Orange will soon make 3G handsets available to its customers, anticipating that the convergence of telecommunications and data services will start to take hold in 2005, the French mobile carrier's CEO said on Monday.

"There's a lot of hype in the industry around convergence but more often than not we forget about practical applications and customers," Orange CEO Sanjiv Ahuja told attendees at the Etre technology conference in Cannes.

"But we will provide our customers with a few 3G handsets going into 2005," he said.

Thierry Breton, CEO of Orange's parent company, France Télécom SA, said earlier this year that the availability of handsets would be the most challenging part of its 3G strategy, which also includes upgrading its networks, developing services and attracting customers.

Ahuja said on Monday that Orange's biggest push this year would be in the area of mobile broadband. He predicted that the "early, early stages of convergence" will come in 2005. "This will not come by happenstance but through focus," Ahuja said.

However, government regulators may pose the greatest threat to the development of 3G services and the convergence of voice and data services, he said.

"Regulators could be the biggest challenge to convergence, especially if you happen to be the largest player in any one market," Ahuja said.

Orange has been under pressure from the French government to roll out commercial 3G services, after it and other operators missed launch deadlines agreed with France's telecommunications regulatory authority. Orange cited economic and technological hurdles as reasons for the delay.