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The brand had a pre-launch marketing campaign back in 1994 that proclaimed "The Future's Bright, the Future's Orange" but, at the time, didn't tell you what it was all about. It turned out to be all about a mobile phone service owned by Hutchinson Telecommunications (UK) Ltd. Now it's moved on because Orange broadband services has been added to the mix. This resulted from the launch of internet provider Wanadoo in 2000 and the subsequent takeover of Freeserve.
At time of writing the website's home page www.orange.co.uk (or shop.orange.co.uk/broadband if you want to be more specific but less memorable) shows the company's four home broadband deals. These were launched in October 2009, all with a download speed of 20Mbps, unlimited usage, the obligatory 18-month contract and a free router to provide wireless internet. The 20Mbps speed was achieved through the local loop unbundling arrangement, which allows the company to install its own equipment in BT exchanges, and coverage extends to 65% of UK homes. One feature is Orange Messenger that lets you send text messages from your laptop using wireless broadband - nifty, if you're were looking for a way to text more.
The difference between the packages is the level of the telephone service, with varying degrees of free calls available and the option of a second line for VoIP calls. If you don't take the phone deal, the price goes up. Orange internet service is also available for businesses but this is handled through a phone call rather than online.
In September 2007, the company announced the end of its dial-up internet services, with the upgrade of the remaining 92,000 customers to a 2Mbps broadband service. The offer was for internet access to be available at the same price and with a free USB modem provided to handle the connection.
The company remains, at heart, a mobile phone provider and it does offer mobile broadband on various suitable devices. A £4 million advertising campaign was launched in November 2009 to promote its 3G service and encourage more customers to sign up. This does seem to be the way ahead for the company, with customers that have a connection to its mobile service increasing by 65% to 4.7 million. By contrast, its number of broadband customers fell for the third consecutive quarter, by 55,000 to 899,000, a loss of 12.2% for the year.
Falling customer numbers can be partly put down to dissatisfaction with the service. The company achieved less than one star out of five on one review site, with complaints of terrible customer service. A survey by the BBC's Watchdog programme in 2007 named Orange as the UK's worst ISP.
Orange is now owned by France Telecom and is the brand name used for internet, TV and mobile services in most of the 32 countries where it operates. In November 2009, it announced a tie-up with Deutsche Telekom whereby the UK operations of T-Mobile and Orange would be run as a joint venture.
The problem with Orange is that is gives the impression of being a mobile phone company that provides broadband internet as a bit of a sideline. This is confirmed to some extent by the fact that mobile broadband numbers are increasing but the number of home users is falling. It was also one of the last of the big providers to offer a 20Mbps speed. One might be tempted by the cheap deals but would be put off by the negative reviews. Having to be tied in to an eighteen-month deal might, therefore, be too much of a gamble. As an ex-customer I'm a little bias so will keep my opinions to myself on this one. †