Orange has unveiled a range of mobile services for Wap and videophone users, which range from banking and shopping to remote health monitoring and voice recognition.
The services, launched today under the OrangeWorld banner, combine the operator's Orange.net mobile email service with news provider Ananova, which it acquired last week, and two investments announced today. It has acquired a 25 per cent stake in mobile content formatting outfit NewsTakes for £4.2m, and bought voice recognition firm Wildfire for £95m.
Hans Snook, group chief executive at Orange, said at a briefing in London that the mobile phone would become "your remote control for life services", and predicted that it would be the most widely used internet access platform, ahead of televisions and PCs, within four years.
OrangeWorld services will include mobile shopping facilities Orange Travel, Orange Car and Orange Mall. Orange will arrange deals with retailers where it gets lower prices on goods in return for providing a wider audience for the shops. The company will charge the retail price and keep the margin. Customers could have purchases added to their mobile phone bills.
"The Orange revenue model will change to a transaction-based model, with payment for services as well as voice charging," said Orange chief financial officer Graham Howe.
Orange Bank will provide a portal for accessing a range of financial service providers, including Abbey National and NatWest. Orange is also "looking at options to enter as a virtual bank", said Howe.
Around 20 per cent of the services are available today and the remaining services will be available within 12 months, Richard Brennan, Orange's UK commercial director told vnunet.com. The service will be extended to support voice recognition and artificial intelligence once these technologies hit the mainstream.
"Eventually you will simply say what you want, whenever you want it and wherever you want it," said Snook.
Orange Entertainment will provide audio and video news to Orange handsets, and to the company's videophone, which will after much delay be available in November. "I know it's a year later than we said, but we will get there," said Snook. The service will also provide mobile games being developed by Rage Software, and music on demand.
A major development for the UK mobile market is Orange Health, a remote health and fitness monitoring tool. Doctors will potentially be able to monitor the condition of outpatients by fitting them with a mobile device to monitor heart beat, blood pressure, blood sugar and body temperature. Orange is testing the service with the University of Ulster. It is also trialling telemedicine for paramedics.
Orange also said it would let other telecoms operators resell services based on OrangeWorld, and that it would soon announce the first 'reciprocal virtual network operation' - a national fixed line operator. Virgin and Carphone Warehouse have similar deals with other operators. Orange said similar deals with cable operators would follow.
John Davison, principle consultant at Ovum said the success of mobile ecommerce services would be limited in the short to medium term because of low bandwidth networks and limited functionality terminals.
"In the long term there is a fundamental change we're heading for. But I see it taking a little bit longer than some of the vendors and operators would like us to believe. I don't see it as surfing yet, more of a gentle paddle," said Davison.
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