Edging to the Edge

Orange, the incumbent operator in France, and Google Cloud announced a partnership that’s worth some closer inspection just yesterday. Ray Le Maistre had a good explanation about the initiative on TelecomTV.

The problem that Orange is trying to solve is that it needs/wants to roll out a 5G network. That network upgrade is astronomically expensive and is a multi-years investment. Orange announced in time for MWC 2018 that it was running 5G trials both in Romania and France for example. It will take time.

What Orange is trying to do is to find ways to monetize the roll out as it is happening. Instead of waiting for a complete coverage, it makes sense to start now, gain experience, see where the business opportunities are and where can Orange innovate. In fact, unlike past mobile technology upgrades, reading from a large network operator that “we need to figure out how to make money and we are asking Google for help” is a pleasant display of humility.

The key to exploring the business model that Orange and Google are trying to build together is the last sentence of the press release introduction: “The collaboration will also pave the way for the development of new advanced cloud, edge computing and cybersecurity services that will open up business opportunities for both Google Cloud and Orange.” This goes back to democratic computing and providing access to application developers at the edge of the 5G network. The statement also clearly points out that this is about both companies’ monetization. Google is not in the charity business.

Google know how to handle the scale and agility required to operate infinite amount of compute power and Orange is banking on two key assets it has:

  • License to operate mobile network in France and other countries as well as frequencies allocated to them.
  • Brand trust. Orange is a French company which, especially in today’s political climate, is likely to have more trust around data sovernity by the French consumer than Google. Data and AI-based services that can ensure the data remains in France and follow EU and French laws, will help build unique capabilities while leveraging google technologies.

We live in exciting times. 5 years ago, the notion that a European operator will forge strong technical collaboration with an American hyperscalar were unimaginable. In 2020 these announcements are becoming the norm. As someone who cares deeply about connecting people and democratizing compute power, this is a welcomed announcement.

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