For the first time since his arrival at Orange in June 2023, the operator’s new director of innovation, Bruno Zerbib, spoke to the media. State of 5G, innovations in networks, France’s place in the AI revolution and “reinvention of Orange”… The coming months promise to be busy.
“ 5G is a failure of communication. » Orange’s new director of innovation, Bruno Zerbib, did not come to meet the press to make tongues.
On November 29, 2023, during the operator’s Open Tech Days, Orange revealed several information on its roadmap. Livebox 8 which will not arrive for several years, customer service boosted by ChatGPT, development of anti-phishing extension… The most powerful French operator, present in several European countries and in Africa, wishes to prove that innovation does not happen not just in the United States and Asia. 2024 could be an important year for Orange, which is in “reinvention phase” according to its director of innovation.
Bruno Zerbib, Orange’s new Mr. Innovation
After working in Silicon Valley (Cisco, Yahoo, HP), Schneider and Altice (an employer he failed to mention), Bruno Zerbib joined Orange in June 2023, as “Chief Technology and Innovation Officer”. Its mission is to preserve the “tradition of excellence” of the historic operator, which wishes to position itself as a European giant of new technologies. “I joined Orange because you don’t need to be in Silicon Valley to innovate” explained Bruno Zerbib at the start of his interview.
Accompanied by Laurent Leboucher, the CTO of Orange, Bruno Zerbib spoke for the first time in November, to answer our questions. One of Orange’s main topics in 2024 will be 5G, which will enter its second major phase.
5G must become the norm in 2024, with the arrival of 5G SA
Today, 5G is not yet real 5G. Since it is based on a 4G core network, it only benefits from the advantages of the latest generation antennas, with the technical limits of the old standard. The maximum speed of 5G, as well as its latency worthy of fiber, cannot be achieved without a core network designed for the new generation of networks. In 2024, Orange will finally get started.
“With 5G SA (editor’s note: for stand alone), it’s the brain that we upgrade. We can guarantee technical specificities, with very very low latency”, explains Bruno Zerbib. Will people be interested in 5G SA? “Instead of talking about 5G SA, we will instead talk about use cases. 5G SA will be deployed in several ways, we will start with B2B. We can offer guarantees to manufacturers. »
How to sell 5G SA to the general public? “It will not necessarily be called 5G+, from a consumer point of view”. Bruno Zerbib seems to want to bet on the continuity of 5G, even if Orange’s final decision has not been made. In other countries, Orange speaks well of “5G+”, which suggests that it could still be his final choice in France. Among the uses highlighted: cloud gamingfinally as stable outside as at home.
Three years after the launch of 5G in France, where are we? Bruno Zerbib admits several Orange mistakes. “There was a real backlash around 5G. People said they had enough bandwidth with 4G. There are plenty of dimensions with 5G that have been misunderstood. “. For Bruno Zerbib, the problem has never been the technology but the way of selling it: “5G is a failure of communication. »
Initially, Orange chose to position 5G as a “premium product”as evidenced by its unavailability at Sosh until 2023. In 2024, Orange should break with this strategy. “We are gradually switching to 5G for everyone. The most important thing is to have compatible equipment”. It turns out that its rival Bouygues Telecom added 5G to all its packages in November.
An Android TV box: even “not afraid”
Another subject briefly discussed with Bruno Zerbib: the launch of a new Orange decoder in Poland, under Android TV. A product whose launch in France is highly anticipated, since Orange has not updated its UHD box since 2018.
In France, will Orange’s future decoder use Google’s operating system or an in-house, sovereign OS, as Orange has accustomed us to? “On certain subjects, we think that there is no debate. Using Android to make TV is not a subject that scares us » replies Bruno Zerbib when Numerama asks him if Orange France can release a decoder running Android TV. Enough to imagine that the Polish product will indeed arrive in France in 2024.
French artificial intelligence? The moderate sovereignty of Orange
For Orange’s new director of innovation, the new technology sector is in the midst of a transformation. “I don’t necessarily think there will be 6G, we are in an era of continuous evolution” he predicts, taking in particular the example of artificial intelligence. “We are experiencing a moment of technological disruption that changes absolutely everything.”
Can Orange compete with OpenAI, as Xavier Niel wishes to do with Kyutai? If Bruno Zerbib says he admires the initiative of the boss of Free, his vision is not that of sovereignty at all costs. “Can we have uniquely French solutions? The answer is no. Chipsets for example, we don’t know how to make them. Sovereignism has a positive aspect on the control of data, on the protection of data, on the use… On other subjects, we think that there is no debate.”
“If you invest 1 dollar in generative AI, you will get 10 cents in return. We have a responsibility not to do anything with our investments”. Orange will not be ashamed to use others’ models, open source or not, by customizing them with Orange content. “Do we want to have a French version? Absolutely “. But not at any cost.
When will the next major Orange conferences take place? “On innovation, we have very clear things coming. I think you’re going to see things every six months that are worth it. The new Orange is not an Orange that disappears for three years and comes back one big night”. See you in 2024.
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