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Bebo squeezes Orange in exclusive deal

Friends with benefits

Orange has paid Bebo to provide its customers with an exclusive mobile version of its popular social network - for a while at least.

The move follows a similar tie-up between Vodafone and MySpace, which was announced in February. The French-owned operator told The Reg it had secured fidelity for "a number of months", as it aims to entice the Bebo's 7.15 million UK users to use its cell network. Orange refused to reveal the price it had paid Bebo for temporary loyalty.

With internet on-the-go still in relative infancy, sites like 31 million-strong Bebo have the upper hand over mobile operators, who prize exclusive services in their bid to reduce churn rates. O2 was also rumoured to be wooing Bebo, so it would have had its pick of sugar daddies.

Carriers can expect websites to ditch such deals if mobile browsing does take off, however, when users rebel against being railroaded towards a single operator.

In the UK at least, Bebo is perhaps a bigger prize than MySpace. The site often touts Comscore research which said its users spend longer browsing its network than any other website in the UK, which Orange will hope to rack up some decent data revenues through.

Bebo Mobile will launch in its UK stronghold in summer, timed to go up against Vodafone's MySpace service, which debuts in June. It'll roll out in other Orange territories later in the year. Orange UK plans to go big on Bebo, with a range of tariff packages offering unlimited access. Pricing will be announced nearer the time.

Bebo said its services will not be too hamstrung by going mobile, with all the main features of the website in place. Members will be able to update their profiles via SMS and receive Twitter-esque trivia from friends straight to their text inbox. Orange subscribers will also get access to a Bebo "members-only entertainment club", which we're assured isn't as dodgy as it sounds, instead offering gig and film tickets. ®

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