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Hands on: Orange launches Libon, a VoIP, messaging, and voicemail app


It’s not often that you’ll find a corporation willing to dive head first into developing a technology that competes with its own core business, but that’s just what one European ISP is doing. French mobile network operator and Internet service provider Orange is taking a chance and launching a voicemail integrated VoIP app in the United States and Europe.

Orange Group, first founded in 1993, services over 180 million mobile customers. Giles Corbett, Head of Libon and CEO of Orange Vallée, a research and innovation arm within Orange Group, and his team came up with the idea when customers were demanding a product that was more comprehensive than the Over-the-top (OTT) voicemail platform called “ON Voicefeed” that Orange launched last year. Based on feedback, Corbett told us that Orange embarked on developing, “an app that would give [customers] all the benefits of VoIP in terms of quality and cost, but on top of that would have the use of a normal phone.”

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The app, named “Libon,” was designed to make VOIP as close to what it’s like to answer a real call as possible. When you place a call to another person, a notification appears on the receiver’s phone and rings like a standard call over the cellular network. But much like Apple’s iMessage, Libon has the ability to recognize whether or not the phone has the app installed. If the phone doesn’t have Libon, users can still make calls at a discounted rate.

Intriguingly, Libon started its life as a voicemail app, and still has a few features in it that make it easy to customize voicemail greetings. You can tailor voicemail greetings based on a contact’s relationship with you. You can set the generic “I’m not here right now…” greeting specific to your professional contacts. But for your significant other or family members, you can set a more personalized greeting. If you’re too busy to listen to your voicemail, Libon can transcribe your voice messages and deliver them as text messages.

Corbett explained to us that Libon was built with a completely different architecture than Skype and claims to boast superior call quality. “It’s something that you can just use reliably and know that the call quality is going to work. The quality is usually much better than a standard mobile call, and better than other VoIP services.”

When we tried out the beta version of the app ourselves, the interface was unremarkable, but intuitive. Libon comes with a basic messaging feature as well, but it’s not as robust as Whatsapp, LINE, Kik, imo.im, or other texting alternatives. The calls were crystal clear, but did drop on occasion. Corbett told us that this could be because though the calling platform was switched on in Europe, which is necessary for uninhibited and clear calls, it wasn’t yet to be activated in North America (where we’re located) until its launch this Monday. Hopefully, by then, call dropping will be a non-issue.

If AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile had the gusto to develop their own applications and not be so concerned about maintaining their bottom lines by providing outdated services, the tech world would be a better place. Orange isn’t concerned with cannibalizing its own business. Instead, it’s looking forward and recognizing an opportunity. Corbett said that the company has kept an “open mind” about its own industry.

Libon is launching to 80 countries including the United States. This Monday, it will launch in the Apple App Store and it should come to the Google Play Store before the end of December. If you’re interested in this app, Orange is offering a promotion for those of you that have a loved one or friend staying overseas. For one hour per month, users can make phone calls using Libon to any international phone (even if they don’t have the app) at no cost.

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