The Rise and Fall of Orange

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The story of Orange is, quite frankly, a remarkable one. From its inception, it was a company that set out to do things differently, and along the way it changed advertising, telecommunications and the entire mobile market itself. Though you can’t switch your mobile phone on to see its logo today, the company is still here, living under a different name. They were a pioneering and brilliant company, and their rise is absolutely worth charting. So, join us as we do just that in what we call ‘The Rise and Fall of Orange’.

The formation of the Orange brand begins in 1990, right here in the United Kingdom. At this point, it was known as “Microtel Communications Ltd”, and was a consortium formed by the American Pactel Corporation, British Aerospace, Millicom and the French company Matra, though the company was quickly purchased entirely by British Aerospace, who retained the Microtel name. During these early days, the company changed hands quickly and often, and by July 1991, Hutchison Whampoa (who now own Three, and are in the process of purchasing O2) enagaged in a stock swap deal with BAe, and acquired a controlling stake of 65% in Microtel. By this point, Microtel had won a license to develop a personal communications network in the UK.

It was in the immediate aftermath of Whampoa’s purchase of Microtel that they moved to relaunch the brand as Orange. The Orange brand was, at that time, something of a revolution. No telecommunications company would dare to use such a bold and ambiguous name for their branding, though it’s now commonplace with the likes of O2, Three and EE. The new branding was created by an internal team at Microtel, headed by Marketing Director Chris Moss and supported by Martin Keogh, Rob Furness and Ian Pond. From that, Woldd Olins was charged with designe dthe brand values and logo and the advertising agency WCRS created that iconic slogal “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange”

On the 28th of April, 1994, the ‘Orange’ 1800MHz GSM network was launched into the UK mobile network market alongside a gigantic advertising campaign, which teased the name alone, drawing a huge amount of attention towards the brand. By 1995, a holding company structure was established with the formation of Orange plc, losing all hint of its Microtel past. Growth was explosive in an almost entirely undeveloped market, and by April 1996, the company was ready to be launched on the London Stock Exchange.

Orange, immediately following the float, was majority owned by Hutchison (48.22%) with a portion owned by BAe (21.1%). Such was demand for Orange stock that by July of that same year, Orange became the youngest ever company to enter the FTSE 100, valued at an astonishing £2.4 billion. One year later, the company crossed the one million customer threshold, a remarkable achievement for a mobile communications company, given the still rudimentary and expensive mobile phones on offer.

Orange’s time as a publicly listed company came to an end in October 1999, when, after its explosive growth, it was acquired for $33 billion by the German conglomerate Mannesmann AG. However, this purchase trigger Vodafone into making a hostile takeover big for the German company, and in February 200, Vodafone acquired the company for $183 billion, but had to divest the Orange brand as EU regulations wouldn’t allow it to hold two mobile licenses. As such, the Orange brand was purchased by France Telecom for $37 billion, a transaction that was completed in August 2000.

Growth continued unabated throughout the 2000s, and was only rivaled by T-Mobile in the UK. However, with a rapidly advancing market, the two companies agreed that staying in competition was no longer the shortest path towards profit and on the 8th of September 2009, France Telecom (who own Orange) and Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile) announced that they were in advanced talks to merge their UK operations. Needless to say, the 0844 800 3117 contact number for Orange was busy with concerned customers, but Orange assured them it wouldn’t mean changes to their contract.

This new company would be the largest mobile operator in the UK with 37% of the market. The market competition authorities were brought in to investigate the deal and decide whether it would have a negative effect on competition . They quickly concluded that the market would have enough competition to keep prices low for consumers and on the 1st of March, 2010 the European Commission waved through the deal, on the condition that the combined company sell 25% of the spectrum it owns on the 1800MHz band and continue to maintain their spectrum sharing deal with Three.

On the 1st of April, 2010 they finalised the deal and completed their merger, becoming one company known as Everything Everywhere, later to be rebranded simply as EE. Now, in 2015, both the Orange and T-Mobile brands have been fully retired, with EE now in place of both. Though Orange still own half of the business, it may not be that way for much longer, as BT look to complete a takeover of the company in short order.

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