Orange signs record 1.1million customers

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The Independent Online

Orange, the mobile phone market's most rapidly expanding company, yesterday said it had signed a record 1.1 million net new customers during the third quarter, the latest indication that growth in the sector remains robust .

Orange, the mobile phone market's most rapidly expanding company, yesterday said it had signed a record 1.1 million net new customers during the third quarter, the latest indication that growth in the sector remains robust .

The figures for the three months to the end of September were boosted by sales of lower-margin pre-paid mobile phones and follow the addition of 1.2 million customers in the second quarter, also a record for that period. Orange, owned by France Telecom, has more than doubled its customer base in the past year to 8.3 million and is chasing BT Cellnet for the number two slot after Vodafone.

''It's a good number, in line with our expectations, and shows growth is still strong in the UK market,'' said Andrew Beale, an analyst at Deutsche Bank. France Telecom's shares rose 1.6 euros to 123 euros.

Orange was the first of the four UK wireless network operators to report subscriber figures for the third quarter, and the company is expected to maintain its lead in signing up new customers. BT's Cellnet, Vodafone, and Deutsche Telekom's UK mobile phone unit One2One, will release their subscriber numbers tomorrow.

Mr Beale expected total UK subscribers to have grown by 3.6 million in the quarter with One2One adding 1 million net new customers, Vodafone 820,000, and Cellnet 675,000. That would bring the number ofsubscriptions in the UK to 34.2 million, equivalent to about 60 per cent of the total population.

Just 18.8 per cent of Orange's new customers for the third quarter were signed up on contract plans. It now has 2.96 million contract customers, against 5.3 million pre-paid. Contract subscribers tend to spend more on calls on average and remain loyal to a network operator.

''Orange is being aggressive [before an expected IPO] and the figures show the big growth area in the market is pre-paid,'' said Jan-Willem Brand, an analyst at ABN Amro. ''The big question is how long will the growth last, and will the pre-paid customers remain on Orange's network?'', he added.

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