Orange celebrates 20th birthday


20 years since Orange network launched into the UK and the future was most certainly bright for the operator

Today marks 20 years since the iconic Orange brand launched in the UK with the tagline ‘The future’s bright, the future’s Orange’

The brand quickly established itself as a major player in the wireless world when the service went live on 28 April, 1994 but how it could have been so different.

In fact the Orange brand was nearly stillborn. The Orange name had been conceived by then marketing director Chris Moss and the ad agency Wight Collins Rutherford Scott. However the board of Hutchison Whampoa was nervous about such an abstract brand name and wanted a more techno-centric brand name.

But Moss, the brains behind the branding of Virgin Atlantic, stuck to his guns even flying to Hong Kong to make his case for Orange directly to Hutchison supremo Li Ka-Shing. He persuaded them to go with Orange, and the rest, as they say, is history. Moss was never given credit for the idea.

Customer were treated to an expansive choice of two handsets at its launch – the ‘premium’ Nokia 2140 and the lower specification Motorola mr1.

However, what Orange achieved was to bring a number of innovations to the embryonic market which helped it establish itself as a major player within a few months. These included: Per-second billing; free itemised billing; SMS texting; a 14 day money guarantee and an audio cassette that explained the service.

The brand was also helped, in no small part, by a promotional campaign which had the below advert as its centrepiece. TV audiences and cinema goers were bombarded with the message that entered the nation’s consciousness.

Other innovations which were revolutionary at the time included international calls that were cheaper than landlines; 50 minutes of off peak calls to landlines and other Orange mobiles for 50p; price matching; two hour phone replacement and the ability to have a second line to split business and personal calls.

Nowadays, the mobile sector is awash with company’s claiming ‘disruptive’ technologies but two decades ago, these services did just that. They set the benchmark in the fledgling mobile industry in the UK and set it on an astronomical growth trajectory.

Now part of EE, Orange has been passed from pillar to post throughout a history that has seen some of the UK’s largest operators own all or parts of the business.

The company began under the ownership of Microtel Communications, a consortium of British Aerospace, Pactel Corporation, Millicom and Matra.

Hutchison Whampoa, now the owner of the Three network, acquired a 65 per cent controlling stake in the company in July 1991, setting the firm on its way. By April 1996, Orange went public, becoming the youngest company to enter the FTSE100 with a valuation of £2.4 billion, in June of the same year.

Orange’s UK subscriber base reached one million by July 1998 and international expansion followed with launches in Honk Kong, Belgium, India, Australia and other global territories.

In 1999, Orange began the path that would eventually lead to the formation of the EE network when German company, Mannesmann, purchased it for around £20 billion.

This deal prompted Vodafone to purchase the German company for around £105 billion the following year and subsequently dispose of Orange to France Telecom, due to EU competition regulations the same year.

In September 2009, Orange and T-Mobile announced plans to merge their respective brands in UK creating a network of that, today, has 30.7 million customers.