Jean-Pierre Bienaimé, is the senior vice president of strategy & communications for Orange and chairman of the UMTS Forum. Ahead of the LTE World Summit, taking place on the 23-24 May 2012 at the CCIB, Barcelona, Spain, we caught up with him to get his views on the future of the mobile industry.
Orange has recently put down its LTE marker by pledging that it will bring LTE to Europe across the countries of France, Spain, Belgium, Luxemburg, Armenia, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. In light of the 2015 coverage date some have viewed the move as a little sluggish but Jean-Pierre Bienaimé, senior vice president of strategy & communications for Orange and chairman of the UMTS Forum, is keen to defend Orange’s here. “Orange’s philosophy has always been ‘not always first, but first time right, with the best quality of experience for the customer with the best coverage and terminals for the customers.”
Terminals. The availability of these is often the blight of the industry and it has been no different for LTE. However, Bienaimé is satisfied that it will not be a problem for Orange in Europe. “The terminal market has grown quicker than expected from one year ago, and probably the US launches have played a role as an accelerator for 4G. It has helped mature the ecosystem. I’m sure by December we will have some 30 smartphones that will have LTE capability. You’ll have also tablets, notebooks and within one year I’m sure this number will multiply. In Japan, DoComo has just announced two million LTE customers it will be also quick in the Japanese market.”
A bigger problem he believes is the spectrum situation, which, as chairman of the UMTS Forum has long been one of his concerns. “It has been our job for a long time in the UMTS forum to fight for frequency spectrum for mobile. We have been active at worldwide conferences with regard to the digital dividend and C band and also harmonisation.” The latter is directly tied into the success of the LTE eco-system he explains. “In the coming years, with the digital dividend at 700 and 800MHz we should have harmonised bands, so that there will be enough economy of scale.”
Bienaimé is looking forward to the launch of LTE, particularly in his native France. “In France we have just done the auction process at the end of the previous year, so as was in the case in Germany, at 800Mhz, mainly for rural, and 2.6GHz for urban areas.” He is also happy with the way the auction went for Orange. “[We] obtained the best compromise in terms of quantity of MHz and price – it was a good calculation. But I expect that there will be refarming of 1800MHz.”
This reflects what Orange is trying to do in the UK with its partnership with T-Mobile under the Everything Everywhere brand, a move that has raised the ire of its UK competitors and threatens to spill over into the courts. Naturally Bienaimé is hopeful it will happen. “In the UK it could be an advantage, before the other ones [operators]. It could be a good differentiator.”
One of the benefits of LTE over UMTS is that it is able to operate over a wide band of frequencies, but at the same time it is this that causes issues in terms of the lack of harmonisation. However, he is confident that technology will be able to overcome this. “We have seen encouraging signs at the recent Mobile World Congress with some interesting announcements in terms of LTE launches, particularly from chipset vendors: notably from Qualcomm who showed 3G/LTE multimode and multi-band chips, supporting 2G/3G/LTE with 14 LTE bands. So I think it’s quite encouraging.”
However, he still insists that that a combination of talented multi-frequency chipsets and limited spectrum fragmentation is what is required to encourage roaming. “With LTE, more so than with previous generations, if you want to have international roaming you need to add several LTE bands, so you must have GSM, UMTS, CDMA2000 and LTE- both high and low frequencies.”
Most of the attention of roaming recently has been around cost issues, with the EU in particular recently making moves to lower these for consumers. On the costs issues Bienaimé comments that, “there are some discussions at European level for roaming trends in terms of tariffs and we will soon see the result of those discussions. We can say that for the customers it will be more and more interesting.”
What excites Bienaimé about LTE is its potential to transform connected devices of all types. “We think that at mobile broadband and consumer electronics are two worlds that will meet very rapidly. I don’t know if it will be the 50 billion connected devices predicted by Ericsson by 2020 – we more moderately predicted, in addition to traditional smartphones, one billion real consumer electronics devices by 2016. These will be divided into four categories: home, portable, car and health. We foresee that broadband LTE will favour low latency activities such as real-time streaming, video conferencing and interactive gaming.”
M2M however will take a good while to enter the TLE fold he says. “Concerning the real traditional M2M, we will think it will come a bit later. Many M2M communications are happy with not such high-speed [connections], such as smart metering. But definitely for video, and in-car applications we are sure that LTE will accelerate the phenomenon. The promise of in-car entertainment and telematics will finally be fulfilled with new generation networks. One forecast has more than 200 million cars connected to mobile broadband networks by 2016.”
In his role at Orange, Bienaimé also has his eye on the wholesale market, and he believes that the limitations behind LTE spectrum will enable this business model to grow in France. “The limited bandwidth available for LTE will encourage networks sharing to develop. Concerning wholesale, there are interesting initiatives. We know that in the US Clearwire announced at MWC that it will move for LTE and LTE-A and will turn themselves to the wholesale model. I think we see a lot of development in this.”
Bienaimé focuses in on the case of Three entering the French market and putting price pressure on Orange, while at the same time using Orange for its network.“On the one hand, Orange’s consumer retail brand is challenged by the tariffs of Three mobile, but on the other hand Orange is earning some wholesale revenues. I think more and more we will see the appearance of these data MVNOs. I think the operators will have to look at new sources of growth, particularly in Europe where the growth rate is not the same as in emerging markets. In terms of new territories, data MNVO’s present new opportunities for the operators with strong partnerships”.
The LTE World Summit is taking place on the 23-24 May 2012 CCIB, Barcelona, Spain.
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