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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 launch 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.

And while the team are remaining tight-lipped on the wider European 5G strategy, spectrum will largely dictate how 5G services are launched 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, 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 ideal 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 (60-96 Mbps), 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 right 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 a comprehensive 4G network in Romania, Orange might have weakened the underlying argument for 5G.

The number sharing eSIM feature, which will become a standard across all data tariffs soon enough is another interesting element. Through one single bill, connectivity can be allocated to several devices simultaneously. Currently, this might only be for a smartphone and a wearable device, but as connectivity becomes embedded in more products, cars and PCs for example, managing your connectivity bills through a single number will become much more important.

Despite the number of features and wild promises here, the success of Orange Romania in the 4G era might undermine the pursuit of early adopters for 5G. This is a difficulty which only remains while the telcos discuss little more than speed upgrades, though as the ecosystems develop new services will be pushed at the consumer.

CTIO Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière highlighted the purpose of 5G today 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.

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One comment

  1. Avatar Professor Peter Curwen 05/11/2019 @ 5:27 pm

    Yes, it has long been questionable why the general public would militate for more speed if already receiving a downlink of much more than 10 Mbps. If 5G proves to be just about greater speed then it will prove to be a financial disaster for operators. The problem for now is that no-one has yet worked out how to make huge amounts of money from the use of the new bandwidth being sold for 5G use – the mmWave bands are a particular problem.

    The great irony of course is that until fairly recently mobile operators much preferred to be mobile only and hence dumped any acquired fixed-wire assets – witness the Vodafone/Mannesmann takeover. Now operators are desperate to acquire these assets in order not to be dependent upon fixed-wire incumbents as Orange Romania is.

    Will it all end in tears?

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