Monday, January 03, 2005

Looking forward to 2005

Well, the New Year has started and a few things may be happening in Latvian Telecoms. Later today (January 3), Lattelekom will issue a statement on its response to the Public Utilities Regulatory Board setting an interconnect tariff ceiling of LVL 0.008 (thats 0.8 santims) per minute for the incumbent. For the moment, Lattelekom is prepared to comply, although, contrary to gleeful comment from the Latvian Telecommunications Association, it will be a couple of months before any alternative operators feel the lower tariffs in their expense outlays. The fact is that interconnect accounts (in Latvia, probably elsewhere, too) are kept in traffic minutes. These are then tallied by both interconnect partners, and then a bill is sent for the agreed figure. This means that January traffic will be tallied and billed in March. Also, there is probably a set off (Operator X used 125 000 minutes of Lattelekom network time, Lattelekom used, say 25 000 minutes of X's network time).
Representatives of Telecommunications Consulting of India Ltd (TCIL), a contender for the "third" GSM and UMTS licence auction were supposed to be coming to Latvia in January. One wonders whether the tsunami disaster could have affected these plans, although TCIL is headquartered in Delhi, far from the seacoast. We may also see Denmark's TDC (through Bite GSM) clarify its position on the auction.
As I see it, TCIL is at least a known and experienced contender trying to break into a new market, while TDC needs a Latvian licence to complete its presence in all three Baltic states and be able to compete with TeliaSonera's subsidiaries in the mobile market. My guess is that these two could be serious bidders.
Meanwhile, I have received some feelers from still-mysterious International Telecommunications and Technologies (IT&T) to perhaps meet with their executives and be informed of who really stands behind this consortium (which shows up on no one's radar). It depends on whether my day job newspaper will agree to me going to either London or Beirut at IT&T's expense. A bit dodgy, but interesting. No one else is likely to get the story. I keep hearing that HuaWei, the Chinese telecoms infrastructure builder, is one of the technology partners behind IT&T, although there is no confirmation of this. HuaWei is also trying to break into the European market, they just did some kind of deal in the Netherlands.
It will be interesting to look at Triatel's figures for mobile CDMA-450 use in a couple of months. This will be a test of 3G services (fast data, mostly) takeup. If Triatel gets off the ground, it may inspire Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and Tele2 to move beyond their own buildings in building out their UMTS networks. Triatel looked pretty optimistic when it upped the number of phone numbers it wanted from 40 000 to 60 000. A number of these, however, could be fixed mobiles(desktop phones) or wireless DSL-speed internet access.
DSL lines in Latvia grew by 68 % (regulator's figures) despite there being no national broadband policy coming out of the Communications Department of the Ministry of Transport. No one really knows how much broadband is used in Latvia because many 2 Mb or higher connections are resold or redistributed in apartment buildings and by smaller, semi-fly-by-night ISPs. I am pretty sure that official figures (mainly Lattelekom's DSL services) will zip past 100 000 in the first half of 2005. It would be nice if they speeded up the basic service for existing customers from the present 256 kbps (say, to 512 kbps or 1 Mb, the DSLAMs serving HomeDSL reputedly are set to 2 Mbps and then slowed by software to 256 kbps). In Sweden (home to TeliaSonera), multimegabit speeds are standard - one of my sons has 8 megs (in a Stockholm suburb), the other 10 megs (in Umeå). There is some service pushing 26 megs on posters in the Stockholm subway (there was, at least, when I was there in November).
Look, too, for some kind of merged marketing by Lattelekom and LMT, as well as the launch of a few new consumer/business products by Lattelekom, such as video on demand or digital cable TV (probably toward the second half of 2005). Both need higher basic speeds.

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