Earlier today I posted a story about how France Telecom-owned Orange today announced a “partnership” with Facebook for a group calling service, Party Call. The plan is for it to go live in France first next summer. I’ve now talked to Xaviet Perret, VP in charge of strategic partnerships at Orange, and he tells me a few more interesting details about the service:
Party Call is not an IP calling service similar to what Orange’s new VoIP service Libon, or Skype, offer. Instead, it routes calls directly to Orange’s voice network. As such, it becomes a bridge between the social network and legacy voice services, to offer “group calling within the Facebook environment.”
This may be the first time that Facebook has been used in a link-up with a legacy phone service in such a way.
Perret says Party Call was developed by “key developers both at Orange and Facebook.”
“When we approached Facebook with this idea they were pretty excited,” he says. “It’s different from them than just an application.”
It will work by way of a Facebook app, and those who want to use the service for group calling will need to download that app first. This means Facebook never learns your number — but Orange does.
Orange will first be promoting this service to its own customers, to “make it easier for orange customers to connect to others,” Perret says.
Orange is still working out how it will market Party Call, but eventually it will also be rolled out beyond Orange’s subscriber base. The plan is definitely to go international with this after initial rollout in France. “Yes, we have plans beyond France,” he says.
As I mentioned earlier, Orange has rolled out a number of interesting Facebook-related services, from carrier billing to making it easier to access Facebook on low-end mobile devices in emerging markets. It sounds like there is more on the cards.
“We are working with Facebook on a number of subjects,” he said, but also declined to comment on rumors of a Facebook phone. “I am not sure I can comment on that one,” he said.
Yes, we still are none the wiser on whether Facebook will ever come out with the fabled Facebook phone. That’s a unicorn, says Mark Zuckerberg not in so many words. But whether Party Call is being led by Orange or Facebook (and here it is Orange in the driving seat), it nevertheless brings Facebook one step closer into the world of telephony services, and how they are used to communicate. Integration is something that Zuckerberg does think is important: Mobile web is “huge” for the company, he said in September, and “no one is more integrated than [Facebook] on mobile web.”