Friday, December 30, 2005

A year-end wrap and look ahead

I’m in Stockholm over New Year’s and have just a dial-up connection, so I’m writing this offline and hope I can manage to post it.
The year’s major events, to my mind, have been the arrival of Bite to spur competition in the mobile market as well as the emergence of Triatel as a viable alternative offering “telecoms in a box” and the first real 3G services in Latvia.
A couple of non-events: the government has not made up its mind whether to sell Lattelekom to its half-mother, TeliaSonera. At year end, it still looked ready to offer the fixed line operator, alone, to ABTS (anyone but TeliaSonera).
At Lattelekom, the non-event of the year has been IPTV, which we will see before Easter, but which has been promised us since last summer (when it was supposed to be launched in the fall). All one can say is SISFU (something is seriously fucked up), and perhaps I will find out when back in Latvia next week.
The pseudo-event of the year was IZZI saying that it was launching IPTV that looked exactly like its digital cable TV offering. It turns out that you can get IZZI digital over the internet if you a) have a 5 Mbps connection and b) rent or buy their decoder.
Since it doesn’t look like HomeDSL is going to jump to 5 Mbps before the end of 2006, why not just get their digital cable, which is reasonably priced and packaged, and why make a balagāns (a cheapo show) of pretending to have IPTV?
To be fair, this is a product one can offer for resale by other ISPs. We will see if that flies.
On December 1, number portability was introduced, but there was no stampede to switch. Bite had more than 50 000 users by year end, and perhaps just over 500 were switchers.
On the fixed side, a War of the Gagoons (Gāganu karš, colorful Latvian expression for much ado about nothing much) erupted between Baltkom and Lattelekom over number portability charges.
My analysis: yes, Lattelekom is probably overdoing it with their starting offer fees (they finally caved in to sharply lower interconnect fees ordered by the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission in 2004, it was not the end of the world); no, there will not be a stampede of thousands to Baltkom, rather, many hundreds who want their digital triple play – internet, TV and voice.
Fixed line is not where the action is. For international calls, you can get everything from Skype (free), Skype Out (cheap), various cheapo internet phone services and cards, and some pretty good tariffs from the bigger companies, including Lattelekom, if you pick the right tariff plan.

Looking to 2006

I predict:
Lattelekom will finally launch IPTV before Easter. Most people will shrug and say: „interesting“. If I were writing this in the evening on my HomeDSL line, maybe I could open a window and watch Panorama while typing (by year end 2006, maybe even watch BBC World).
Bite will get over 100 000 users, maybe more, by the end of Q2 2006.
Bite may launch flat fee business services by end Q2.

With a parliamentary general election in 2006, it is unlikely that the issue of privatizing Lattelekom and Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) will be settled. Maybe in 2007. Trust any Latvian government to a) procrastinate (drag its feet) and b) probably fuck it up, selling Lattelekom at a firesale to TDC, Telefonica or Telenor (these are near-hallucinatory guesses). TeliaSonera will get all of LMT before Kenneth Karlberg retires, in any case. Kenneth is a man in his prime ☺.

Someone will launch WiMax by the summer, at least in Riga.
Triatel will get several thousand small business/upscale household customers in the Riga suburbs and in some country towns. It will have to look seriously at 3G services (content, a portal, etc.) in addition to actually having the network running.

We will have another internet speed race during the year. 1 Mbps will be the standard home connection by year-end. In Riga, there will be premium home services that offer 8 Mbps, perhaps even 24 Mbps (as in Sweden).

The first cdma450/GSM hybrid phones may appear, an opportunity for Triatel, and a challenge/opportunity for the GSM operators. The first mid-priced GSM/WiFi handsets will also appear, challenging the GSM operators to offer some kind of home cell discount. After all, from my apartment, I can Skype the world through my home WiFi from a hybrid phone. There are also hundreds of public and private hotspots in downtown Riga, so GSM operators will have a problem.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy holidays to all!

Well, this is just to wish a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah (perhaps past already, despite going to my American high school with many Jews, I hereby flunk Basic Jewish Facts for the Goy 101 :( ), joyous Kwanzaa, Priecīgus saulgriežus (the Latvian pagan solstice, also past) and whatever else may be being celebrated at this otherwise dark and dreary time of year, except in Australia (where this site gets hits from, too :) ).

Your faithful but seasonal holiday-challenged blogger,

Juris Kaža

Monday, December 19, 2005

Another cdma operator??

I was asked not to write about this, so I am not telling you that a company that was awarded 20 000 mobile numbers, and, hitherto, has offered only fixed-line services (as an alternative operator), is not saying whether it will launch a cdma service, using the the cdma 450 and 800 spectrum. This unnamed company (the name is in the Latvian Public Utility Regulation Commission's announcement on number resource allocations on Dec 16) is not saying that it is not doing a virtual operator deal with, say, the most obvious – Bite. Instead, it is not hinting that it may launch a service in direct competition with Triatel. The truth will be known in the second half of January, the company didn't say.

:) :) :)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Izzi or Izzn't it IPTV??

I missed the Izzi dog and pony show with IPTV, but looking at the PowerPoint they sent me, it looks like it is their digital cable TV (same package, same price). So what is the story – IPTV is what I get when subscribe to this on top of their cable internet ( 1Mps for LVL 19.95 is not so bad, but then, LVL 4.00 plus LVL 1.50 for each packet of several programs plus the decoder to purchase or rent and it gets pricey). Izzi digital cable TV comes without the cable internet, or rather, the cable comes without the internet, but the product is the same.
So I don't really get this? Or does getting it matter? We are in the age of one plug in the wall, many services, no need to know (other than curiousity, bad for cats) where they come from and how they come. Everything is a feature of an always on digital pipe. Call it what you want.
With pretty pictures of a set-top decoder box in the Izzi PPS, it doesn't look like something you will be able to watch on a PC (or Mac, in my case). The Lattelekom IPTV deal, which looks like it will appear in Q1 2006, will be available on PCs first (and may not fully work on Macs, my inside sources tell me). They will go for the set top box sometime in Q3 2006, assuming there are no delays or additional f**kups.
It remains to be seen whether Izzi gets an unbeatable first mover advantage. Will it cannibalize its digital cable with IPTV? Not if the eaten and the eater are the same thing, as they appear to be. What I think the Izzi digital cable offering has going for it is that it is focussed and gives defined packages of programs, with the basic one going for LVL 4.00 a month (cheaper than Baltcom). Baltcom's digital selection is around 100 channels, including lots of weirdo stuff, Korean satellite TV, etc. And how many German channels showing dubbed American films with black policemen shouting "Hände hoch motherfucker" can you stand? As far as the ethnic Russian target audience, when you are paying around LVL 11 a month for those 100 channels, everyone will be fighting babushka to watch Eurosport or MTV (which I think has a Russian channel) instead of nostalgic Soviet movies.
It's gonna be a weird year...

The Vlog is live

My second Vlog attempt in English has gone live on for those interested. I am not sure how you make a direct link. Google-owned Blogger certainly doesn't make it easy, probably not even possible. So do check it out, there isn't all that much stuff that searching under Latvia will get you on Google Video.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Re: The Vlog

It is taking Google Video all of a day to "verify" my submission. This is pretty amazing, considering the incredible, bizarre shit that you find on this site. All I have is a talking head, for f**k's sake! I wonder who let past (it was actually funny, I will admit) an episode of what could politely be called "ignition of intestinal gasses". There are clips where people blow up small dead reptiles (or whateverthef**k toads are) with firecrackers. I think they even blasted a dead rabbit. There are actual battle scenes from Iraq with people screaming obscenities, gunfire and explosions. There are amateur rock videos with someone else's music. They used to call that plagiarism. From Latvia, I have seen a weird clip about traffic safety from the 1930s and a fascinating "art of the banal" clip of riding a bus across the suspension bridge in Riga.
So what the f**k is taking Google so long?
Sorry, end of the day. one needs to rant.

IZZI beats Lattelekom on IPTV

Izzi, the company formerly known as TeliaMultiCom, has invited journalists to a demo of its IPTV service on December 15. I don't know if I will attend. Unfortunately, my late uncle's second wife, a retired lecturer in economics at the University of Latvia, died last week and her funeral will be held tommorrow afternoon. As the only representative of the family (my parents live in the US) in these parts, I will be paying my respects.
In any case, it will be interesting to test the Izzi service, assuming it can be accessed from Lattelekom's HomeDSL. It also remains to be seen how much of a first mover advantage Izzi will get from this, and how much it will cannibalize Izzi's digital cable TV service, which it is also launching.

Second video blog in English

Well, I just uploaded my second attempt at a video blog. It started as an attempt to do a one-way video chat with my oldest son in Umeå, Sweden, who has an identical computer to mine (an iMac G5) but no camera yet. So with the camera connected (and, yes, the fan hissing and all that shit in the background, plus it being nearly 2 am, the wee hour of the weird night) I did something. It is called Latvian Telecoms Vlog2 and you can find it at as soon as it is approved and put up. This is still an experiment. Someday, I will take the camera into the field, maybe interview someone, edit it, etc. etc.
Maybe something when I am in Sweden after Christmas?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Lattelekom slips back into retailing

Lattelekom opened the first of what will apparently be several Apollo «digital gadget and services» boutiques at a Riga shopping center. The idea is to sell desktop PCs, SOHO (small office, home office) equipment such as copiers, faxes, scanners and printers, wireline phone handsets, digital cameras and various things for the gadgeterati, as well as subscriptions to phone lines and DSL internet.

Where have we seen this before?
A year ago, Lattelekom' s then one and only subsidiary Sakaru Sistemas sold its 11 TeleParks retail shops to mobile phone dealer DT Mobile. DT Mobile owns the Dual and Trodeks chains of mobile phone shops, and it is converting the former TeleParks shops to Trodeks IT (or something like that).

What is missing here?
Well, whatever you may be able to buy at the Apollo store, it probably won't be a mobile phone and subscription (or prepaid). I may be wrong, I haven't been to the place, but there is only one dealer where you can get what small businesses really want, which is "telecoms in a box" and that is Triatel. It is, even with desktop phones, a totally wireless solution, so some business might be wary of that. But it does give a signal to Lattelekom (and Latvian Mobile Telephone) to get their act together.
Still, smart and logical as it may be, it isn't likely. My sources tell me that people at LMT are convinced that they and only they will be put up for full adoption by the half-mother, TeliaSonera, and that the half mother will orphan Lattelekom, to be sold on the cheap to whomever.
Back in Sweden, there are press stories that the half-mother has been consorting with Russia's Alfa Group, which has substantial telecoms interests and may be seeking to make peace and establish cooperation after participating in a perejoba (excuse my poor Russian, but the idea is along the lines of a f**king over) of TeliaSonera in its futile efforts to by all of Turkcell, a Turkish mobile operator.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Major failure of Lattelekom DSL network??

There seems to have been a major collapse of Lattelekom's DSL network the night from Thursday to Friday. I write via Bluetooth and my GPRS Nokia phone. The help line for DSL was overwhelmed, then had a recording saying in more polite terms that everything was clusterf**ked. It still has not been restored. A disaster. How big and long, we shall know tommorrow. Good to have a back-up via mobile. One more reason to get an EDGE phone.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

More pleas from the half-mother

Kenneth Karlberg, head honcho for Baltics, Denmark and Norway of TeliaSonera, told a press conference that it was now or never for selling the state participations in Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and Lattelekom. In case you are wondering, " never " is between six months and a year, when the Swedish telecoms group would like to finish some kind of deal with the Latvian government.
Karlberg and Erik Hallberg, an even bigger TeliaSonera honcho and member of Lattelekom's board (?) along with press flack (in a good sense) Kjell Lindström met with the troika appointed by the government to deal with the question of privatization of both partly state-owned Latvian operators. These were Minister of Economics Krisjanis Karins (sometimes referred to as "the widow's son), Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers and Minster of Finance Oskars Spurdzins.
Karlberg said the meeting had been "positive" and discussions would continue. There were no concrete results. He said he hoped the talks would be concluded in six months to a year with some kind of result.
The troika has been dealing with the question since last summer and had its mandate extended in the fall. According to my sources, one of the thornier issues is "legal matters that are not clear". What this seems to hint at is that the government is still sticking to the view that Lattelekom should be sold to anyone but TeliaSonera, therefore, a way of getting around TeliaSonera's right of first refusal has to be found.
However, reading between the lines of Karlberg's statement, it appears that the government may be open to arguments that, perhaps, selling Lattelekom as a stand-alone wireline operator may not be the smartest thing and that ownership of both fixed and mobile won't diminish competition in Latvia, but will increase it, as is the case, Karlberg said, in Lithuania and Estonia.
Another of my sources indicated that at the upper levels of LMT, there appears to be a belief that they will be the only maiden to marry the Swedish prince (women at a certain newspaper have made remarks that Karlberg is "quite handsome"). Hence LMT brushed off an offer to cooperate with a daughter of the sister they believe will be left behind. Of course, Juris Binde, the father of the proud "first bride" could be proven wrong.
Karlberg also spend considerable time describing the mating frenzy that has taken place in European telecoms (reminds me of the frog orgy near my summer house, everyone hopping on top of everyone else). TeliaSonera, he pointed out, has been mating with every available froggy in the Baltic pond and is now the number one bullfrog in most of the region's markets, and rich to boot. But where there are fat bullfrogs, there could be swooping Spanish storks or giant German turtles. We shall see.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Something afoot with TeliaSonera and the Latvian companies

TeliaSonera regional honcho Kenneth Karlberg has called a press conference for December 8 at 1430 regarding talks with the government commission discussing whether to privatize the government's remaining holdings in Latvian Mobile Telephone/LMT (28 % directly) and Lattelekom (51 %).
There may have been a breakthrough. The best scenario is that the government agrees in principle to sell both companies to TeliaSonera, which allows their integration and a single customer facing service platform ranging from fixed and mobile voice to sophisticated data services.
The worst case scenario is that Lattelekom gets renationalized in a swap of shares for LMT, the only prize that TeliaSonera wants almost at all cost. If there is no clear, fast exit scenario for the state from Lattelekom, look for the present management to probably leave. Lattelekom then, in the name of mechanical price competition, becomes a very cheap asset (fixed line being of limited, if not no future) for someone like Telefonica or TDC to snatch. They will then turn the company into a full spectrum service provider (TDC by linking Bite with Lattelekom).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

No one wild in the streets for number porting

It appears that the Latvian public is not going wild in the streets for number portability. There has been little action on the mobile side, though I have not checked out Bite. However, I believe that had their first 1 000 signed up (getting a Nokia 6230i for LVL 1 in the bargain), there would have been an annoucement. It appears only a few hundred have taken the plunge for all forms of porting, mostly on the fixed line side. Baltkom says 400 people expressed an interest in switching and predicted some 2000 would do so by the end of the week. That sounds interesting, but it is a trivial percentage of 600 000 Lattelekom subscribers. For Baltkom, to be sure, it is a double digit rise as they don't have very many subscribers, around 10 000, perhaps (though not bad for an alternative operator). Baltkom and Latvenergo (if they are still eager to do telecoms) will probably gain more subscribers in the medium term by signing up people in the newly-built housing developments and offering them very fast internet, digital TV and telephony all in one. I tend to think that many of the Lattelekom refugees to Baltkom live in areas covered by Baltkom's fiber optic network and number portability removes the last barrier to getting Baltkom's reasonably attractive triple play packet.
The time is drawing near when Lattelekom will have to match the triple-play offered by other operators (a weird kind by Izzi), but that means getting its IPTV service launched. A dead Apollo TV link has, yet again, appeared on the website, but don't count on TV on your Apollo internet connection by Christmas. Q1 2006 is a safe bet.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Muted, but noticable interest for number porting

There was muted but noticable interest in Latvia for number portability, which became available December 1. Strangely, Bite Latvija, which expects to gain the most from the new service, was not quite ready to take porters – it was training its sales staff. However, the Bite boutique in Riga was crowded with people signing on as new customers. Some 1000 had called Bite's customer line about possibly porting. Starting December 5, the first 1 000 number porters will get a Nokia 6230i business class phone for LVL 1.
LMT also said it had around 1000 (more by day's end) inquiries about signing on as a new customer, but it was not clear how many involved porting older numbers. Tele2 also said there was considerable interest and is hold a press event on December 2 to announce preliminary results. Both operators said the increased customer activity reflected the impact of recent marketing efforts -- Tele2 and LMT's new tariff schemes and Tele2's 3G video telephony service.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Waving the carrots of December

So here we are. In a few hours, as I write, number portability will become available in Latvia. There will probably be no rush to switch (mobile) operators, but there are certainly carrots to be waved.

Bite Latvija is offering a Nokia 6230i for LVL 1 for the first 1 000 "refugees" from another operator. It expects to repeat its Lithuanian experience, where more than 32 ooo of the 49 000 number porters went to Bite GSM.
Tele2 has launched its 3G service with videotelephony and, within the next couple of weeks, will also offer high speed, 3G data services (internet browsing via a phone connected to a laptop). The initial speed will be around 384 kbps, but 3G is theoretically capable of up to 2 Mbps.
Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) says around 1 million (!) holders of pre-paid cards are excluded from number portability and could only switch, keeping their numbers, by first becoming subscribers – something which may be possible for LMT O-Karte holders and the holders of Tele2's prepaids, but not virtual operator Zetcom's Amigo and Hello cards.
LMT will launch 3G data services and video calls shortly after the turn of the year, my sources say.
Meanwhile, Triatel has had its 1 Mbps (at best, 2.4 Mbps) wireless internet service available for a week and resold by Izzi, the cable TV and internet company formerly known as Telia MultiCom.
So let the party begin.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tele2 launches 3G video telephony

Tele2 announced on November 29 that it is launching 3G video telephony service and opening a mobile internet portal for other 3G services.
The company may have gotten a jump on Latvian Mobile Telephone(LMT), which had scheduled a press conference for the same day. However, some sources say that LMT will not be announcing 3G video, but something entirely different.
Video calls will initially cost LVL 0.15 per minute and will be possible only within the Tele2 network. There will be rebates for customers on certain tariff plans. Video telephony will initially be available in Riga, where there is 3G network coverage.
The portal, 3GGolive, will presumably offer entertainment services at 3G download speeds.
The move by Tele2 is a surprise, as the company has been rather reluctant to push high-end services. It now looks like Tele2 will be pushing 3G phones at its shops, as they have scheduled a demonstration of the service using available Nokia (the 6630) and Ericsson phones.
According to LMT, there were only around 1 500 3G phones on its network. Tele2 doesn't disclose such data, but there is no reason to assume that they have more 3G phones. It remains to be seen how pushing sales of certain models (presumably pre-configured for 3G services in Latvia) will contribute to expanding sales.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Doing the half-mother's work in Latvia??

Lattelekom and the Siamese sister of its half-mother TeliaSonera (that would be TeliaSonera in Finland) are working on a secretive project that could lead to a major outsourcing/nearsourcing of certain TeliaSonera business functions to Latvia.
According to one rumor, TeliaSonera is looking at what Tele2 did -- which was to start moving all billing operations for its 30 million European customers to Latvia. Billing may not be the exact process involved, but it is some back office routine that it would make sense to nearsource.
The project, which has been run as a pilot experiment, probably involving business process ourtsourcing subsidiary C1, has so far involved off-loading extra work from Finland (data entry and that kind of stuff) during peak periods to Latvia.
A final decision will be made in the early months of 2006 as to how to go further. The issue is sensitive because of union worries in Finland (where TeliaSonera is not doing well under market pressure).
Interestingly, this fits into the vision of some Lattelekom executives that much of TeliaSonera's backoffice work could be done in Latvia or the Baltics. Whatever happens to the never-ending story of TeliaSonera seranading the Latvian government to let it but Latvian Mobile Telephone and Lattelekom, in a few years we may see that TeliaSonera has operationally moved to Riga from Sweden, or at least placed some mission-critical operations here. That will be, hopefully, a pleasant surprise in 2010 for Telefonica Nordica, formerly known guess :).

Thursday, November 24, 2005

IPTV may bring faster Lattelekom DSL speeds

Although Lattelekom's planned but yet-to-be launched IPTV service will use around half (or 1 Mbps) of the 2 Mbps "open garden" speed of household DSL connections, the build-out of ADSL2+ in connection with the new service lays the groundwork for super-fast DSL in the future.
This blogger learned that the upgrade of Lattelekom's DSL network makes it possible to achieve speeds of up to 24 Mbps on parts of the network closes to the local switch (assuming the local copper loop is in good condition, etc.). This means that at some point, Lattelekom may be able to match the high speeds and value-for-money pricing of broadband in Sweden, where LVL 20 per month will get you 24 Mpbs or (probably not using DSL) up to 100 Mbps.
As for IPTV, my guess is that it will start working sometime after the New Year. There may be some testing going on now with a handful of users. That may expand somewhat in the next week or two. My personal guess is 60-40 that there will be Lattelekom IPTV by January 15, 75-25 by February 1. This year, well, remotely maybe...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dizzy Izzi launches triple play (sort of...)

Telia MultiCom turned into Izzi (a play on easy if you speak English like a Slavic villain in a James Bond movie -- it vud be izzi to kill you now, Meester Bond) and announced a triple play package of digital cable TV, wireless broadband ( 1 Mbps) and mobile telephone. The latter will be available in early 2006, as an Izzi pre-paid card and a post-paid service operatingon Bite Latvija's network (Bite, meanwhile, spent the day amusing and annoying downtown Riga with a drum corps under its banner, they even marched past the Izzi press conference).
I will admit to being blindsided. I thought that the company formerly known as Telia MultiCom would merely announce its new name (it is no longer owned by Telia, and the name has to go in early 2006) and that would be the end of it. As far as digital cable TV, it has been projecting a "we won't touch it with a ten-meter stick" image while secretly negotiating for its "interest group" program packages with content providers. They sure put me to sleep :). For LVL 4.00 a month, you get 20 channels from Izzi, including the Latvian public service and commercial ones, and for an additional LVL 1.50 per month, you can pick according to interests, Science & Sports (weird, but no World Bowling, no Discovery Civilization or whatever is the deal), the World (BBC World, Deutsche Welle, the Polish channel, etc.), Music, Film & Cartoons, Russian and Adult (XXX, for LVL 3.00).
The wireless internet service, available in the Riga area, is an out of the box cdma450 deal that will get you 1 Mbps for around LVL 29.50 per month, cheaper than the LVL 50 that Ultra DSL over a wire costs from Lattelekom, and somewhat more expensive than the LVL 23.60 you pay for Triatel's wireless internet, also launched on the same day. Guess who is reselling whom :)?
Further down the line, Izzi sees interactive digital and IPTV (to its cable internet subscribers and other broadband users who get a decoder card for their modems. Izzi thinks it will launch its IPTV service before Lattelekom's Apollo does, which is a pretty bold statement, except that it may mean that people in the business know that something is very seriously bumsen oben (that's how Google translates "fucked up" to German :) :) ). There is talk of a missed equipment delivery, I must gather the determination to call the poor guy in charge who blabbed back during the summer how all this was going to be up and running very soon. Instead, a silent one writes about it – except this blog – but everyone senses it. Unfortunately, even grim and savage stories have to be told, as the late Hunter Thompson would say.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Triatel to officially announce wireless broadband

It looks like Triatel will finally officially announce its wireless broadband offering on November 22. This blog had the news on October 10. The cdma450 based solution will offer best effort speeds of between 200 and 600 kbps, not "real" broadband., but with a maxiumum speed of up to 2.4 Mbps. That is not bad for what will be a moderately priced nomadic broadband service. The primary target will probably be small town businesses as part of a "telecoms in a box" offering with mobile handsets, fixed wireless desktop phones (with inhouse PBX features), and the wireless internet modem or laptop card.
Sign me up for next summer at my summer house! And remember where you saw this news first.

On the "rats" of Latvian telcos, with a strange backstory

Today I was contacted by a young reporter for another publication who considers me an expert on telecoms. Flattering.
She asked what would happen with the 30 or so alternative voice service providers in Latvia. That inspired me to write what I told her for this blog, but first, a strange digression.
This summer, because of a dispute with the management of my newpaper, I had reached what the hilarious Google Translate German version of my writings would call "bumsen weg" stage of relations with this institution (that is how it translated "fuck off", test the thing if you don't believe me). Anyway, I did secretly visit the newspaper across the river, as we call it, and saw the smart lady business editor, told her that I had had a row with my editor and might be interested in paddling across. The business editor said she had no openings, but was working with a couple of barely 20-somethings trying to make a semblance of a business page, etc. etc,
A few weeks later, the lady who I went to look for a job with because I had a row with my editor had a row with her editor, quit and left the paper-across-the-river and is freelancing or whatever. The 20-somethings were left "motherless" which is how the business page has looked from time to time.
I have stayed where I am, a truce has been called with my editor and that is where things stand for now.
So now I suspect I may have been called up by one of those "motherless" 20-somethings, though I could be terribly wrong.

And to the point:

I told her that I strongly suspected most of the 30-odd little operators got their revenues from IP telephony, connecting their code to a POP and a leased fat pipe. Hence the leaflets in the outlying housing projects offering calls to anywhere in the world for LVL 0.07 per minute, which is far less than Lattelekom offers, but only a little less than Triatel, one of the bigger alternative players, offers on its fixed and mobile wireless network.
When asked whether number portability would bring changes to the fixed network market, I said that the main sense I saw was to be able to move one's number to a different switch within one dialing region. All the action will be in the mobile space, and then, probably not all that much.
For customers who want cheaper foreign calls, operator pre-selection serves this purpose. There are actually very few alternative networks to move your fixed number to. Baltkom with its fiber optic network in Riga could be one. However, for local calls, anyone who makes lots of them can probably cut a deal with Lattelekom (lowest rates at certain times are LVL 0.05 per minute, only free is cheaper, so get Skype).
This brings me to my next point, which is that the future of the fixed network is DSL or some other high speed internet connection with quality voice as a low priced feature and do-it-yourself voice (or video calling or whatever) essentially "free" (included in the monthly all you can eat fee). That, in turn, means that the next battle among fixed line operators will be when local loop unbundling is implemented, and small operators want to buy lines from Lattelekom or have their own DSL equipment (DSLAMs) hosted by Lattelekom. While I have not looked into it in detail, I understand this has caused some friction between BT in Britain and its rivals. Here I could see someone like Latnet finally making good on its pre-2003 musings about offering telephony. Instead of fixed line voice, maybe they will want to buy lines and run their own DSL service instead of re-selling Lattelekom's DSL. I am merely speculating, I have not heard anyone at Latnet say this.
I also came up with a great quote for the reporter from-across-the-river : "Fixed voice is a a sinking ship, and the battle for customers is among rats on that ship. Lattelekom is seen as the the big fat nasty rat, but there is no point in winning against it as the whole ship is going down."

For my German readers - laugh your Arsch off :):)

I have been experimenting with Google Analytics and see that I have some readers of the blog in Germany. I am sure your English is excellent, but if you want to start the week with a good laugh, check out the way Google Translate translates the blog into German. See if you can find the bizarre rendition of the American expression "fuck up" . Well, machine translation has a way to go.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Students to hold OpenOffice Latvian adaptation marathon

Students at the University of Latvia are holding a marathon adaptation session on November 19 to make the open-source application suite OpenOffice fully functional in the Latvian language. Programmers are expected to sit up to six hours at a stretch translating and tweaking the programs to work with Latvian fonts and with fully Latvian menus.
This is reported by Latvian-language blogger Kristaps Kaupe, an IT specialist who blogs on IT and, sometimes, political themes at
I don't know whether the whizkids will produce a Mac version of OpenOffice, but if they do, it would be interesting to try it.

Bite starts postpaid, WhiteHat «speaks»

Bite Latvija has launched its postpaid service, Bite Private, with an interesting feature, Bite Family, which allows up to four SIM cards/phones per one subscriber (a physical person). It allows free calls between these phones and, obviously, is aimed mainly at families or small networks of friends and relatives. However, it can also be used for small business purposes and is probably a forerunner of closed-group services for business customers which will offer free or very low cost calling among members of the group.
Bite also opened 10 points of sale of its services, subsidized and retail price phones, accessories and the like. A Bite boutique opened in Riga, and there will be Bite stands at several electronics stores in Riga and Daugavpils.
Meanwhile, WhiteHat of the Riga airport hacking scandal writes that the announcement by the airport admitting its network could be compromised was more open and honest than he had expected. WhiteHat expresses satisfaction that the problems are being solved but at the same time emphasizes that corporate data security in Latvia is poor.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Vlog weirdness

I made a second and third attempt at a Vlog after finally getting the right (we shall soon see) software for it. My second attempt was in English to begin, but in attempting to edit it in Quicktime Pro, I, well, fucked it up. I then recorded a Latvian version. I will attempt either to place it here, or on as Here didn't work :(. So search for it.
To be honest, I think a Vlog only makes sense if you have good "real"video, like an interview, edited, etc. For example, if I had taken my digital camera to today's opening of the Bite mobile store and customer center in Riga, there might have been some things to show.
I am off to bed before I commit more insanity...

Monday, November 14, 2005

100 000 fixed line switchers after December 1??

At least 100 000 fixed-line users would leave Lattelekom and switch, mainly, to Baltkom's voice services, so says a very high Baltkom official speaking off-the-cuff to this blogger.
Baltkom and the Latvian Telecommunications Association (LTA) held a press conference today, November 14, to deplore Lattelekom's alleged foot-dragging on number portability. Lattelekom has been instrumental in setting up an alternative number data base to the one run by the state agency the Electronic Communications Office. It has also circulated a proposed set of rules for porting the numbers of its customers. This would cost the recipient company LVL 7.20 for re-registering the number plus LVL 4.07 a month for upholding the portability service thereafter.
The alternative operators say this amounts to charging a second subscription fee on top of what they would charge their customers for use of their lines and network (fixed line number portability only works when there is an alternative network, otherwise it is operator pre-selection and you pay the subscription fee to Lattelekom but get the bill for all services automatically from the alternative operator.) Baltkom, the Latvian Railways, Latvenergo and some smaller operators have their own networks and/or numbering ranges.
Lattelekom says it has signed an agreement on its own terms with Telenet, with the alternative operator also entitled to get LVL 7.20 and LVL 4.07 per month for any of its customers who jump to Lattelekom.
The claim that Lattelekom would loose 100 000 subscribers is impressive at first, but some questions must be answered. If these people are looking for "bottom santim" costs, then they will bring little revenue to anyone to whom they are ported to. Lattelekom would only say good riddance to its low revenue customers and perhaps even be happy that Baltkom and Peteris Smidre was now stuck with them.
The migration of these customers only makes business sense if you are attracting medium to high level spenders who jump to Baltkom's triple-play services, buying voice (with prepaid free minutes), internet and digital cable for one two-digit price per month (which is about three or four times more than they would generate in revenues as a mere line subscriber), Baltkom probably has a couple of thousand of these bigger spenders already, but I doubt that it will extract any more value from its approximately 180 000 cable subscribers by getting them signed on for telecoms as well.
The real battle of the near future is when it becomes clear that broadband is the default fixed network service and when one or more of the alternative providers ask to set up their own DSLAMs at Lattelekom switch locations and to buy/lease the local loop to carry the signal to end-users along copper.
This may not be of great interest to Baltkom, which is developing its own Ethernet and fiberoptic based solutions for its cable customers and also on some new housing projects, where it is going in with a complete multimedia platform solution. But there may be a business case for other operators to sell cheaper and, above all, faster DSL lines (Lattelekom will get you 128 kps for LVL 6.99, but LVL 25 in Sweden will get you from 24 to 100 Mbps)
and cut a deal for buying capacity in bulk from the incumbent.

More on the airport...

My posts on the apparent security weaknesses of Riga International Airport's webserver have generated a freewheeling discussion, alas, in Latvian, which I can sum up as follows:

Anonymous (a frequent visitor representing different identities :) ) says that I am not knowledgeable about IT security issues and didn't know that what was done to the server was cross-scripting, something done by script kiddies and harmless. Although this technique could be used "to steal authentication information and small files" (?!), it would only affect portals with many visitors and not an informative site like, where it could, at worst, be used to deface the site. Your blogger is, to rephrase anonymous, called an IT-ignorant running dog of the yellow press (ROFLMAO).

I reply that according to Wikipedia, cross-scripting is not a trivial problem.

Anon comes back and suggests I look for faults with the website of the Bureau for Protection of the Constitution (a kind of Latvian counterintelligence service).

BH comes in and supports this position, noting that the airport spokesman said a compromise of the intranet was possible, and BH also says that cross-scripting could be used to erase files. on the server.

Anon then wonders whether BH is a white hat hacker (my WhiteHat), which he is not.

So much for that so far...

Riga Airport admits hack, denies safety threat

Riga International Airport officials admitted the homepage of the airport could be hacked, but denied that this posed a threat to air traffic safety. Air traffic control was based on a seperate computer network which could not be reached through the homepage
It was the first official confirmation by airport officials (speaking to the news agency LETA) that vulnerabilities reported on this blog and the press existed.
This blog and the report in my day-job newspaper never suggested that flight operations (air traffic control) was threatened, merely that access to the airport's intranet and mail systems could expose confidential information about anti-terrorist measures and contingency plans. I don't know what speculation was reported in other media.
The source who demonstrated an apparent ability to control the airport's server said that the intranet and mailserver were vulnerable, but deliberately avoided attempting this. The source (whom I called WhiteHat) is connected to a reputable IT-related company and said that making an attempt to penetrate the airport's corporate intranet would be going one step too far without the consent of airport authorities.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

An interesting quote from British Telecom

Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of British Telecom (BT) in an interview published in the International Herald Tribute ( – the content is free, I recommend it, but read it too rarely :( ):
"I firmly believe this is an industry that has to reinvent its reason for existing. Companies will have to change what they need to sell, change how they sell, and therefore change their culture."

Note that Nils Melngailis, the CEO of Lattelekom, is a fan of BT, and he seems to be doing some reinventing of his own : business process outsourcing, IPTV, letting go of voice in favor of a long-range plan to have DSL as the basic platform with multiple services (many on a revenue sharing basis for content) and voice simply as one feature of broadband.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

LMT running a focus group for mobile TV

Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) is running some kind of focus-group experiment to determine what gets watched on its mobile TV service and how to package and price it. Mobile TV, available since the summer via GPRS and EDGE (not clear if it works at 3G speed in Riga, where most of the city now has UMTS coverage), cost LVL 0.05 per minute. That means you can burn the price of a feature movie (about LVL 3.00 at the Forum Cinemas in Riga) watching an hour of TV on your marvelous little Nokia 2.5 inch screen.
The focus group people (who may be a hundred or more) are allowed unlimited viewing to see what interests them. The next step will be to tailor the content appropriately. It certainly looks like LMT and the content providers are interested in finding the right mix and pricing before someone like Bite beats them to it. There were representatives from LMT and Latvian commercial TV operators TV3 and LNT at the recent Nordic Mobile Media conference in Vilnius, where some really impressive technologies and systems were shown. Vilnius, needless to say, is Bite's home turf.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Equipment delivery glitch delays Latvian IPTV

An equipment delivery glitch is behind the delay of the anticipated mid-October launch of Lattelekom's IPTV service. my sources tell me.
The service was supposed to be made available free of cost until at least year-end to all DSL internet susbcribers.
It now appears that IPTV will be launched by the end of November, although no one is making any promises until all the boxes are screwed into place.

Riga Airport: we're skeptical but working on it

The head of IT at Riga's International Airport said he didn't believe that my source (let's call him WhiteHat) had actually gained even partial control of the airport's webserver. A preliminary inspection of logs didn't show any intrusions, leading the airport IT honcho (let's call him RIXSysadmin) to assert that the whole thing was either a) faked or b) very sophisticated, leaving no obvious traces. All I can say is that WhiteHat didn't strike me as, to use a charming expression from British English - a nutter. RIXSysadmin also appears to be taking the whole incident (see the earlier post) quite seriously and says that when a complete check is finished, there will be an official statement from the airport through its Press Secretary. That sounds good so far.
RIXSysdamin was also a bit peeved at the story being published in a certain paper and, perhaps, here as well. I pointed out that the real Merry Pranksters already probably know about any fun to be had on the airport's systems, as there are hacker sites, etc., where new, fun places are posted every day. I doubt that the typical reader of my newspaper or even of this blog will run off to crack the airport's intranet and print its fire drill scheme.
Meanwhile, WhiteHat wrote saying that he had e-mailed someone in RIXSysadmin's position about a year ago, warning of the vulnerability. Nothing happened. He says he may ask for permission to do some more probing and show that he can get pretty far into the airport network if he wanted to.
The story goes on...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Riga Airport easy to hack?

A source e-mailed me, then met me at a cafe with wireless internet and proceeded to demonstrate how easy it was to take control of the webserver of Riga International Airport. My source, an IT specialist employed by a respectable company, said it would probably be easy to get into the airport's intranet or internal web, as well as its mailserver. Sensitive information with regard to security, anti-terrorist precautions, etc., could probably be found on both. One reason for this could be that the webserver, at least, was running Windows NT4, as installed in 2000 and that there seemed to be no apparent security precautions.
What was demonstrated to me was how to command the server to access an image from another website, an indication that other commands given by non-authorized parties could be executed or inserted remotely, including malicious code and malware. This will be in my day job newspaper on November 10.
Above is a screenshot of the "experiment". The person in the image has nothing to do with any of this, it was randomly lifted from, a social networking site.

So much for Vlogging...

Putting video on the platform, which is the basis for this blog, is not as easy as some other websites claim. One says that you can host video content on, which you join after joining something called the internet archive. Having done that, I simply get an unrecognized login or password. At some point I will go through all that freebie how-to-do-it shit again, but maybe one should wait until Apollo TV gets off the ground here in Latvia. Which reminds me, WTF is it? Next investigation...
Launch of this TV service via Lattelekom's Apollo internet was scheduled – so I was told – for October 15, so we are three weeks off schedule and already losing any meaning for the "free until year end" promised for the service. Four weeks of free internet TV may not be enough to give anyone much of a taste for a) the free to air Latvian channels you can see on regular TV and b) a bunch of Russian satellite channels that Latvia's typical cable-TV viewer, a Russian granny, watches. I don't think the grannies/babushkas are going to get their grandchildren to stop playing Doom III on the 17 inch computer monitor so they can watch their vintage Russian/Soviet-era films.

A bizarro experiment

Well, I am going to try to see whether it is possible to do a Vlog. Next time, I will work on lights, sound, shaving, and not looking like I have been on a three day bender* (it's past midnight and it is "the camera and lighting).
*bender = plosts or bujāns for my Latvian fans

I have retried this, my recording didn't upload. Blogger doesn't take video, but I have linked to some, probably bullshit site with another experiment. It looks like there will be a great deal of fucking around before this works... (And checking, it is pretty bad, ratty sound. The only reason I did this was the inevitable effects of a Double Coffee cappuccino at lunch. Your mind doesn not stop until now. What time is it? Don't ask. A shot of whiskey and to bed...)

So here is the video.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Be aware of Norwegians with silly names

If you want to set up your own global broadcasting network (using broadband TV) or if you want to aggregate digital video content, that is, one, two, three, many "Me TV" projects, just look to Norway's Rubber Duck Media Lab. For about 750 Euro a month, you can rent a TV platform and broadcast you own or your aggregated content to broadband TV and mobile TV viewers anywhere.
What this effectively means is that companies will appear, re-selling space on the Rubber Duck platform, allowing anyone to have their own TV channel or media stream -- music, images, whatever, for a trivial sum. Classic broadcast television is dead and internet-based streaming video, user-generated content, sometimes intermediated by trusted platforms (v-loggers, vlog editors, even cutting edged "real" media such as Norway's VG) is the wave of the future.
Silly as its name may be, Rubber Duck was another interesting Norwegian company that I met at the recent Mobile Media Conference in Vilnius. They run their sales out of London, but host such programming as US-based Fox Television on servers in Norway. Anyone wanting Fox content on certain US mobile operators gets it from the land of fjords, fish and oil.
The interesting thing is that Norway, with such cutting edge, globally disruptive technology, is only twice as big as Latvia in population (around 4.5 million) and, aside from its offshore oil, geographically disadvantaged compared to Latvia (it is much bigger and Oslo, the capital, may be closer to North Africa than it is to some towns above the Polar Circle). Plus you have mountains and wilderness, wilderness and mountains, more wilderness, several fjords, yet more mountains, wilderness yet again.. you get the picture.
It would seem there is no reason Latvia can't produce companies like Rubber Duck that are on the cutting edge of the 21st century infosphere. We are not talking about building a USD 2 billion, 500 meter high offshore platform (if you are looking for "classic" industrial technology, assembled --where else are you going to do it :) - in Norway, build in various places), but about powerful knowledge economy technologies that run on equipment worth, probably, less than LVL 100 000.
It's not like Latvia hasn't tried. There are some streaming video sites available. When I read that fellow blogger (the link is in Latvian) Kristaps Kaupe had appeared on a talk show discussing gay marriage (his nationalist party is vehemently opposed, I am a libertarian in this regard), I wanted to get the streamed version (I missed the show), I got a Windows Media Player (for Mac) window on my iMac G5 (running Safari) and then .... nothing. This does not look good. It is not the first dead link I have seen, not only on, but on other Latvian sites, too.

The mobile personal infosphere

I was just at a very interesting conference on Mobile Media in Vilnius, where one of the most fascinating presentations was by Torry Pedersen of what used to be the Norwegian newspaper VG (Verdens Gang) but is now a kind of electronic, interactive, reader and citizen-driven infosphere. The used-to-be-just a newspaper has developed an information management platform that lets readers and tipsters send in photos and video clips, and, by the same token, is accessible on mobiles and the internet. VG beat major domestic media on a ship capsizing by having people overlooking the accident take digital photos, literally, out their window and e-mail them. It and other "wired" Scandinavian newspapers had phone-camera images of the tsunami even before the international news agencies, CNN, etc. had any idea of what was going on. Truly, the age of global news event coverage by the organization with the most camera teams and helicopters is over, what counts is being the first to have someone with a cameraphone tip you off.
Global news events don't happen that often, and "all news is local news", so the main function of this reader tip-network is to be the first to cover events such as traffic jams, accidents, fires, unexpected appearances by politicians and celebrities in Norway and the like. It is also possible for readers to "remote control" VG reporters, who then can ask their interview subjects questions from "Bjarne Andersen", an ordinary guy in an Oslo suburb concerned about taxes or some issue at the schools, and the answer (on video, in print, on mobiles) is then flashed out into the VG infosphere, giving our ficitious Bjarne his 15 minutes of fame and encouraging others to do the same.
During a conference lunch I sat with a person from a big Latvian daily and it was pretty clear from our conversation that the Latvian press is still in the dark ages as far as this kind of interactivity and state-of-the-art information management platform goes. Neither a certain paper I know very well, nor the paper represented by my conversation partner, nor, for that matter, Neatkariga Rita Avize (which claims to have launched a blogging site) are even close to anything like this.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Parent games about to start?

There is speculation in Sweden's Dagens Nyheter (DN) that a major reshuffle of the Nordic telecoms market, involving Tele2, the parent of Latvia's Tele2 operations, and, according to other sources, TeliaSonera, the half-mother of Lattelekom and the sort-of-parent of Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT).
Tele2 may be ready to sell some of its Nordic (mobile phone operator Comviq) assets and eventually pull out of the region altogether, according to Urban Ekelund, an analyst with Redeye, quoted by DN. This would mean selling Tele2's fixed network assets in the Nordic countries, and. although DN doesn't say it, in the Baltics as well, where Tele2 recently stopped investment.
One reason for Tele2's future weakness on the Nordic market is that it has failed to get a broadband company in Sweden, having lost Song to TDC, the parent of Latvian/Lithuanian Bite. TDC in turn is being courted by private equity funds, who know that the company won't need too much fixing. As one insider told this blogger, TDC has had two US -based former owners (Ameritech and SBC) who have put its act together.
The other possible move for Tele2 is to try to buy one of the remaining independent cable-TV or pure broadband companies, such as ComHem (which Telia sold as a condition of merging with Sonera) or Glocalnet. That would put them back in the fight with more weight.
If Tele2 abandons the Nordic region, it may make a bigger effort in Eastern Europe and Russia, probably investing more heavily into mobile in this region. So that doesn't exclude the Tele2 fixed operation from being sold – but to who? For customer base acquisition, perhaps Triatel might be interested in getting people to switch from fixed to wireless? Lattelekom would face political difficulties and would gain little from buying another few thousand. customers.
Meanwhile, the idea of TeliaSonera being sold has resurfaced again, though not in the DN article. Analysts, reportedly at Dresdner Bank, are listing it and Swisscom as possible take-over targets. TeliaSonera has an attractive amount of cash, which, as one high executive at a competitor puts it, is a signal that "TeliaSonera has more money than brains", a reference to its failed attempts to buy Turkcell and some apparent lack of acquisition strategy (Orange in Denmark and Chess in Norway are not the biggest players in their respective mobile space, but TeliaSonera bought both recently). Telenor is also out shopping, it got Vodafone's operations in Sweden (an indirect challenge to Telia's mobile operations?).
Again, from the perspective of the global telecoms giants, perhaps one can let these two hardy, mid-sized Nordic dogs fight it out to see what their respective strengths are before putting them in the same German/French, yes, even Spanish kennel.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Digital cable TV taking off??

Baltkom TV, the cable-TV, telecoms and ISP, reports nine month earnings jumped 87 % to LVL 1.5 million as sales rose 36 % to LVL 4.5 million. The reason for this, the company says, is a rise in the number of digital cable subscribers to almost 15 000 (up from some 10 000 in the summer, now comprising around 10 % of all subscribers). These figures make the jump in earnings unsurprising, because each digital cable subscriber generates LVL 10.50 or more per month (some, who want all 102 channels, can pay over LVL 12). This compares to an average LVL 3.00 that the Latvian cable TV association, now called the Latvian electronic communications somethingor other :) , says that the ordinary cable viewer, a pensioner whose preferred language is Russian, generally pays.
Those 100+ channels, however, include lots of narrow interest programming, such as the Wine Channel (in German?) and various Russian language programming aimed at sports fans, women, etc. There is also a channel in Korean, along with the standard selection, CNN, BBC, Discovery (language is switchable on digital cable)in all its incarnations, National Geographic, the Reality Channel, etc. Oh yes, the erotic stuff is mostly in English along the lines of oh God oh God f••k me harder... :) which comes across (no pun intended) without subtitles.
It looks like pay per view will be available soon, with recent release films, etc.
Baltkom also says that the number of triple play internet, digital cable and telephony customers is rising. The company is also competing to provide complete solutions to a number of new housing projects, claiming 100 Mbps optical internet to the home. Where do I sign up? I'll move to some former pasture in Marupe (a suburb south of Riga) for this.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hooray for toxic cannibal fish!

Tele2 has launched its Urā! prepaid for LVL 0.70 (near candy-bar price) and calls within the network at LVL 0.049 per minute. My only question is - will this product, which looks like it is aimed at Bite Latvija's Toxic and Zetcom's Hello – not end up cannibalizing the low-end Golden Fish (LVL 0.99 if I am not mistaken)? We shall see...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Some words on freedom as we pass 200 posts

Yes, the blog passed 200 posts. Not bad, didn't think I would keep it up, but stuff keeps happening.
Just to give you some idea of how the US legal doctrine on freedom of speech and prior restraint looks, compared to the implicit arguments of the Economic Police in the matters concerning and SIA Bizi Team.

The Doctrine of Prior Restraint
Quote are from a website with extracts from decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States.

''Liberty of the press, historically considered and taken up by the Federal Constitution, has meant, principally although not exclusively, immunity from previous restraints or censorship.''
''Any system of prior restraints of expression comes to this Court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity.''

The United States Supreme Court's first encounter with a law imposing a prior restraint came in Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson, in which a five-to-four majority voided a law authorizing the permanent enjoining of future violations by any newspaper or periodical once found to have published or circulated an ''obscene, lewd and lascivious'' or a ''malicious, scandalous and defamatory'' issue. An injunction had been issued after the newspaper in question had printed a series of articles tying local officials to gangsters. While the dissenters maintained that the injunction constituted no prior restraint, inasmuch as that doctrine applied to prohibitions of publication without advance approval of an executive official, the majority deemed the difference of no consequence, since in order to avoid a contempt citation the newspaper would have to clear future publications in advance with the judge. Liberty of the press to scrutinize closely the conduct of public affairs was essential, said Chief Justice Hughes for the Court.

The following quotes may find some favor with BlackHalt :), the miscreant purveyor of scandal :):):) :

''The administration of government has become more complex, the opportunities for malfeasance and corruption have multiplied, crime has grown to most serious proportions, and the danger of its protection by unfaithful officials and of the impairment of the fundamental security of life and property by criminal alliances and official neglect, emphasizes the primary need of a vigilant and courageous press, especially in great cities.

And the Economic Police should translate and put on their desks the following, in even bigger letters:

The fact that the liberty of the press may be abused by miscreant purveyors of scandal does not make any the less necessary the immunity of the press from previous restraint in dealing with official misconduct. Subsequent punishment for such abuses as may exist is the appropriate remedy, consistent with constitutional privilege.

It is no secret that from a European and Latvian point of view, a lot of weird and bad things have been happening to the image of the United States and in the name of the United States. Still, I think there are lessons to learn from the efforts and the ongoing struggle in the US to maintain the highest standards of freedom in the world

Da man speaks, so watch what you speak?

The Economic Police have sent this blogger (in my day job as a business reporter) a statement regarding the issues surrounding the publication of an article on security holes at the Latvian domain registry and allegations that police were pressuring Bizi Team, a Latvian hosting company, to completely shut down the Latvian IT portal which published the article.
Without attempting to translate the documentfrom PR/ bureaucratic Latvian, it basically confirms that there were contacts between the police and "the portal" claiming that one comment posted on datuve and signed by a poster using the name of a police inspector had been removed.
Otherwise, the essence of the statement was that police were right to take measures to stop what they considered was a publication that "affected the rights of others", giving as examples libel and slander (also of state authorities), violation of privacy of physical persons, disclosure of state secrets and the disclosure of vulnerabilities of infomation systems and the explaining ways to overcome information system security.
I am not prepared to write an essay on freedom of expression vs such interests as libel and slander and national security. As I have spend the first 27 years of my life (minus one year in a German refugee camp) in the US, I can only admire the way the First Amendment has applied to protect freedom of expression both in libel and slander cases involving public officials and in national security (the Supreme Court ruling on The Pentagon Papers).
Where the statement by the Economic Police gets dangerous is in alleging that there is a right, which they can enforce (even by pressure or "persuasion"), of affected parties to have information disclosing vulnerabilities removed. This is open to extremely broad interpretation and could be applied to almost any software review. For those who remember those fantastic few hours some years ago when the home page of the Latvian parliament (Saeima) was graced by a bare-breasted lady on a motorcycle (the page had been hacked) in front of the Saeima building , it was soon revealed that the rather common web page design software was set by default to leave all aspects of any page open to modification. So it was pretty easy to put in the motorcycle babe -- but should it be grounds for banning a publication that points this out (I think it was Microsoft Front Page that was used).
So how far are we going to go?? Exploits by the dozens are published on the internet every day, and to try to stop this is like sweeping back the ocean with a broom. Moreover, to even attempt or think of attempting to ban an entire portal largely dedicated to discussion of legal commercial and open-source software and programming techniques is absurdly, dangerously overbroad, like carpet-bombing a city because Osama bin Laden might have been seen in a park.
My firm belief is that the freedom of expression must almost always take the upper hand and be untoucheable, maybe restricted only in wartime (regarding operational facts), but never under such circumstances as this case. If anyone feels harmed by datuve's information, let them prove it in a civil court.
The paper will be doing something on this in the next couple of days, emphasizing the press freedom issues and the potential threat to as well as the statement by the Economic Police, to be fair and balanced.

Covering Riga, softly with UMTS

Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) has nearly covered Riga with UMTS service, although there is not much beyond a fast data link available. Currently there are 1 500 UMTS capable phones on the network, so one can understand why there is no rush to deliver services. In addition to mobile internet, you can also watch mobile TV for LVL 0.05 a minute. Have fun with that...
In any case, those who shelled out LVL 400 or more for their ultracool Nokia 3G models will now be please to see a little 3G on their screens in the better part of Riga.

Second prepaid service to launch on Tele2

A second pre-paid service, to be called Urā! (Hooray) will be launched on Tele2's network October 27. It is not clear whether the card will be an ultra-low cost companion to Tele2's Zelta zivtiņa (Golden Fish) prepaid or a separate virtual operator. My sources say it will not be a MVNO (like Amigo and Hello, who operate on Latvian Mobile Telephone's (LMT) network). So we shall see.
In any event, it looks like someone has come up with an answer to the el-cheapo (LVL 1) Hello, and is trying to pre-empt any prepaids that Bite may host once its network capacity is sufficient. Also, the other competitors must fight the aggressive, give-away marketing of Bite's own Toxic card.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Waitin' for Da Man*

Actually it is a kind, probably young lady, Kristine Mezaraupe, the press secretary of the Latvian Police, who says she is doing her best to check out just what the 6th department of the Economic Police was doing to get both the people at Bizi Team (a hosting service) and oolee, the informal editor of so upset (they believe there was an effort, which they resisted, to censor them). It seems that she can't get ahold of the people at the 6th department. I did, but one of the inspectors said the boss was away at some training courses. I was not supposed to call these guys directly :). I will hit myself the next time I do. Remind me...
A new nuance – it seems the cybercops were after a person called BlackHalt, who actually delivered petruha's little essay (all of this is in Latvian) about f**king with to datuve. was actually pleased, at the end of the day, that it could make some effort to improve its processes. BlackHalt, it seems, has a history with both and Latnet and with the cybercops, who may have suspected the dude (well, small chance it could be a girl :) ) was planning some new tricks.
Nobody likes to deal with any kind of police. In fact, I have even felt mildly negative to be stopped and found to be sober, driving at the allowed speed, with a properly registered vehicle and a valid licence. Since the people who were called by the cyberpolice may feel the same, I have to make sure where the subjective ends and the facts start.
There will, hopefully, be some kind of story here and in that certain newspaper...

*Da Man, from Afro-American slang for an authority figure one necessarily doesn't like. As opposed to "My man", who is a good guy, homeboy of some stature. Afro-American readers, please excuse any bizarre interpretations of your culture/slang :)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Gathering the facts...

Just to update on the domain and censorship scandal, I have contacted the Latvian Economic Police Unit 6 (apparently, the cybercrimes unit) who are accused of trying to have the Latvian IT portal «dehosted» by its hosting company Bizi Team. Managers at the hosting company say this demand was made, but I will hold back judgement until I hear the police side of the story. If anyone needs to have the confidence of the IT community, it is this police unit which, after all, is a line of defence (if they work efficiently) against malicious hacking and cyberfraud. So let us chill here. I must admit, when it come to allegations of censorship, I tend to explode just a little.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A domain registration and censorship scandal

Thanks to Latvian-language blogger Kristaps Kaupe, I have been tipped off to a scandal over the last week concerning NIC.Lv, the Latvian domain registration service. It seems that the Latvian language IT news and discussion portal Datuve discovered that it was possible to use some kind of e-mail trick to change domain registration data and, essentially, to kidnap domains. Once this information started circulating, Datuve said the company hosting its sever was asked in a phone call by the Latvian Economic Police to remove the Datuve website. While the article may have explained how simple it was to steal domains or get them for free ( is a fee-based registration service), the action by the police was a blatant attempt at censorship or, even in the most charitable intepretation, vastly overbroad. If one article may have contained instructions on committing a crime(that, if Datuve's story was accurate, was begging to be committed and idiot simple as well), it is hardly reason to shut down an entire internet medium. Instead, the Economic Police should be talking to NIC.Lv the way the ordinary police patrolmen would talk to someone who has left his warehouse unlocked.
This is yet another case of residual Soviet mentality – if in doubt, censor and forbid rather than understand the problem and do your best to solve it with a minimal intrusion into such vital and unassailable rights as the freedom of expression.
Now that I think about it (even it it is a week late), this is definitely a story for my daytime job. Apollo may have picked it up, but I am not sure about the print media.

No IPTV yet and other thoughts

October 15, one of the dates that I was tipped off would be the start of Lattelekom's IPTV service, has come and gone. The only sign of IPTV is a new and dead link (Apollo TV) on the revamped Apollo portal (for Lattelekom's Apollo internet platform). So it would appear that the TV launch is still around the corner, just the corner is farther off than I was told.
Meanwhile, Triatel also pushed back the official announcement of its cdma450-based high speed wireless internet service. This has been running experimentally over the summer, but it appears the company is holding back on a launch until number portability is implemented on December 1. The reason – it wants existing Lattelekom customers (with no DSL/relatively slow DSL for one reason or another) to come to its network and take the whole new package -- cdma450 mobiles, wireless deskphones and broadband. This is what they will be selling in some parts of the country from the "Magic Bus"(see the earlier post). Now that I think about it, not too many Latvians will recognize this song by The Who,. Maybe "Omnibus" by the Latvian singer and comedian Fredis would be more suitable, except the "omnibus" in that song is a little menacing, since (if you follow the Latvian lyrics) it runs over people's vegetable gardens. Well, Lattelekom is one company whose countryside veggie garden will be uprooted by the Triatel "omnibus", but we shall see.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Here comes Triatel's Magic Bus

If this were a podcast, I would run "Magic Bus" by the Who in the background. Anyway, Triatel, Latvia's cdma450 operator, is planning to hit the Latvian countryside (the larger cities and towns outside Riga) with a bus or busses selling Triatel's complete communications solutions in a box.
The way it will work is that a bus, painted in Triatel colors and logos, will arrive stocked with mobile phones, wireless and laptop modems, and fixed wireless desktop phones, allowing small business customers to pick what they need, sign the necessary subscription papers, and have it all packed in a single box to be taken to the business premises, unpacked and "plugged and played" on the same day.
The company has determined that small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) outside greater Riga are going to be the core of its customer base. With 68 % of Latvia's territory and 80 % of the population to get coverage by the end of 2005, Triatel hopes that the "non-Riga" businesses will snap up its offering for a number of reasons:
1) Triatel is probably the only broadband alternative out there.
2) Triatel offers free calls within the company network (be it five or 50 phones, mobile or desktop wireless), voicemail and a web-configurable virtual PBX and call record tracking service.
3) Triatel offers super-cheap (by Latvian standards) international calling, with the US, for instance, for LVL 0.079 a minute (that compares with rates offered by some fixed line IP services that have been leafleting Riga mailboxes).

Already, around 45 % of the company's customers (said to number a few tens of thousands) are SMEs and this will be the future growth focus.
So far, nothing seems to have come of Lattelekom's plans to cooperate with Triatel on using cdma450 to complete the so-called digitization of the Lattelekom network. This may be happening unofficially, as at least one Lattelekom SME customer for whom no affordable Lattelekom solution was available was taken to see Triatel. In this case, while Lattelekom didn't get the subscriber, it did do a service for the (non) customer and build some good will. Pretty smart.

Monday, October 17, 2005

I don't buy Tele2's reasons

Again interesting things happen while I am at the wrong place, or better put, in the right place (Stockholm) doing the wrong thing (covering a Baltic Development Forum). So Tele2 is stopping investment in fixed telecoms in all three Baltic States? While there have been problems, I don't think that the poor operator has been passed around by the Baltic authorities (at the behest of incumbent fixed-line operators) for a multiple clusterf**k. My quick take on this is that the problem lies elsewhere -- the fixed voice market is shrinking rapidly and there will soon be little return on any investment here. The only legitimate issue, mentioned in reports of Tele2's decision, is that it has not been given a chance to participate in broadband markets. This may be a legitimate problem, but all it means is that Tele2 has been denied the opportunity to make a falling revenue (starting at, say LVL 10 per month) for a relatively small number (a couple of hundred thousand in the region, perhaps) of DSL or other broadband lines.
I think that Tele2 simply has other fish to fry on the European market, that it may also have some hidden problems, and that blaming the nasty little Baltic dwarves is the best way to cover one's retreat.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Lattelekom rumors and speculations

Look for Lattelekom to expand its international data transmission network over the next few weeks and months. The first step will be a point-of-presence (POP) in Moscow for Russian corporate customers to run virtual private networks (VPNs) with their affiliates in the Baltic countries. The next move will be to extend Lattelekom's network into the Ukraine and possibly Poland. Here the demand is coming from customers in Sweden and Scandinavia, where Lattelekom already has a POP in Stockholm. The idea is to run traffic to and from the Ukraine cheaper and more efficiently that via Russia. where there are apparently problems with the Moscow to Ukraine link.
Does this coincide with any plans by Telia International Carrier, the Lattelekom half-mother's international network? This blogger doesn't really know, but heard one opinion from an informed source that "the Swedes aren't that good at the international business", especially in the former USSR. Lattelekom, apparently sees no reason to wait for the half-mother to catch up.

Lattelekom to go Danish?
Another rumor concerns the possibility that Lattelekom and the half-mother will disown each other, just as the Widow's Son wants it (see earlier posts regarding the Minister of Economics' insistance that anybody but TeliaSonera own Lattelekom if TeliaSonera buys the rest of Latvian Mobile Telephone/LMT).
The latest rumor sees two possible buyers for Lattelekom - Denmark's TDC, which would take over the fixed line/internet business to complement its mobile Bite Latvija operation. Then Lattelekom's growing data network tentacles/POPs would fit nicely to the Scandinavian Song data network that TDC recently bought. With everything migrating, eventually, to high-speed, multiservice IP networks, this makes perfect sense (as far as I know, Lattelekom already manages its backbone and carrier networks with MPLS, so these would fit nicely with Song and its customers).
One should also note that two groups of private equity funds are studying whether to buy TDC. This is very interesting because 1) most recent and rumored (such as Telefonica and KPN) telecoms mergers have been operations driven (gaining customers, network footprint, etc.) 2) private equity expects a very good return on investment, so they are bargaining on TDC and perhaps the telecoms sector, selectively or as a whole, earning substantial profits. What do they know that we don't?
Still another rumor - Telenor of Norway may buy Lattelekom. Not so likely, as it has no mobile network (TDC has Bite) to complement the Latvian fixed line operator with.

As far as the three-minister working group trying to figure out what to do with Lattelekom and LMT, it seems to have become a standing committee. No decision, just studying the question (is it that f**king complicated, gentlemen??). We may see some movement on this next week, when Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis comes to the Baltic Development Forum in Stockholm and will apparently meet with TeliaSonera. Whether or not the half-mother has any new persuasive arguments for becoming the full mother remains to be seen. This blogger has the feeling that the Latvian government believes competition arises by having several small, half-assed and weak players rather than regulating the inevitably increasingly big and strong few players.
As far as being worried about the size of whoever owns parts or all of Latvia's telecoms system, what will they do when 3 to 5 years from now, LMT is just a small subsidiary of a medium size subsidiary of a giant global telco?