Orange has spent the last few decades establishing itself as a major telecoms player. Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière is its deputy CEO and chief technology and innovation officer. She spoke to Leaders League about the challenges facing the company as the industry gets ready to implement 5G technology.
Leaders League. Orange is one of the biggest telecoms players in the world. What is at the heart of your strategy?
Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière. Orange is at the forefront of technological development in our industry; our innovation is opening up exciting new avenues for us. The basis of our strategy resides in our ability to give customers optimized connectivity everywhere. Our network – which started off pyramidical in nature, with the nerve-center of the network at the top and the users at the bottom – has, over time, become more horizontal. This will increase thanks to the options our centralized data-centers give us. Our software is now everywhere, our network services are all migrating to the cloud, as indeed are other services Orange proposes.
On this point, there are two main things to stress. The first is that we have top-drawer staff making this possible. They help us lead the digital revolution, which is of great benefit to our customers as well as our company. The second, and this is linked to the first, is our ability to offer clients true added-value services, via new features specially designed to allow clients to monetize our products for themselves.
Coronavirus aside, is the rollout of Orange’s 5G network your main concern for 2020-’21?
The 5G network is the latest in mobile technology. I call it the golden triangle, as it will give us three edges. The first is speed. We call 5G “40G” because it is ten times faster that 4G, has better bandwidth and is more energy-efficient, so much so that it will be ten times more economical to send a megabyte of data than using existing technology.
In some parts of the world, 4G will have outlived its usefulness by 2021, because of the increasing volume of data to transport. In other words, we will no longer have enough bandwidth to circulate the traffic at a sufficiently high rate. Therefore, there is a pressing need to get the 5G network operational as soon as possible, so that we can maintain the level of service our customers have become accustomed to. 5G will also allow us to deploy new services in the B2C ecosystem. Augmented reality, virtual reality and streaming content will all become more feasible with the advent of this new technology.
The second side of this triangle rests on the fact that 5G gives us the chance to offer new services. 5G constitutes not only a new interface, but also a new heart of the network for us. Once operational, and we expect this to be the case by the end of 2021, our 5G network will be completely virtual, and this will have a strong bearing on the development of the Internet of Things, in addition to allowing for increased security. Our co-innovation projects, conducted alongside other businesses, will allow us to capitalize on the arrival of this new technology.
The final side of the triangle is all about the 5G “last mile”. In France, we are blessed with a very advanced fibre-optic network, and it’s true that “last mile” technology is of limited use in densely populated areas, or indeed rural areas, because of costs associated. This is where mobile 5G technology will come into its own.
“We have committed to go carbon-neutral by 2040”
You recently launched Engage 2025. What can we expect from it?
This plan spurs us on to engage heavily with environmental and social issues. It has two major orientations; digital inclusion and reversing climate change. Regarding the former, it is vital that we allow more people to have digital access. When it comes to coverage and access to mobile data, we are fully focused on improving conditions for all.
Concerning climate change, we believe innovation can play a key role. To my mind, since our own energy consumption and industrial activity as a company is part of the problem, it’s up to us to be part of the solution. 80% of Orange’s energy consumption is due to our IT activity and network combined. In order to reduce this, we have put in place our Green ITN plan, to try to significantly reduce our energy consumption. We have committed to go carbon-neutral by 2040, which is a full decade before the GSMA benchmark. The objective is to reduce our energy consumption, even as bandwidth increases by 50% every year.
How are you going to achieve this?
In four ways. The first is based on providing enhanced connectivity for our clients in a more open infrastructure, notably by using fibre-optic cable and 5G. We are going about this task by installing high-performance bandwidth at an accessible price for our customers. The main issue here is to insure the level of connectivity people are used to at work is also available in the home. It is up to us to find a way to deliver on our promise of high-speed connectivity everywhere.
The second way is through our various growth levers: B2B, supporting the customer in their business development; Africa and the Middle East, which today represent 13% of our turnover. We want to grow that by 5% annually in all the regions where we have yet to fully roll out 4G.
In addition, the success of the plan will also depend on the growth of our mobile-finance solutions, such as Orange Money and Orange Bank. Orange Bank will be available in all our markets by 2025.
Finally, we need to use AI and big data to transform the way business is carried out. On the ground, there is a lot of work to be done to maximize the potential of innovation, notably in terms of customer relations. We anticipate that, by the time this initiative has run its course, our customers will be contacting our call centers half as much as they do at present, because the way they interact with Orange will have changed radically. In order to make this a reality, we will supply them with AI-enabled tools through Orange & Me, and our virtual, voice-activated assistant, Djingo.
To make all this happen, we will mobilize the talented teams of men and women at Orange in the areas of cybersecurity, AI, virtual networks and big data. To attract and hold on to people with the right skill-sets, we have launched a vast, €1.5 billion training scheme in order for Orange staff to remain at the cutting edge in their respective fields.
Where are you at with the Orange Fab Lab, your start-up accelerator?
We are operating in an ecosystem that is becoming ever more dense and diverse. We can’t do everything that we need to do as a company ourselves. When it comes to AI, our objective is to use the building blocks already in place to enrich our range of products and services.
That’s where Orange Fab Lab comes in. It allows us to work with startups wherever in the world they spring up. We approach those with the biggest potential to help Orange innovate and thus attract and retain clients.
The Fab Lab network of start-ups allows us, as a company, to remain connected to the innovation ecosystem and in doing so keep abreast of the latest tech developments. We recently struck a deal with Arabot, a start-up that is using AI to do great things with the Arab language. This is an example of the type of company where participation in the Fab Lab is win-win – we need their pioneering technology and they need our investment to perfect the product.
These kinds of winning relationships become even more effective when they are numerous and connected and are accelerators not just for Orange, but for each startup itself, and of course for our customers’ businesses.