Orange chief executive Stephane Richard (pictured), on outlining a new five-year strategic plan, said he didn’t expect revenue to exceed 2014 levels until 2018, but sought to squash media speculation that the French firm had held M&A discussions with Telecom Italia (TI).

“Our revenues have been falling for five years,” he said in a conference call, quoted by Reuters. “We’ve been through a major re-set in France and the impact is still being felt, although most of our customers have passed over to the lower prices.” He added that the low point for group sales would come next year.

Orange has felt severe pricing pressure in France as Iliad Group has sought to gain market share through aggressive pricing. Full-year mobile service revenue, year-on-year, was down 8.1 per cent in Orange’s home market, to €7.68 billion.

Richard took time, however, to say there had been no formal contact with TI about an alliance, something which Giuseppe Recchi, chairman of the Italian player, appeared to confirm last week. It was reported earlier this month that Richard had described such a deal as “very attractive”, but that it was a “purely internal discussion”.

Restated EBITDA on a group-wide basis is expected to bottom out this year, at between €11.9 billion and €12.1 billion. which is in line with previous guidance, although Orange – as with its revenue forecast – expects restated EBITDA to exceed 2014 levels by 2018.

Broadband and digital ambitions
Orange, like many other big telecoms groups, nonetheless styles itself as a “high-speed broadband leader”, and its new strategic plan – dubbed ‘Essentials2020’ – commits to investing more than €15 billion in its networks from 2015 to 2018.

The firm aims to triple average data speeds, compared to 2014, on both fixed and mobile networks by the end of 2018.

The 4G ambition in Europe is to have more than 95 per cent LTE coverage across the group’s footprint in 2018, complemented by continued heavy commitment in fibre rollouts in France, Spain and Poland.

In Africa and the Middle East, Orange said it would “continue to invest significantly in territorial coverage, with a particular emphasis on the continued deployment of broadband networks”.

4G is slated for launch in seven countries in the region, and in the majority of countries where it has a presence there by 2018. At the same time, Orange said it would “continue to offer affordable smartphones that are customised within the Orange environment”.

In a bid to boost its ‘digital telco’ credentials – and lower costs – Orange is aiming for 50 per cent digitisation of interactions with its customers by 2018, versus just over 30 per cent today.

In the enterprise market, Orange is aiming to increase the share of IT services in the Orange Business Services revenue mix by 10 percentage points by 2020.

The group said it would continue to drive the evolution of its network towards all-IP, the cloud and the virtualisation of network functions, as well as preparing for the introduction of 5G.