The Orange Group has contributed to many of today’s everyday innovations: from fixed lines and mobile phones through to terrestrial, undersea, radio and satellite communications. Over the last century it has become increasingly easy to communicate and this is partly due to Orange following its conviction that innovation should be as useful and accessible as possible. What is the meaning behind this? Is there a recipe for innovation at Orange? We asked Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière, Deputy CEO and Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.
How has this telecoms innovation approach taken shape in France? What have been the objectives?
Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière (MNJL): Everything really began after the Second World War. At that time, the country was devastated, so it was necessary to repair a network that had been heavily damaged by years of conflict and ensure France’s independence in the telecommunications sector. In the 1950s, demand exploded and competition became fierce between the world’s superpowers. Responding to this was the priority for CNET (the National Centre for Telecommunications Studies), which was created in 1944. Its engineers were all leaders in their field, working on electromagnetic and radio waves, satellite communication, terrestrial and undersea transmissions… The fact people could watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II live from their TV set is thanks to them! CNET was integrated into France Telecom R&D in 2000, which was renamed to Orange Labs in 2007. But this original approach has always been part of Orange’s DNA: that of useful and inclusive innovation, which today covers the spectrum of environmental, societal and social issues.
In what way have Orange’s innovations had an impact on society?
MNJL: What’s essential is that at France Telecom, and then at Orange, we’ve never believed in technology for technology’s sake; we’ve always made sure our solutions have met the needs of our customers. We want innovation to be useful.
First there are the obvious innovations, the new ways of communicating that are used by billions of people around the world: from landlines to mobiles and surfing the web, which became popular in France through Wanadoo. What consumers know less about (but which are nevertheless essential for connectivity) are networks: copper networks, fibre networks and submarine cables, 4G through base stations and soon 5G… These technologies make it possible to transmit larger amounts of data faster.
That’s why Orange has become a multi-service operator. Orange Money, which now has 40 million users, is a good illustration. It offers banking services to users who don’t have access to regular banking. For these users it's a revolution.
How do you explain Orange’s ability to innovate over more than a century?
MNJL: Our tradition of innovation has been made possible through our skills: skills that we developed in our historical professions as much as in the new skills we’re applying to our roles today We’re currently developing our skills in the field of artificial intelligence for example. In the 1960s we were at the cutting edge of transmissions.
To continue to innovate we rely on our specific fields of research which aim to influence our ecosystems upstream, to shed light on the future and fuel innovation. Thanks to this, we have the building blocks we need to create new products and services, as part of an open innovation approach with our partners.
We’re able to offer value-added services to our customers because we have a level of technical expertise and also a good relationship with our customers, thanks to our local operations.
Innovation is often equated with new technologies. Is the Orange Group innovating in other sectors?
MNJL: Of course! Innovation is part of Orange’s culture therefore it runs through all professions. We’re innovating in the field of marketing, customer relations, performance management and human resources.
We’ve gone from being a telephone operator to an internet service provider. And now we’re a multi-service operator, focused on whole range of services in healthcare, banking and energy and both BtoB and BtoC. We’re continually focused on creating new jobs, skills and training.
Thanks to this technical expertise, we’re able to evolve and adapt our business: the way that data is changing our customer relationships for example. AI helps us identify more precisely what’s happening in our network, for example detecting faults more quickly. In short, at Orange, we’re on fertile ground and can continue to innovate in many areas.