Femtocell Interview with Lauren Town Marketing Director Orange Unik

Lauren Town Orange/France Telecom is a leading proponent of UMA, which uses special dual-mode cellular/WiFi phones to make and receive calls over WiFi as well as the outdoor cellular network. Lauren believes UMA offers many of the same customer benefits as femtocells, and provides insights into what types of customers have bought UMA, how they use it, why it is not promoted for roaming and why Orange are investigating femtocells for enterprise customers. Bringing UMA to market has also highlighted issues for operators merging their fixed/mobile services (and operations), which all highlight lessons for potential femtocell operators.


Can you explain what UMA is and how it differs from femtocells?

UMA has been commercially live for 2 years. It's proven and already in the market.
It provides similar customer benefits with a seamless switch to WiFi when in range. [Ed note: You do need a UMA capable handset – it won't work with any cellphone, not even just any WiFi capable cellphone]

WiFi already has a very high level of penetration, so there's no need for an extra piece of kit.

There was originally a very limited range of handsets, but now all major handset vendors support UMA, including many newly released 3G devices such as the Sony Ericsson G705u (the latest Blackberry 3G is not UMA, but future Blackberry 3G handsets will be UMA). There is a successful broad range of handsets from the low end through to 3G smartphones.

What type of customer has bought UMA?

We originally expected more technical-aware customers to adopt UMA, but in practice our customer base ranges from basic voice/SMS only to full-on 3G smartpone users. There isn't a clearly defined customer segmentation – our research hasn't identified any unique attributes which stand out (e.g. gender, age, wealth etc). The profile reflects our wider customer base.

How much do customers use their UMA?

Most of our UMA customers would use the service every day, by default. They don't have to change the way they make and receive calls to benefit.

Our unlimited calling option generates higher minutes of use than average, both overall and at home.

Why do customers buy UMA?

Two main reasons:

  1. Combined with our unlimited calling offer, where calls made via UMA don't count as part of their minutes or attract other charges.
  2. Where indoor coverage is poor – it solves the problem.

We've found some people bought it for the cheaper calls, then found they weren't making as many as they thought, but retained the UMA service (without the calling plan) because they enjoyed the quality and improved indoor coverage. There's no ongoing monthly fee or charge in this case.

Orange customer care may also offer UMA as part of our customer retention strategy.Whilst I'm not aware of any Liveboxes [Ed note: A Livebox is Orange's DSL modem/WiFi hub which also supports IPTV and extra VoIP phone lines] being given away, customers can use their loyalty points to upgrade to a UMA phone.


Where can I use Orange UMA?

In France, UMA handsets can connect to any Orange Livebox at home, friends, family etc. The owner of the Livebox needs to provide the security key to the UMA user.

There is also an extensive public WiFi hotspot network (including partner hotspots).

Can I use Orange UMA when abroad?

Generally, you can't use the service at non-Orange hotspots or broadband and can't use it abroad. This is due to concerns about cannibalisation of roaming revenues. An exception to this is that Orange Poland offer their enterprise customers UMA for use when abroad.

This may change in the future in the light of new regulations and/or commercial pricing.

Unik PC is a relatively new product. It's a USB dongle which incorporates a SIM card and supports UMA. It's linked to your existing voice SIM identity, and comes with a “softphone” application that runs on your PC, similar to Skype. This works anywhere in the world via an internet connection and allows you to make and receive voice calls/SMS using your existing account and mobile phone number.

If you are called on your normal mobile number when abroad, both your handset and the softphone PC will ring. Answering the call on the PC avoids any roaming charges – incoming calls are free and outgoing calls are charged at the same rate as if at home (so may be included in your free bundled minutes).

Some of the technical concerns expressed about femtocells don't seem to be an issue with UMA. How have Orange solved issues of poor broadband internet connections?

We were concerned about quality of service over broadband before launch. The Orange Livebox includes a protected channel which prioritises voice calls. This is also used for UMA voice traffic. However some of our customers don't have this protected channel for voice and nevertheless, we haven't come across any problems or negative customer feedback resulting from this.


What is your most common customer care issue?

Our most frequent calls are during first use, when customers are trying to configure their handset to work with their Livebox. This requires them to enter a WiFi security key into each UMA handset. We either talk them through this or send the code direct to the phone using an “over the air” message.

In the future, our Livebox will support WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) and have a push button pairing setup. Customers need only press a button on their Livebox and on their phone whilst their UMA phone is switched on and nearby, and security keys will be automatically configured.

UMA doesn't seem to be marketed strongly in the UK. Why not and are there plans to do so?

I'd agree that we've not strongly marketed UMA in the UK to date. The UMA service needs close integration between fixed and mobile business units. We've been successful in the last four years, especially in France, where we're further advanced in getting to a converged operator business. The UK arm is not as advanced as France in this integration.

We've learnt a lot of lessons by bringing Unik to market regarding integration and co-operation across our converged fixed/mobile business.

Although femtocells and UMA are commonly promoted as the two main challengers for offloading mobile voice services, “over the top” VoIP providers such as TruPhone and Fring are also contenders. Why would a customer prefer Orange UMA to one of these “over the top” providers?

These alternative services have a very certain fit in the market. They appeal to very technophile customers who are happy to download and install an application, and understand its use. They appreciate it may not be fully compatible with their phone's address book or internal shortcuts and may operate differently in each mode.

UMA is completely integrated into the phone and its operation. You have the same phone number and address book. We don't see these alternatives as a strong threat today.

Orange recently brought out Mobile TV using UMA and 3G phones. Can you tell us more?

UMA is more sophisticated that plain vanilla WiFi. UMA is authenticated, including the mobile TV service. Naturally, the TV providers are very protective of their usage rights and demand strong authentication. This gave us a big advantage from the operator side.

For the customer, they don't have to share coverage with other users and receive guaranteed good quality.

It's a bit too early to say how much the service is used – we only launched this recently.

Laptop internet browsing doesn't need UMA – laptops would just access the internet directly using WiFi. There needs to be incentives for customers to connect to WiFi where possible, and operators need to make this transparent – automatically connecting to WiFi where technically possible.


Apple, Google and others have growing AppStores with many downloadable applications. Orange are said to be launching their own (mainly around IPTV and the LiveBox). Are there any “connected home” type services available using UMA similar to those being suggested for femtocells?

This is the way the industry is going. Individual people aren't adopted on their own, they're looking for the whole package for the household:

  • private coverage
  • more willing to use the service in the home
  • exciting innovation through add-ons

Add-ons are not the key drivers, and for most people this wouldn't justify purchasing. This is where converged operators able to offer a complete package have an advantage.

Orange recently announced vendor selection of femtocells for enterprise customers. You have also been very clear in your choice of UMA, rather than femtocells, for domestic customers. Why are femtos better than UMA in the enterprise market?

There are fewer barriers to adoption for femtocells in the enterprise market. The business plan is much more easily justified. Business customers are more willing to pay a premium especially for excellent indoor coverage. Unlimited calling packages are less appropriate in this market.


Looking ahead, I saw a announcement that China Mobile had proposed using UMA to transport voice over its new 4G LTE radio interface as a means of maintaining compatibility with existing 2G/3G services. What are the implications of this, and would Orange consider this approach too?

Orange is conducting trials on LTE during 2009 from which it will refine its long term strategy. We are looking at UMA and have supported standards work in the 3GPP standards committees. This may be considered as part of our overall approach

Hits : 16134


#1 Andy Thorogood said: 
I have 4 smartphones from Orange using UMA at home, but have noticed that the number of new phones supporting UMA on the website is now down to 5 and all low end execpt Samsung S2. I have asked Orange about this but no sensible answers received. I suspect that they are about to drop support for this technology going forward due to the development needed to support the signal boost application which appears to be different for each new handset. Femtocells can be used with any phone without modification... . I wonder which technology will be adopted, tell the truth Orange!
0 Quote 2012-10-01 23:45
  • 4




    A significant number of users continue to report poor mobile coverage in their homes. There will always be areas which are uneconomic for mobile operator to reach. They range from rural areas

  • 4




    The term Enterprise addresses any non-residential in-building including hotels, convention centres, transport hubs, offices, hospitals and retail outlets. It's not just intended for businesses to

  • 4




    Urban small cells (sometimes also named metrocells) are compact and discrete mobile phone basestations, unobstrusively located in urban areas. They can be mounted on lampposts, positioned on the

  • 4




    A rural small cell is a low power mobile phone base station designed to bring mobile phone service to small pockets of population in remote rural areas. These could be hamlets, small villages or

Backhaul Timing and Sync Chipsets Wi-Fi LTE TDD Regional

Popular Categories

Follow us on...