Orange to tempt U.K. mobile customers with free trials

It may not be the proverbial free lunch, but the U.K. subsidiary of mobile telecommunications operator Orange SA is hoping users will view its new “Try” initiative as a tasty free snack that whets their appetites for more. The company on Wednesday began offering month-long free trials to all of its business and consumer customers in an effort to get mobile phone users to test new applications and technologies.

“This is not just a new marketing campaign for Orange, it is a new ethos. ‘Try’ is a new initiative which is going to change the way we offer services to all of our customers,” said John Allwood, executive vice president for Orange U.K. at a news conference in London.

Orange will give all of its U.K. customers, both contract customers and pay-as-you-go users, a “bundle” with which they can use technologies and services they have not tried before. For example, a customer who wants to try photo messaging can receive 30 free photos, while those who want to try text messaging get 30 free text messages. The free trial period lasts until the bundle runs out or when the month ends, whichever comes first.

“Customers don’t want to commit to something without first seeing if the service is the experience they want,” Allwood said. “If a customer likes what they try, they can keep it; if not, they can try something else instead.”

The Try initiative is particularly focused on data and messaging services, with different packages aimed at consumers and small business customers, as well as medium-size and corporate Orange customers and prospective customers, Allwood said.

The free trials are being offered only in the U.K., but depending on the reception, may also be rolled out in other countries, though Orange currently has no plans for doing so.

“Such a program will most likely entice existing users to use more data services,” said Paolo Pescatore, senior analyst for IDC in the U.K. “It will put Orange in good stead for the future.”

Mobile penetration rates in the U.K. are expected to reach saturation in 2004 with an increase in the year to 88.6 per cent, according to a report published last year by the mobile industry group, the Wireless World Forum. With the penetration rates of mobile phone users in the U.K. reaching all time highs, mobile telecommunication companies have been quick to realize that to fatten up bottom lines, more money has to be obtained from each user: hence an obsession by companies and industry watchers with average revenue per user (ARPU) figures.

Earlier Wednesday, Orange’s parent company, France T

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