How is Orange seizing wholesale opportunities?

                                                                        

Pierre-Louis de Guillebon, CEO of Orange International Carriers, explains to Jason McGee-Abe how the carrier’s voice and data transition is developing and what plans will launch in 2018

"It’s been a busy year for us and there are a number of things I’d like to highlight," starts Pierre-Louis de Guillebon, who became CEO of Orange International Carriers (OIC) in March 2016.

Orange helped to co-finance the construction of the SEA-ME-WE 5 subsea cable, spanning 16 countries from southeast Asia to western Europe, and its launch in January has been a "huge development for Orange". The cable, which has a capacity of 24Tbps on only three pairs of fibre, launched in January and "is in our mind fully capable of accommodating the future need of data," proclaims de Guillebon.

Over the last year Orange has improved internet connectivity in the Middle East after launching a new IP point of presence (PoP) in Amman, Jordan. "We launched this IP PoP to connect the region to our IP transit network and we’ve focussed on enhancing connectivity there, offering faster connection speeds and improved reliability for our wholesale customers," says the man who joined the Orange Group twenty years ago as head of product marketing for international wholesale products and services.

VoIP and CDN transition

The CEO told me a year ago that the carrier was switching its voice service to voice-over-IP (VoIP), deploying new VoIP systems. At the time, Orange was half way there, already transforming 50% from traditional voice to VoIP. One year on, I ask him how this has developed further, and he responds: "Now we are up to 60% of the traffic running into VoIP. My ideal goal will be to reach 100% by 2020 but it’ll more likely be 90%."

He says: "It’s the technology of the future. From a cost point of view, transitioning away from running two networks into one sole network will benefit Orange and our customers. The quality of VoIP is also better and it’s easier to integrate the service with data networks."

De Guillebon points out that this transition is harder in areas like Africa, where "the technology is not as advanced so it’ll be more difficult".

Orange is also continuing to develop switching from a transit network to a content delivery network (CDN). It is deploying a network of CDNs, pushing content closer to its customers and, in turn, aiding them with the explosion of traffic and their latency battles, which typically stem from video and gaming.
"We have added more direct access for content providers with our network and we’re developing our own CDN solutions," says de Guillebon. "One offering is that they can host their own solutions but Orange is also adding its own services for local content access."

Orange’s Tier-1 open international transit IP network is starting to directly connect with content providers and improving the quality of traffic for Orange’s retail operations in Spain, Belgium, Poland, Romania, and other countries in Europe.

Orange is also collaboratively working on new cloud solutions, software-as-a-service (SaaS), and artificial intelligence services alongside Orange Business Services. "We will announce some new products in these areas from next year." 

The European Union’s end of mobile roaming charges has been a huge success for consumers. "Compared to 2016 the data traffic in Europe due to roaming into different countries has been multiplied by eight. All of this traffic has been hosted on IPX networks so we have had to upgrade the network to address this huge surge."

OTTs: friend or foe?

He doesn’t see OTTs as enemies. "I see them as a challenge or an opportunity," de Guillebon tells me. "We’re developing new services and solutions together, even if on paper some may see it as a threat."

Orange has been developing and increasing the number of its OTT relationships. He adds that Orange has started working closely with Asian OTTs: "You could probably guess which ones as they have, for example, been purely focussed on the Chinese market and they are starting to develop relationships with Europe. This an interesting new area for us, but that’s all I can say due to NDAs."

OIC announced the official launch of its Marseille hub at Capacity’s Subsea Connect event in mid-July. De Guillebon says: "The event location and timing were perfect for us. We met a good level of people there and I hope the event carries on next year. To meet the growth of data and IP content coming from southeast Asia, Middle East and Africa, we opened the Marseille hub."

The launch is a huge signal of intent from Orange in regards to content delivery. Capacity arriving in Marseille is increasing with two new subsea cables and more capacity on existing cables thanks to upgrades achieved via SEA-ME-WE 4, I-ME-WE and the new SEA-ME-WE 5.

Orange is boosting its Marseille hub to become the Orange hub for IP connectivity in response to the 40% growth in data demand from operators in the AMEA region. It is also in response to the increasing number of content providers choosing Marseille as their hub for content delivery. With 13 different systems landing in Marseille, the city is the largest gateway to Europe for Asia, Africa and the Middle East, offering 152Tbps potential operational capacity. Orange is therefore proactively developing its Marseille hub to stay ahead of these exceptional changes.

"We have improved the quality of service across our entire range of integrated solutions including bandwidth, IP, CDN, cloud and cybersecurity services, which is critical for operators from the region. Our ability to speed up data transfer, reduce waiting times and improve overall content delivery will help to accelerate and support the growth of data services." 

Orange recently announced that it was launching a 1900km Caribbean subsea cable, called Kanawa, which will link French Guiana, Martinique and Guadeloupe. The cable, which will have a capacity of 50× 100Gbps and is scheduled to be operational during late 2018, is being put in place to handle traffic growth and diversify connection points to ensure quality of service between these countries.

"The cable will also interconnect with existing cable ECFS, which connects French Guiana with the American continent. It will offer more secure connectivity and additional volume." 

I ask de Guillebon how Orange’s infrastructure has been affected in the Caribbean. "Around 90% of the fixed and mobile networks in Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy have been down. We have been sending a lot of technicians from Guadalupe and Martinique, as well as from France, to help setup the networks again, fixed, mobile, TV services. Today, half the populations have access again. Although our subsea cables were not affected, our energy supplies went down, but we’ve been able to restore this."

Data, mobile and security

Next year will see the launch of a number of new solutions, say de Guillebon. "We see the voice business is slowing down and, as a result, we are launching more products in data, mobile and security."

Wifi roaming will be the first to launch in 2018, de Guillebon says. "Today we offer roaming within 4G or 3G networks but not on Wifi," he adds. "We are going to launch a true roaming Wifi facility, allowing you to roam into a Wifi network as if you were roaming into a 4G network.We’re also going to be launching Wifi roaming on places and for people travelling on ships. They’ll be able to roam on these Wifi facilities. This is something really new and it’s the first thing we’re going to launch in 2018."

Orange typically announces the deployment and put into service of a few PoPs, but next year promises to be much greater for the company. "We’ll be announcing a lot more PoPs in 2018, many of which will be in Europe."

Another key area for Orange is enhancing its security portfolio. "We have a huge choice of new products coming out in voice, mobile and data, many focussed on our security portfolio. The number of attacks we face is developing quickly and it’s true in voice, data and mobile alike. New technologies are being developed to counter cyberattacks and I expect security to be the key topic over the next few years or even decade," de Guillebon warns.

"Security is very apparent, as we try to protect our customers, employees, equipment and solutions. We’re fighting a massive increase of attacks from everywhere and everybody suffers from them." It’s a challenge which is only going to get bigger, he warns, with blockchain, AI, IoT, mobile payments, and connected cars. 

"To prepare for this effectively we have to have solidarity and work together and come up with a cooperative response to security as we’re all fighting these criminals," adds de Guillebon.