Orange launches smartphone app for free calls and texts

Mobile operator prepares to do battle with WhatsApp, Skype and Viber with new free smartphone offering.

Smartphone users

Orange has launched a global free calling and texting application, putting the firm in direct competition with services such as Skype, WhatsApp and Viber.

Telecom operators around the globe have suffered as free calling and texting services have proliferated over the past few years.

The apps allow users to communicate without using their voice or text allotments, leading some operators like KPN to complain about the hit to their bottom line.

As a result, market watchers are predicting that many operators may decide to turn their backs on voice services and concentrate more on data instead.

Giles Corbett, who developed the application called 'Libon' for Orange, said telecom operators needed to come up with equivalent services.

"The situation is really simple - either you deliver the most compelling service or your users switch to something else. What's the alternative? We want to be in there," he said in an interview.

The application can be used by any iPhone user for free, while the company charges for some premium features like transcripts of voicemail or email copies of voicemails.

Libon will be available for smartphones using Google's Android software in the first quarter of 2013.

Telefonica also launched a similar app, called Tu Me, in May, while Deutsche Telekom has one known as Bobsled.

With other European operators, Orange has also been working on a new technology known as rich communications suite (RCS), which is supposed to update traditional mobile calls by adding chat functions, live video and file sharing across all devices.

The telecoms industry association GSMA has been working on standardizing RCS for use across all telecom operators and all handsets.

Orange, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, AT&T and China Mobile are working on deploying RCS to their customers.

Orange said it was preparing a launch of RCS, which has been branded 'Joyn' by operators to give it a more consumer-friendly moniker, in June 2013.

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