I've suggested to my day job newspaper that we interview Triatel's Mihail Zotov as a businessperson of the year for some kind of IT/Telecoms supplement magazine we plan to do (we do lots of magazines and supplements, actually it's no big deal). Mihail hasn't made the most money, Juris Binde of LMT takes that prize. Mihail simply upset everyone's apple cart. Paid 100 lats, set up shop (well, Telekom Baltija has been there for some time, to tell the truth), put up a test CDMA 450 network and there you have it – something ready to go commercial in those parts of Latvia where the money is. This left LMT and Tele2 gnashing their teeth. 5.8 million lats apiece for UMTS licenses up the chimney , as the Latvian saying goes.
But that is not the end of the story . Triatel is more than CDMA 450, that's only been the hot news. The brand actually applies to a range of services, mostly business oriented (but private customers are welcome). Much of that business is fixed line, but the real value in fixed line is in broadband and the services and QoS you can offer over the connection. There are close to 200 people in Latvia, including some businessy sounding names, who use Skype, and that's probably the tip of the iceberg, because not everybody fills in all blanks when they download and configure Niklas Zennstrom's latest toy. So voice, forget it...except mobile voice when you are not in a WiFi zone (saw some stuff on the net about Vonage and Boingo making something together, so there we go...). Plus John Tully (perhaps reader no. 6 of this blog) mails me that there will be WiFi/GSM triband handsets on the market.
So what's Triatel up to? My sources suggest the company may be going head to head with Lattelekom and all comers in using CDMA 450 as a high speed, fixed wireless internet platform. When fully equipped and juiced up, a CDMA-450 network can deliver 4 to 6 Mb downlink, so it is said. That's pretty good by comparison with ordinary DSL (256 kbps to the home via Lattelekom). It's the kind of solution you think of when Lattelekom asks an outrageous sounding price to wire a development of new homes, and the developer says "you should pay me for offering you to connect these people". A bit exaggerated, but a good point. The folks in this wealthy suburb would be spending money over the wire, and it's really Lattelekom's problem to scoop up some of that value. In the city, where everyone is wired or close to some fiber, maybe the fiber should be nearly free, so you expand the network participation as fast as possible and can start pumping premium stuff like digital TV, video on demand, games, whatever down the pipe.
So I see Triatel and Lattelekom competing in one way or another for the growing middle-class suburban customers who are a bit off the net in a 50 km radius around Riga. 6 megs to the home or between a few neighbors is a pretty good deal, especially if it's bundled with Triatel mobile subscription. Lattelekom's wireless RadioDSL has sort of dropped from sight (well, maybe I should ask them :) ), even though it was technically interesting, being genuine SDSL.
And now for the problems. Triatel will announce soon who its phone retailers will be, but according to my sources, it has been an uphill fight. DT Mobile, Latvia's biggest chain of mobile handset retailers (and an agent for LMT) hasn't come to a deal with Triatel. Look, also, for Triatel selling its phones on the net.