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Orange exec: Windows Phone fate hangs on Nokia

Next week, all eyes will focus on Nokia World for details of the manufacturer's first Windows Phone. It's not just customers who are holding their breath; the carriers themselves stand to gain or lose.

CNET's concept of the 'Sea Ray' Nokia-made Windows Phone
CNET's concept of the 'Sea Ray' Nokia-made Windows Phone.
Josh Long/CNET

Nokia World commences next Wednesday, but at this rate we should call it "Windows Phone World."

It's there that Nokia will show off its first Windows Phone, about nine months after the then-struggling device and mobile platform maker shocked the mobile world by publicly placing all bets with Windows Phone.

The amount of enthusiasm the handset receives isn't just important for Nokia, which switched CEOs and all but junked its own Symbian OS in favor of Microsoft's in an effort to reinvigorate the iconic brand, it's also crucial to Microsoft's eventual success with the almost year-old Windows Phone platform.

At least that's the message shared by Yves Maitre when he sat down with CNET this week. The senior vice president of devices and mobile multimedia at Orange says that Windows Phone is the lowest-selling platform in Orange's Europe, Middle East, and Africa markets, behind Android in first place, iOS, and BlackBerry, which he says enjoys "strong" sales.

"Honestly, it hasn't been as successful as we expected," he said of Windows Phone, adding that customers are waiting for Nokia's big unveiling to decide. The well-known Finnish brand is anticipated to offer the "pure Microsoft experience," Maitre said in our interview at CNET's San Francisco headquarters.

It's not just Orange customers who are holding their breath either. Orange itself must decide as a carrier how much more it will invest in Windows Phones before cutting its losses or branding it an eventual success.

By Barcelona [the site of February's Mobile World Congress conference], we'll know for sure if Microsoft is in the game or not," Maitre said. And if not, he added, Microsoft will have to rethink its mobile strategy. Apparently so will Orange and the other carriers that have bought Windows Phones to resell to their customers.

For carriers like Orange, the Nokia World conference in London is an even earlier indicator of how well the Nokia Windows Phone phone may succeed in Europe. "If Nokia/Microsoft is not successful in Europe," Maitre said, "then it will be tough in other countries." Smartphones comprise more than 50 percent of Orange's phone sales, the SVP told CNET, and Europe accounts for the majority of smartphones sold compared to Orange's other regions.

Until next Wednesday's news breaks, Orange remains cautiously optimistic that Nokia's brand appeal will pay off.

When you have a Nokia phone," he said, "it's like you're driving a Mercedes Benz."