Ina Fried

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France Telecom Hopes a Texting and Calling App Puts It Over the Top

France Telecom’s Orange unit is announing Libon, an app aimed at offering visual voicemail, texting, high-quality calling and other services on any network.

The free iOS app is the company’s latest entry in the so-called market for “over-the-top” services that offer calling and other features once seen as part of the core telecom market. An Android version is due out next year.

Orange will also offer a paid premium service that provides an hour of international calling, full voicemail transcription and other features.

Like other carriers, Orange is trying to compete with services like WhatsApp, which are already eating away at core calling and texting services.

The French carrier, via its labs, has been testing a product called On Voicefeed, which offers the ability to have custom voicemail messages, depending on who is calling — say, one for your boss, another for your partner, and a third for everyone else.

The challenge for services like Libon is getting enough scale to make them interesting. France Telecom says its existing test services will help provide a base.

“We’ve got a very good stab at building up that network,” Orange’s Giles Corbett said in an interview. Corbett acknowledged that getting scale, rather than a list of features, is the key to this business.

“Either you get scale quite rapidly or you don’t,” he said. “It’s got to be millions very rapidly, and growing into tens of millions.”

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus