The centre, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is within walking distance of the MIT Media Lab and Harvard University to encourage exchanges of ideas.
Orange will use the space to support small technology start-ups in which it has made investments, and a third of the space will be shared with R&D engineers from Orange's latest owner, France Télécom.
Orange officials acknowledged that it's a bit audacious to open an R&D centre amid a crushing downturn in telecoms and IT investment. "But actually, the greatest time to innovate is times like now," said Orange chief executive officer Graham Howe.
The Orange-backed start-ups include Wi-Fi software and hardware company RadioFrame Networks, voice and data networking company Nextel Networks,
and mobile data infrastructure company WaterCove Networks.
Others include PocketThis, maker of a software platform that allows customers to pocket Web content; ByteMobile, an IP networking company that speeds up wireless data transmissions; Digital Rum, creator of a wireless ticket-delivery system; and Danger, maker of the Hiptop handheld for e-mail, messaging and voice, which will be launches nationwide next month.
Orange operates in 22 countries and has 40 million customers, with 12 million in the UK and 18 million in France. Orange serves more than 60% of business customers in France.