One of the more interesting participants in the Baltic Sea Region Communications Forum is Mihail Zotov, the managing director of Triatel, the upcoming CDMA 450 operator. Triatel was formed by Zotov's Telekom Baltija, an international calling discounter, and SIA Radiokoms, an operator of private radio networks. Together, the companies moved into the 450 Mhz turf abandoned by Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) when it shut down its analog NMT network. The total cost of getting operator licences and the empty frequency was a few hundred LVL.
The incumbents, LMT and Tele2, had grudgingly shelled out LVL 5.8 million apiece for their UMTS licences in 2002. Neither seems eager to deploy anything. LMT showed it could do video calls on test equipment. It also announced something unmemorable about EDGE, but that's 2.5 G at best.
Telekom Baltija and Radiokoms announced they were going to build a CDMA 450 network and serve a niche business clientele, essentially providing the same bells and whistles as UMTS but on a different frequency. If anyone doesn't think that is a tossed gauntlet, just look at what happened at Česky Telekom, where the management of the mobile subsidiary got booted for setting up a CDMA 450 network that was seen as directly cannibalizing the fixed parent's DSL services.
Triatel, the brand the partners invented for all of their services, but which has stuck to the upcoming 3G mobiles, was subject to a number of suspicious hassles which I won't go into for the purposes of this blog, but it now looks like they will be starting commercial operations by late October. The company is already offering about four brands of CDMA 450 handsets and says these will plug into most laptops with a USB cable. I haven't seen that as part of any of the specs for these gadgets (by manufacturers that are obscure to me), but I trust what the Triatel people say. It makes sense. It makes these handsets high speed plug and play (or so one would hope) modems. The speeds promised are around 153 kbps initially. Triatel may offer higher speeds and QOS guarantees for a premium later, but there you have it – Latvia's de facto third 3G operator and the first to actually offer 3G services and handsets.
The next question is, does it make any sense at all to hold another auction for a third 3G/GSM licence? GSM might make sense, since people simply using handsets will be happy with the speeds of GPRS, maybe EDGE. I use a laptop at my summer house and the Bluetooth to Nokia 6600 via LMT's GPRS works a lot faster than the 14.4 kbps I get with my 56kbps laptop (Powerbook G4) modem on the so-called digital fixed line at the cottage.
Road warriors are another story. But there ain't that much down the road in Latvia, it is almost all in Riga. The city is now crawling with WiFi hotspots, and I once watched a Swedish guy do full screen streaming on his laptop of Swedish television's archived news from the night before at a Double Coffee. So this is FAST. Faster than I imagine 3G. I have a son in Sweden who is in the last year of high school, about five or six of his classmates have "3" phones that are practically tossed at passersby in Swedish malls. They send each other free or low cost video streams of lunch from the cafeteria to the classroom. Yeah, the 3G business model of the future - jerky spaghetti videos?
I don't think anyone is coming to UMTS round Two in Latvia. Declare it dead and avoid the repeat embarrassment of an auction to which nobody comes.