Orange And T-Mobile To Live On? You Must Be CrazEE

“There are no plans to kill off the Orange and T-Mobile brand.” That’s what I was told yesterday morning, following the launch of EE’s 4G network, by Martin Stiven, EE’s vice president of business. But I refuse to believe it.

Why? Firstly, let’s look at the facts. There will be no more Orange and T-Mobile stores. Only EE ones, which will serve all three brands. That’s point number one.

Second, by the end of the year, when customers hook up to 3G or 4G networks, they will no longer be told they are running over an Orange and/or T-Mobile connection. It will say EE on their screens, even though they aren’t running over EE’s 4G network. It’s quite literally erasing the Orange and T-Mobile brands from people’s phones.

Indeed, the fact that Orange and T-Mobile customers will be tempted into “upgrading” to EE, as CEO Olaf Swantee put it, indicates those two stalwarts of the UK’s mobile industry are doing the danse macabre already. In a couple of years time, when 4G overtakes 3G and 2G in terms of usage, no one will want to stick with brands that don’t offer the fastest services.

You might argue that EE may well one day bestow 4G on its two lesser siblings. But that would mean EE was no longer the premium brand it purports to be. Swantee surely won’t want EE to lose that differentiation. By not letting Orange and T-Mobile connect to its 4G network, EE has effectively given its sisters a lethal injection, that will take a few years until it works its magic and delivers them to their quietus.

Particles poppycock

But the main reason EE will be compelled to commit sororicide will come down to brand management. The company now runs three massive brands. That alone is a herculean task, but it didn’t make things easier on itself by delivering an overcomplicated brand yesterday.

EE may have taken heed of people’s dislike of the Everything Everywhere name (which was always going to be derided as Nothing Nowhere), but it still managed to baffle journos at the Science Museum yesterday, with some nonsense about particles and a logo of two yellow ecstasy pills hugging each other that “moves” (it disappeared and reappeared a few times – ostensibly to convey flexibility, but to your reporter it was a rather apt metaphor for the network’s patchy coverage outside of London).

There was some inchoate chatter about colours as well, two of which were supposed to be for the more-serious customers, and another two for something else to do with consumers (see below). Or something like that. God knows what they were on about.

As for the business-side of things, that’s going to add to the confusion. The well-known IT services companies of Orange Business Services and T-Systems should remain alive for some time. That’s because they are related to EE, but are not its underlings like the phone-only sides of Orange and T-Mobile.

EE, meanwhile, will be launching its own business division. Orange and T-Mobile also have their own business arms. That makes for a befuddling number of choices for IT heads looking to refresh their mobile infrastructure. And we know how time-strapped IT guys hate complexity.

However, Stiven said the mobile business customers of Orange and T-Mobile would be moved over to EE. Once contracts are up, they will be invited to become part of the EE clan. Another hint that Orange and T-Mobile are being slowly, silently killed off.

So if EE wants to be truly successful, it is going to have to simplify things. And the easiest way to do that is phase out Orange and T-Mobile, and bring all its customers under one, hopefully less baffling, brand.

EE will continue to deny Orange and T-Mobile have started their long, lonely ride across the Styx, and claim it is fully supporting the two brands. But, from where I sat in the auditorium yesterday, it appeared Swantee was delivering the fatal poison to the T-Mobile and Orange brands yesterday. If he didn’t, it’ll be to EE’s detriment.

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Thomas Brewster

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

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