France-based operator Orange and Germany-based Deutsche Telekom will introduce their own jointly developed smart speaker in December, according to Orange CEO Stephane Richard. Speaking at the GSMA’s Mobile360 event in Brussels, Richard said the companies aim to offer a European alternative to a market currently dominated by the U.S.-based technology and retail giants Google and Amazon.
DT previewed the smart speaker earlier in September at the IFA electronics trade show in Berlin. Originally the device was slated to launch in the summer, and then the date was pushed back to September; the new date of December suggests that the partners intend for the speaker to enter the market in time for the Christmas holiday season.
Richard said he and DT CEO Tim Hoettges will present the speaker with a voice-controlled digital assistant. The companies are focusing on language recognition, in order to make the device suitable for multiple markets within Europe. The speaker will be called Magenta in DT’s markets and Djingo in Orange’s.
The Orange CEO made the announcement in a speech on the development of artificial intelligence, of which smart speakers are one of the best-known and fastest-growing applications on the market today, he said. Richard called for a greater role for Europe in the burgeoning AI market, saying that it is an area in which “we need more Europe, not less.” The EU, he said, is “not especially advanced” in the industry and is currently investing six times less than the U.S. and three times less than Asia on AI development.
Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker system, which operates by connecting to Google’s search engine, dominates a market that is growing rapidly in developed markets. While it is not a mobile device strictly speaking, depending for the most part on home-based routers, the smart speaker market represents yet another area in which traditional operators are being marginalized by new technological developments developed and monetized by outside entities—the same entities that are challenging the MNOs on other playing fields, such as virtual mobile service including messaging and VoIP.
While Google and Amazon are giants so large that it is daunting to contemplate competing with them on their home turf, so to speak, it is noteworthy that two major international operators based in Europe are making the attempt. They may well be able to market this system effectively to their pre-existing customers, by leveraging their brand loyalty advantage, as well as by pricing it lower than Alexa.
The Magenta/Djingo system, which is the culmination of a longstanding cooperation between the German and French groups on procurement, R&D and network services, represents a way in which operators can wrest back control over customers’ use of internet-based services, keeping them within their ecosystems and strengthening their brands in the process.