Orange boosts services in mobile phone battle

Orange yesterday fired more shots in the intense battle between the four mobile phone networks, with a range of enhanced services to reduce costs and improve services to consumer and business users.

The company announced new options for customers aimed at "allowing the many to talk to the many". The services, to be launched over the next few weeks, include moves to indirectly reduce prices by letting more people share bills. Conference call options and a facility to message large numbers of users are also being introduced.

The developments follow comments earlier this week by Vodafone, the largest British mobile operator, that profits would continue to be hit by intense competition in the mobile telephony industry. Only last week One 2 One, the smallest of the four networks, introduced price packages which it said undercut its competitors.

A spokesman for Orange denied the move was a further bout of the price war, but said: "These services save customers money and make Orange more money."

The first offering, launched yesterday, is Orange Group Answer Phone, which enables voice messages to be sent to 25 different mobile phones at the same time and for the cost of a single call. Group text messaging will follow next month.

Orange Conference Call will allow six people to talk to each other at the same time and Orange Talkshare Plus, an extension of the Talkshare promotion last November, gives up to 50 customers the chance to share a bill, benefiting from an increased number of "bundled" minutes included in the monthly charge.

Although the news emerged too late for shares to react, City analysts said Orange was building on its reputation for innovative services. Jim McCafferty, telecommunications analyst at ABN Amro Hoare Govett, said Orange was enhancing its offering rather than cutting prices. "Orange has been renowned for its innovative service since inception," he said, adding that as competition in the market hotted up, phone operators had to find points of difference. "There won't be much difference in coverage by the end of next year, so operators have got to differentiate themselves in terms of products, marketing, packaging, price structuring and so on."

New tariffs will be published for the Talkshare service nearer launch.