Orange was formed from the renaming of Wanadoo, who in turn was the rebrand from Freeserve, and up until September 2007 it was growing the number of fixed broadband customers on its network (peak of 1,142,000 in September 2007), but since then there has been a steady decline in customer numbers.
"Our objective is to get to a point where we are no longer ashamed of what we are doing to our customers, or to put it positively, where we are proud of what we are doing to our customers,
We've been haemorrhaging customers. But in September we have grown the customer base for the first time since 2007 and I am confident it is going to carry on"Bruno Duarte, Orange Broadband
The Guardian has talked to Bruno Duarte the boss of Orange Broadband who talked about being ashamed of how customers have been treated in the past, but appears confident that the dip is over and a period of growth is to ensue. The firm embarked on an unbundled path at the same time as TalkTalk embarked on its ambitous growth curve, but while TalkTalk hoovered up the massive price conscious sector of the market, it seems Orange was unable to attract customers.
The newspaper article points out that a lot of the problems at Orange stem from a mixture of network maintenance problems and how customer problems were handled. One aspect that Orange exploited in France was IPTV, which never emerged in the UK, though this would have been an expensive and risky strategy given how HomeChoice aka Tiscali TV (now owned by TalkTalk) never really took off.
The Q2 2011 figures of 716,000 customers have slipped slightly in the next quarter to 713,000 but it appears that the data for September 2011 has started to show a reverse and growth for the first time in years.
So why has the decline halted? It is possible that the move away from an unbundled network to letting BT Wholesale run the service may have helped. The success of this is patchy though, we are seeing some upset Orange customers who were using ADSL2+ and getting above 8 Mbps being reconnected to ADSL (up to 8 Mbps) equipment as LLU kit is decommissioned. The other side of the coin is that those in areas where BT Wholesale has its WBC network deployed are seeing similar connection performance, and some are going faster with the deployment of a 3dB target margin for the most stable lines. Many people in the past have tried to escape BT Wholesale based connections due to the IP Profile, but smoothing effect this used to have on throughput for spiky connections is a lot less of an issue. Where the latest WBC network is available the IP Profile is truly dynamic (no wait of an hour to five days for it to catch up).
One common thought people have is that with BT Wholesale running the network the performance will be the same as for BT Retail (BT Total products) but that is not the case. While connections will be sharing the same hardware in the exchange, how the data is handled between the exchange and the internet will be very different.
If Orange is wanting to attract customers back and gain new customers, embracing the fibre products Openreach are installing and are available wholesaled by BT Wholesale or direct from Openreach would be a good way to go. Of the big providers only BT Infinity and TalkTalk with their Fibre Boost have jumped on board, and many people are looking with envy at the 30 Mbps and faster others get in actual use.