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Elata Bites Into Orange

Service delivery software vendor elata Ltd. has struck a commercial contract deal with Orange SA (London/Paris: OGE) in a move that ends months of speculation over the health of the startup, Unstrung can exclusively reveal.

The carrier has deployed elata’s Senses platform throughout its French subsidiary, one of the largest networks in Europe with a subscriber base of approximately 19 million.

“The contract was won in Q1 this year, and services have been in place since mid-June when it was commercially deployed,” says Matt Hooper, the vendor’s VP of marketing and alliances. “We have been working on this with Ericsson as part of our partnership last year.” (See Ericsson Picks Elata.)

Hooper is unable to divulge financial details of the deal, but hints that the French win could prove the catalyst for further Orange contracts throughout Europe. “We have a number of discussions ongoing within the Orange group,” he comments.

The Senses platform claims to automate the process of targeting specific services to customers depending on their customer profiles, allowing the carrier’s back-end system to recognize a device as it connects to the network (see Elata Recognizes Devices). In theory this means that as services are requested, they are delivered to the customer’s device depending on what the system knows about the capabilities of that device -- for instance, whether it is Java-enabled or can receive multimedia messaging services (MMS).

The Orange deal follows previous commercial success with Hutchison 3G Ltd., Amena, and Optimus Telecomunicacoes and will ease concerns over the long-term viability of the startup (see Elata Makes Iberian Inroads, Hutchison Plugs Its Java Hole, and Optimus Feeds Games With Elata).

Earlier this year a number of postings appeared on Unstrung’s message boards suggesting that elata was struggling financially and heading for shutdown (read the message postings here and here).

“At the beginning of the summer we did refocus the business and cut around ten heads in the commercial department,” admits Hooper. “We are running at about 40 employees at the moment. We have a good existing revenue base.”

The marketing man states that the startup is due to make a funding announcement “in the next four weeks,” adding to its original cash injection in September 2001 of €10 million (US$11.7 million).

“In the next three months we are also going to be announcing a new channel agreement and will be making several deal announcements in the next three to six months,” he adds. “Most of the projects are based in Europe, but we do have two to three opportunities elsewhere. We are looking to establish new partners to help the business attack new territories, and this will be very much reflected in our new channel agreement.”

Skeptics will note that the company has made a string of broken promises before (see Elata Lines Up Further Deals). Some analysts, however, believe the startup deserves to be commended for its success thus far.

“It would be easy to look at them in terms of the noise they make and criticise them for their number of customers,” says Jessica Figueras, senior analyst at Ovum Ltd.. “But given their size, it is actually pretty impressive. They have some good customer names.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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