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Interview from Orange France

Laurent Feurer, Product Marketing Director for Broadband Devices and Telco services at Orange France on the Livebox 6 Launch.

By Ben Schwarz
Ben Schwarz: Orange was the first European operator to deploy the latest Wi-Fi standard in a Home Gateway this April. Can you give us some background to the story?

Laurent Feurer: after over three and half years of earnest fibre deployment, the market reached a new turning point in France. This created a bottleneck in the home LAN, with Wi-Fi often lowering the customer experience of a broadband connection up to 2 Gbps. Wi-Fi is now a new frontier. Some of our competitors are focused on further increasing the broadband access speed to 10 Gbps, but Orange wants to first deliver the best Wi-Fi in the market to take full advantage of today’s fibre.

Over the last two years, COVID changed the landscape, with 60% of subscribers discovering new usages at home during lockdowns. These include teleconferencing or online medical appointments using video. Furthermore, 62% of clients have significantly grown their usage of the home LAN. Nine out of ten clients say they will continue using more online services after COVID. Having realized the limitations of Wi-Fi, four out of ten clients are willing to pay more for better Wi-Fi (all sources, OpinionWay study and Orange).

This Wi-Fi challenge is a significant business opportunity for Orange.

The latest version of Wi-Fi promised to address both issues.

Ben Schwarz: As an incumbent operator, weren’t you concerned about launching a product based on technology that was not thoroughly tried and tested? When you started, the regulatory situation of the 6 GHz band in Europe wasn’t yet settled. What made you want to deploy Wi-Fi 6E so early?

Laurent Feurer: You are right. The paint was still wet on 6E when we launched. It was undoubtedly a risk to launch so early. Orange has always been an innovator, and we don’t intend to stop, and this risk seems to have been well worth taking.

Ben Schwarz: What is the main characteristic of the Wi-Fi 6E standard that most drove your interest?

Laurent Feurer: The “E” was most important for us – despite the “6” part being important too. More radio space was critical for us to address the key bottleneck in the home. After the 2.4 GHz band and then the 5 GHz one, with 6 GHz, we have our “third motorway”. I see triple-band as a mandatory feature for any forward-looking ISP. I expect our investment in 6 GHz to carry us at least over the next ten years.

Ben Schwarz: What was the project like?

Laurent Feurer: The Livebox 6 project was a massive undertaking, with many teams involved in making this happen. For example, we worked a lot with the Wi-Fi Alliance on the standard itself and with retail device makers to ensure compatibility of retail devices out-of-the-box.

Ben Schwarz: Are there any figures yet on the uptake of the new Livebox?

Laurent Feurer: We are well above our expectations with a very high satisfaction level with the new device’s simplicity and Wi-Fi performance.

Ben Schwarz: What role did SoftAtHome play in the project?

Laurent Feurer: SoftAtHome built the embedded software and some of its Cloud components like the analytics part Eyes’ON. The global smart Wi-Fi solution powered by Wifi’ON on all repeaters & gateways, as well as much of the analytics, were also from SoftAtHome.

Ben Schwarz: Did the Livebox 6 launch offer the opportunity to create any other services?

Laurent Feurer: as our offerings mature, we are gradually taking more and more responsibility for the home LAN. We now offer “Wi-Fi sérénité” to all our top-tier clients. With a Livebox Max pack that will include repeaters and dedicated support with a person that follows the subscriber over time. More specifically, dedicated support can help customers evaluate the optimal number of repeaters and guide them in installing devices in the right place.

Ben Schwarz: What is the average number of repeaters you see subscribers requiring?

Laurent Feurer: The average number of repeaters taken with a new box is just over one. Our main offer includes up to 3 repeaters. Our focus is on better advice helping subs get the correct number of devices, not sell the most. Furthermore, adding more repeaters in the home is counterproductive, reducing the airtime available for transmission.

Ben Schwarz: can you tell us how subscribers react to the new Livebox?

Laurent Feurer: Customer feedback has shown that improved Wi-Fi performance is a critical benefit for users, even when most of their devices don’t yet support the latest standard. The box’s simplicity is necessary with its easy-to-read, low-powered e-ink screen. The Livebox is now fully controllable from a dedicated Orange mobile app, which users love. The App called “Orange et Moi” helps users with diagnostics. The screen provides access to the first level of support. When a more detailed diagnosis is needed, a QR code directs the user to a deeper contextualized help screen. The digitalization of customer care is an essential aim for Orange as long as we can offer the best experience. We are working on making it even more real-time and interactive.

Feedback from customers is excellent. The stability and quality are unique in the French market. Satisfaction levels are way above usual (NPS for the device is significantly higher than for the previous generation). This improvement comes more from a combination of features, not one single one. Some clients are, for example, just happy to no longer need a repeater. The Livebox design recently won a « Top Design Winner » award from the European Product Design. We are no longer in a cheap plastic look & feel, and customers often position the new device in a prominent place in the sitting room, enhancing its Wi-Fi performance.

Ben Schwarz: is the new LiveBox more sustainable than previous versions?

Laurent Feurer: yes, most definitely. It is now a USP to offer one of the highest-performance devices while enabling many features that improve its sustainability. These include recycled and recyclable components and materials and lower power consumption with dedicated modes.

Power consumption is measured in the box and provided to the user in real time. This alone is innovative and answers a genuine desire from many users. The new deep sleep mode brings the device down to 0.3 W.

It’s hard to be precise, but our new gateway’s energy-saving features will modestly save a year’s worth of microwave oven usage. This saving may seem modest, but it’s something subscribers understand, and nationally, the energy saved will be measurable, and we will communicate about it soon.

Ben Schwarz: What do you expect from your supplier ecosystem moving forward?

Laurent Feurer: Our expectations include high-level expertise to work on leading-edge tech. Although we’re delighted with what we’ve recently achieved, there’s always room for improvement. We expect suppliers to be forward-looking as customer expectations change and new technology matures.

In the current context, any innovation must help drive sustainable solutions. We want our suppliers to help us create a virtuous ecosystem in this respect, including critical areas like refurbishing and planning for the device’s end-of-life. We expect commitment to using clean energy and transport. For the next generation of Wi-Fi, we will look as carefully at any new solution’s energy consumption as at its performance.

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