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13 December 2018

Orange Djingo finally unchained – oh no, another false alarm

“Digital exclusion” is a grave issue facing the industry, as proposed by Orange at the French telco’s 6th annual Show Hello event this week and, rather conveniently, CEO Stéphane Richard already has the answer – “inclusive innovation” – seemingly to divert attention away from yet another delay concerning its connected home strategy.

Buzzwords aside, Orange is one of Europe’s great technical innovators in communications and entertainment, so what it really means by inclusive innovation is releasing the shackles from its AI assistant Djingo, hoping to reach more people on more devices, expanding the use cases for voice in the process.

Nothing new here, admittedly, but a significant move of note will see Djingo soon provide access to Alexa to offer a wider range of services. Of course, when Djingo launched in November 2017, everyone saw this as Orange’s answer to Alexa, built in true French resistance style, not a complementary technology. Yet multiple voice assistants on multiple devices is how we envision the future, but it won’t be easy to get there given certain strangleholds on the voice market today.

Developed jointly between Orange and Deutsche Telekom as part of the European AI Alliance, Djingo is described as “the genuinely useful and accessible AI” – which continues to be the opposite of the truth. Djingo remains limited in terms of device scope, available only in certain mobile apps. Meanwhile, its much-anticipated smart speaker – which we first saw a prototype demo of at Mobile World Congress earlier this year – isn’t set to launch until Spring 2019, making it overdue by more than a year.

But when it does eventually launch, Orange promises an enhanced range of everyday Djingo services through partnerships with OUI.Sncf (ticket sales), Deezer (streaming music), Radio France and Météo France (weather). Until then, it plans to make Djingo available on voice-controlled TV remotes via a simple software update.

Orange provided a few extra details for its Spring 2019 strategy, when it will launch the Connected Home service in France, allowing subscribers to directly link connected objects to the home’s Livebox to manage them remotely, control usage and analyze consumption through one smartphone app and, in the future, a TV. So, we assume Djingo voice remotes will also be arriving around Spring 2019.

“Orange and Amazon share a vision where multiple AIs complement each other to bring the richest experience to customers. Today, the companies showcase how they are working together to make this vision a reality with the launch of Orange’s Djingo speaker, which comes with both Orange’s Djingo and Amazon Alexa built in. This is just the start, and both companies look forward to expanding multi-assistant integration in their future products,” said a statement.

Orange’s smart home strategy is admittedly one of the more sluggish, but we feel this simply shows how seriously the French telco is going about improving its empire. This year we have been given exclusive insights and pre-launch demos into Djingo, as well as its more miscellaneous ventures like a concept smart mirror, for which the operator has dedicated an entire department to, called Anticipation in Smart Access.

The unusually named unit is gathering vast amounts of data from its footprint of Livebox home gateways in the field, along with consumer surveys and various other data sets – forming the plasticine for which to shape its smart home business. Aside from AI, Orange is using consumer data to enhance network equipment and software, as visible from its smart WiFi strategy.

As for the Djingo smart speaker enigma, the demo we saw earlier this year involved controlling TV functions via voice commands, but through a Djingo smart speaker connected to an Orange set top via WiFi, not using a voice remote. We have long known Orange was planning to ship voice remotes powered by Djingo and finally we have some evidence that 2019 will be the year, despite it releasing photos of a prototype back in March.

As this is our final issue of 2018 and given how the spotlight is going to be more intensely focused on the voice market throughout 2019, it’s worth briefly revisiting the voice remote forecast and report from our sister service Rethink TV, published earlier this year.

It shows that France has been one of the fastest markets in Europe to embrace voice remotes, due to the region’s fierce competitive nature in general between operators. This has also been helped by speedy development of WiFi offload, as well as triple and quad play services, leading to France reaching 13.4 million voice remotes by 2022.

Free was ahead of the curve, introducing the country’s first voice remote we know of in March 2015, based on Google Assistant, closely followed by Bouygues and later by Altice’s SFR Numericable.

Other takeaways of note from Show Hello include the promise of deploying 5G in 17 European cities next year in preparation for commercial release in 2020, but only “so long as enough 5G smartphones are available,” Orange warns.

To coincide with the launch of Connected Home, Orange will unveil Protected Home in Spring 2019, a subscription-based home security offering designed to automatically alert authorities in the event of a break in. Developed in partnership with insurance company Groupama, Protected Home is hooked up to a video surveillance center, although Orange hasn’t said if surveillance equipment from any supplier can be fitted or if the operator will sell its own security kit as part of a smart home-as-a-service offering.

“To fight digital exclusion, Orange chooses inclusive innovation: useful and simple innovations that are accessible to the greatest possible number of people. To do so, we deploy the best fixed and mobile networks across the country. We secure and facilitate our customers’ digital lives thanks to our expertise in cybersecurity and in digital identity. We help all our customers enter the eras of artificial intelligence and of the internet of things. All of this, to enable them to participate in a new form of digital society. A progressive, free and enlightened society,” said Richard.

Oh, and just to keep the media happy, Orange is forming an ethics committee on data use involving customer and employee representatives.