospect of encountering vampires, Iain Morris of Light Reading flew over to Transylvania to witness the demo first hand. And it looks like his wish was granted, in a way, because among the Orange execs he met was one Arnaud Vamparys. You couldn’t make it up! You can read more about his Romanian road-trip here.