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Plan to let you phone people up from within Facebook

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Orange customers in France will soon be able to tap on a Facebook contact to give them a call, and even set up conferences, without sharing phone numbers with anyone.

The deal between Facebook and France Telecom, owner of the Orange brand, will require a new handset app, but once installed it will move voice calling into the Facebook app under the "Party Call" brand. This should please users who never want to leave the social network, even for a quick voice call - all the while maintaining Orange as the provider of all their communication services.

Mobile numbers won't be shared with Facebook - instead Facebook details will be shared with Orange so the telco can link the two things together. Those making voice calls, or setting up conferences, will select the people while Orange sets up the voice calls to the right numbers, as TechCrunch explains.

What's interesting is that this deal maintains the telco as the provider of communications, and the owner of the customer. Earlier this week Orange announced it would be using Bango's platform to have Facebook credits added to phone bills, making it the custodian of the customer's credit, and by integrating voice calls so closely with Facebook, it could gain considerable loyalty as well as driving up voice traffic.

The service won't launch until next year, and even then it will be in France only, but it is indicative of the way in which operators are casting around for a new role for themselves as communication systems develop. Retaining ownership of the customer's address (phone number) and billing account is eminently sensible, though it's worth noting that bets are sensibly hedged - Orange France recently introduced its own VoIP client, Libon, which it relaunched yesterday. ®

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