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Alexander Squeezes Into Orange UK Job

Orange (NYSE: FTE) has hired the co-founder and former CEO of Virgin Mobile, Tom Alexander, to lead its U.K. business Orange UK . (See Orange UK Hires CEO.)

Alexander's claim to fame is that he started Virgin Mobile Telecoms Ltd. back in 1999. He was Virgin Mobile's CEO from 1999 to 2006 when it was sold to U.K. cable operator NTL for £962 million (US$2 billion). Before that, he was deputy commercial director at BT Cellnet. He has also held positions at Telia and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC). (See Branson's Main Man, NTL Poised to Acquire Virgin Mobile , and Source: NTL Sweetens Virgin Offer.)

Alexander will replace Bernard Ghillebaert, who has held the Orange UK CEO job since 2004. Ghillebaert is moving on within the France Telecom group to become executive vice president of sales and customer experience. Alexander will take over in December.

Since he left Virgin Mobile, with a handsome payout, Alexander has taken a career break to spend time on his passion for car racing. Now, he's behind the wheel of a mobile operator again, and France Telecom management is looking for new ideas and a fresh approach in the U.K.

One analyst suggests that Orange is ready for a revival.

"They just seem to be sluggish," says Phil Kendall, director of global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics Inc. "Orange dropped off the bottom a bit, compared to the other four operators… It is probably one of the more expensive in the market for data."

France Telecom reported an 8.6 percent drop in operating profit at its U.K. business in its first half-year results this year, compared to the same period last year. (See FT Reports 2Q07.)

Unstrung has given Orange a B- grade in its Carrier Scorecards three times in a row because the operator is not growing ARPUs well enough in its established European markets like the U.K. (See Carrier Scorecard: Orange, Carrier Scorecard: Orange, and Carrier Scorecard: Orange.)

With operators like 3 in the U.K. offering aggressive pricing on HSDPA services, and Vodafone launching competitively priced HSDPA services as well, Orange is operating in a very competitive market. (See 3 Heats Up HSDPA in UK, Vodafone Soups Up HSDPA, and Orange Touts 3G Data.)

In a bid to cut costs, Orange has partnered with Vodafone to share 3G radio access networks. (See Will More Mobile Operators Dare to Share?, Vodafone, Orange to Share RANs, and Vodafone & Orange Share 3G.)

On the convergence front, Orange's fixed/mobile convergence offering, Unique, has also been very quiet in the U.K. since it launched earlier this year and has not enjoyed the success it's had in France. But the U.K. operator recently introduced a new broadband service bundle that includes a home landline. (See FT vs BT on FMC and Orange Doubles FMC Customers.)

Alexander's appointment is the latest in the recent executive changes at several different levels within France Telecom. In April, Sanjiv Ahuja resigned as Orange CEO and executive vice president of personal communication services. Ahuja was replaced by Olaf Swantee, who came from a senior management position at HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ). (See Ahuja Leaves France Telecom.)

Last month, Eric Abensur, vice president of Orange Home UK, left Orange "by mutual consent."

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading

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