Orange pledges free broadband for bigger spenders

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The Independent Online

Orange pledged to give its high-spending mobile phone customers free broadband access yesterday, while its smaller rival Plusnet cut prices to under £10 a month as competition in the UK's broadband market intensified.

Orange wants to become a "one-stop shop for all of a customers' communications needs", said Sanjiv Ahuja, its chief executive. With the launch of television services later this year, Orange will soon offer customers mobile, broadband, fixed-line and entertainment services under one brand. The offer follows its owner France Telecom's decision to re-brand its Wanadoo and Equant units under the Orange banner.

Orange mobile customers who spend more than £30 a month will be eligible for free broadband access with speeds up to 8 megabits a second. However, customers will need to sign up to 18-month contracts. The offer, which does not include line rental, also includes free weekend and evening calls to UK landlines.

For another £6 a month, customers will get unlimited calls to UK landlines at any time and free calls to other Orange mobiles. The broadband package would be worth £17.99 a month on a standalone basis but customers who signed up to Wanadoo over the past few months will have to wait until the last three months of their contracts to take advantage of the deal. Orange has 15 million mobile customers and Wanadoo around 2 million users in the UK. Orange expects the widely anticipated offer to shore up its market share in the ultra-competitive UK mobile phone market and to strengthen its hand in winning new customers.

Plusnet, a relative minnow in the burgeoning broadband sector, also upped the ante by slashing the cost of its basic package to £9.99 a month from £14.99. Plusnet only requires customers to sign up on a month-by-month basis for the 8 megabit service as opposed to the 18-month contracts many broadband companies lock customers into. The package, which does not include line rental charges, is designed to appeal to light users or customers who want to try broadband.

Meanwhile sales of mobile phones continue to gain pace. According to research company Gartner, 224 million handsets were sold across the globe in the first three months of the year, 24 per cent more than a year ago.

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