Orange joins the 'home zone' trend with Unik offering

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Orange will unveil details today of its long-awaited "home-zone" service combining the convenience of a mobile phone with fixed-line pricing. The service will be branded Unik and will be launched in the UK before Christmas.

Orange, the mobile and broadband arm of France Telecom, is holding a press conference in Paris to announce Unik. The company said in May it would launch a home-zone service, dubbed "OnePhone" at that stage, later in the year. Orange declined to comment on details before the launch.

A home-zone phone charges landline rates when used at home and mobile rates outdoors. It routes calls made in the home over the internet through a wireless modem box. When the user is outdoors, calls are carried over mobile networks, allowing the consumer to dispense with fixed-line phones and keep all their contacts and voicemail services on one phone, with one telephone number and one bill.

Orange is likely to target business customers later by offer cheap calls within their company's premises and through WiFi terminals in airports and hotels.

Despite the name, the service is not unique. BT launched its BT Fusion home-zone product last year and has attracted 30,000 users so far. It offers users a choice of two Motorola Razr handsets but is set to launch a variety of WiFi-enabled handsets in the autumn from the likes of Nokia and Samsung. Operators including T-Mobile and O2have launched similar products.

Orange will start its service with a variety of handsets, and pricing is likely to mirror its current VoIP, or voice over broadband, tariffs. Orange offers VoIP customers free calls to other Orange subscribers and to landline numbers.

The appeal of home-zone products in the UK has yet to be proved, with BT and O2 reporting slow growth in take-up. Another issue is while home-zone services offer consumers and businesses cheaper mobile calls when at home or on work premises, it could mean higher phone bills for people calling the user.

Unik adds another string to Orange's bow as it tries to shore up its customer base in the face of intense competition in its core markets.