Orange offers 'smart app' dev tool and global M2M location service

The company has created a new entity, Orange Applications for Business, to bring together its network and application integration services

Network operator Orange wants to help businesses deliver relevant information to their customers, and keep track of things and people, with three new services that take advantage of its mobile networks.

Orange presented the three services -- Universal Location, Socio-Demo Flux Vision, and Smart Apps Center -- at a news conference to announce the merging of seven existing business-to-business systems integration units into a single team, Orange Applications for Business. The new entity has 2,400 staff, and plans to recruit around 200 more each year, primarily developers, ergonomists and big-data specialists, said Béatrice Felder, the unit's director.

Part of the larger Orange Business Services group, the new entity will focus on three markets: connected objects; big data analytics; and enhancing customer experience either online, over the phone or in person using network technology, Felder said, presenting a new service in each of the three markets.

Universal Location is a global tracking service for connected objects that uses cellular modems offering far longer battery life than GPS systems, although at much lower accuracy. It is priced on demand, and works by sending an SMS to a cellular modem embedded in the device to be tracked. The modem then responds with another SMS containing the identity of the network and cell to which it is connected, allowing Orange to determine its approximate location. In urban areas the location provided could be accurate to within 100 meters, or a few tens of kilometers in rural areas or in countries still developing their cellular networks, an Orange spokesman said.

The service will work anywhere in the world with cellular coverage, thanks to over 400 roaming agreements Orange has with networks in 200 countries, the spokesman said. Tracking can either be done manually, through Orange's M2M Web portal, or integrated into other applications and services via the APIs the company provides.

Today's cellular modems and accompanying SIM cards (Orange uses embedded SIMs that are soldered directly to circuit boards) are small enough that it's practical for airlines to offer their most frequent fliers electronic luggage tags to track individual items of baggage, another spokesman said.

The big data launch, Socio-Demo, adds a layer of socio-demographic data to Orange's Flux Vision service, which already provides data to the transport and tourism industries about the number of visitors who have visited or passed through a location. Over time, Orange has calibrated the service by monitoring where and when cellular subscribers connect to its network, and comparing this with information from other sources that monitor flows of people, such as highway cameras or the ticket barriers in rail stations. Using other techniques, it can also predict whether a given subscriber is a visitor to a given location, or whether they live or work nearby.

Now, Orange is adding anonymized, aggregate information about the age, sex and socio-professional category of the visitors, something that will help tourism marketing authorities determine where to concentrate their advertising in traditional media that do not allow one-to-one targeting.

Flux Vision uses a proprietary system for ensuring the irreversible anonymity of the data, which Felder said has the approval of the France's privacy watchdog, the National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL).

To further reduce the risk of revealing subscribers' identities to users of the service, data is only provided when the number of persons concerned is over 20, or 50 in tourism applications, said product manager Rémi Hugonin. That means, for instance, that while a busload of tourists visiting a village museum in midwinter would show up in the data, no sociodemographic details would be provided about them unless they all fell into the same category, because there would not be enough of any one category to pass the threshold.

Felder added: "We can even tell whether visitors to a theme park are mostly English or German, thanks to the roaming data from our network, and that's very useful to the park for marketing purposes."

Orange's third launch of the day, Smart Apps Center, is a service that aims to improve customer experience by allowing developers to create mobile apps that learn about their users, automatically and progressively personalizing the information they provide. Client side, the service will work with pretty much any mobile platform, while on the server side it is based on .Net, and can be programmed in C#, Java, or other languages more suited to artificial intelligence work. Orange will shortly offer API documentation and an SDK (software development kit) for download from its website.

The service could allow even small cities to develop their own smart "what's on" app to provide suggestions for an evening's entertainment, automatically ruling out outdoor activities if weather forecasts predict rain, for example, and putting movie showings top of the list once the service learns that the user's interests include cinema.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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