For most of the past few years, Yves Maitre has lead the effort to ensure its Orange cellphone customers in places like Britain and France have the right selection of phones.
And when it comes to the company’s major markets in Western Europe, Maitre said things are in pretty good shape. Windows Phone, Android and iOS have paved the way for a solid set of options for both high-end devices and even midrange ones, often sold prepaid and, in some cases, under the Orange brand name.
But when it comes to serving the next 6 billion potential smartphone customers, Maitre said that none of the major operating systems is really lightweight enough from either a cost perspective or from the amount of bandwidth consumed.
In an interview Thursday, Maitre likened it to when he was growing up in France and his family had a two-cylinder Citroen. He idolized the huge eight-cylinder cars coming out of Detroit in the 1970s. And while those cars did enjoy a moment in the sun, the world realized that with more cars out there, gas wasn’t unlimited.
In the end, the car makers like Toyota that created fuel-efficient vehicles fared better.
While conventional wisdom is that low-cost Android devices will bring smartphones to the developing world, Maitre says even Google’s OS is too resource intensive. It may have started out as a four-cylinder or six-cylinder car, he says, but with the latest Ice Cream Sandwich release it is every bit the gas guzzler that iOS and Windows Phone are.
Maitre said that Orange is committed to building 3G networks in all of its markets, but that it needs more energy efficient vehicles, if you will.
“I cannot run an eight-cylinder car because it is too expensive,” said Maitre, a senior vice president at France Telecom’s Orange unit. The average selling price of phones in Orange’s developing markets is $54. And while customers might be willing to spend an extra $30 to get a smartphone, they can’t spend another $100.
“If we are not in a position to give them a smartphone at $80, we will miss the six billion,” Maitre said, adding that Orange is committed to having smartphones that hit that price. “If I cannot have Microsoft on it, if I cannot have Android, if I cannot have iOS, then I will look somewhere else, mostly likely in China,” Maitre said.
Already the company is looking at a variety of options including Mozilla’s Boot-to-Gecko project and mobile Linux options like Tizen, in addition to low-cost Android variants coming out of China.
Phones also must become more bandwidth-efficient, Maitre said, because, like gas for cars, bandwidth is a limited commodity.
Today, he said, there are about a billion people crowding the airwaves, most of whom use less than one gigabyte of data per month.
“Tomorrow, seven billion people will use bandwidth and all use [in the range of] five or six gigabits,” he said. “The bandwidth will start to become a very valuable resource.”