Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Fresh squeezed networks?

Lattelekom has announced the name of its network installation and maintenance subsidiary. It will be Citrus Solutions. What's in a name? There is some IT company named Citrus something already, but the first thought that pops into mind is something to do with oranges and lemons. But why think when you can Google? One of the higher up hits(for a carpet cleaning company) says" We Use Two Patented Citrus Solutions. For Pet Urine Odor". Just goes to show that a good international company name is very hard to find and, inevitably, it means something strange in another language. Take the Finnish word for tasty - maukas- which means whores in Latvian, hence no Latvian with a sense of humor and a little time on their hands will fail to look for a big package of Maukas (flat bread, as a matter of fact) when visiting Helsinki.
However, the name may not be the biggest problem. What Citrus Solutions intends to sell is network building and maintenance services, most likely to the Swedish and other Scandinavian markets. If Citrus tries to compete on price, it is likely to face a Laval & Partners-
style (a Latvian construction company that was run out of the market by the unions) boycott by Swedish unions or sign a 100 + page labor contract for each short term employee sent to string fiber or install routers, say, for Sydkraft (the power company has been mentioned as a potential client).
More likely, the easiest service to offer will be network monitoring and maintenance using Swedish partners when something breaks down. Monitoring employees can sit in Latvia and see how the network is humming by remote means. However, with a staff of 600, it is likely Citrus Solutions will be doing some work on the ground for its international clients, although initially, its main task will be maintaining Lattelekom's own network.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

More miseries for Lattelekom's half-mother

As if the mess with Turkcell (the Turkish Cukrova family/?/ backed out of a seemingly done deal) and Russia's Megafon were not enough, TeliaSonera CEO Anders Igel and another executive have been called in for questioning in a bribery investigation. The alleged bribe - a musical performance followed by a buffet dinner to which some 200 Swedish executives (including a top police chief) were invited. The top cop, it it seems, considered the whole affair a bit over the top and filed a complaint with the prosecutor. The prosecutor isn't sure a crime was committed because precedents are unclear on where to draw the line between client entertainment and bribery (the planned event was apparently cancelled), so he is making a test case of TeliaSonera's planned balagāns ( for my Latvian speaking readers).
Perhaps another Post-It note for Nils Melngailis, Lattelekom CEO, to put in his file on what the parents (which he cannot chose or affect) are up to. I'm waiting, too, for Dagens industri's Mikke's take on this (the state shareholding in TeliaSonera was a factor in starting the bribery investigation -- taxpayer money for music shall be spent at the Stockholm Opera, thank you...).
Thanx to Dagens Nyheter, from whence this sad tale is lifted. Can poor Anders get a break? Maybe float the rest of Lattelekom on the Riga Stock Exchange while we are flogging the somewhat dubious Ventspils Nafta (a bit difficult to see where their money will come from).

Monday, June 27, 2005

Bite restructures

Bite, the new mobile operator coming to Latvia, has restructured, renaming its two units Bite Latvija(formerly Bite Mobile) and Bite Lietuva (Lithuania, formerly Bite GSM). It appears something called the Bite Group will run both operations as a single, bi-national entity. At the same time, the paid-in capital of Bite Latvija was raised to LVL 1,602, 0000 from the LVL 2000 minimum needed to start a Latvian company. The whole Bite thing is owned by Denmark's TDC telecommunications group.
I've already written about the possible obstacles Bite faces with getting national roaming in Latvia, something it considers a necessity. I'm now going out on a limb and forecasting that Bite may get its way with Tele2. That is, Tele2, offered a sufficiently attractive deal for minutes or capacity, may give in first and let Bite roam. Such a move will spite Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and will get Tele2 some guaranteed revenues with no marketing costs involved. Tele2 has never been as categorical as LMT about saying they will not sell any capacity to Bite. Watch this space. Some wacko predictions have come true.
And to test the new blogger photo function, here is me, in the newsroom of an unnamed business daily. Shot with one of the Nokia 6680 (test model from LMT) cameras.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Bite will have to buy in and ... LIGO!!!

It looks like the only way Bite Mobile, the mobile newcomer to the Latvian market, is going to get national roaming is to buy it, straight out, with no sheriff regulator at its back. The issue underlying national roaming is the network access market, not the mobile market per se. Latvia's Public Utilities Regulatory Commission won't get around to dealing with that market until the second half of 2006, plus it may have to change the Electronic Communications Law to get the big teeth it needs to make the incumbents open their networks (at a decent cost plus price). That is an optimistic estimate.
With observers expecting Bite to launch services in the fall, or just ahead of when number portability starts on December 1, it looks like Jesper Thiell Eriksen, Bite GSM 's CEO and board chairman of the Latvian unit, Bite Mobile, will have a lot of persuading to do to get Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and Tele2 (the latter may be the easier of the two iron maidens to get to "fall backwards" in the Shakespearean sense) to sell them some minutes on the network. This may mean that Jesper will have to pay top lat for the pleasure, but write this off as an indirect marketing expense. Bite's early tariffs/prepaid rates will have to look very good and the company will simply swallow any losses on the extensive national roaming in the first months or half-year of operations.
Again, I remind him that if he wants to burn through the 40 000 numbers he has available, selling them through a link to the Latvian Friendster, could be one way to do it. There are 330 000 potential buyers of a better pre-paid card out there.
As far as the business offering, I wonder how much of the "one price for the whole neighborhood" scheme of Vodafone Passport we will see Bite taking over. It would be great to be able to use them to call for the same price in Latvia, the other Baltics, Sweden and maybe Britain and Germany.
And now for LIGO, pronounced Leegou, the merry refrain of Latvian Midssummer Song.

Little Bite's flying north
Ligo, Ligo!
Juris* better watch your hive
Ligo, Ligo!
Bite's got the sweets for it..
Ligo, Ligo,
Gonna lure your queens away!
Ligo, Ligo

*Juris Binde, president of LMT.

So I'm going to do some Ligo myself and be back after the long weekend. Local readers, please celebrate sensibly.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Who you gonna call? CDMA!

...450, that is.
According to Sweden's Dagens industri (my ex-whatever you call those you string for), the major mobile operators, who got their 3G licences in beauty contests instead of auctions are backing off from meeting all the requirements (think, Vodafone instead could have spent USD 30 billion/or whatever it was/ and built its own nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to sail the seas selling 3G phones). Companies like Tele2 are asking to be allowed to dodge strict requirements to put up UMTS masts everywhere in the vast country of Sweden where the reindeer roam, that is, on the edge of nowhere, so you can call 118 and ask for instructions on how to get to the middle.
Instead, the operators are politely asking to be allowed to use alternative technologies that sorta do the same. One approach is to have EDGE declared to be 3G. Well, that's sort of like having the fastest World War II propeller-driven plane (the P-50, wasn't it?) declared a jet. EDGE could then be added to existing GSM services on networks offering both UMTS and GSM to kind of keep up the speed when the reindeer herder leaves town. *
The other alternative is cdma 450, with its far lower base station density. Triatel in Latvia has been doing this all along (all along being since last year). The fact that a cdma 450 operator (Nordisk Mobiltelefon) may get licenced in the halfmotherland of all mobile technologies (thanks to Ericsson, the other half mother is Nokia) is music to the Latvian operator's ears. It means that its technology, which even yours truly described as "non-standard" in a certain newspaper when it showed up, is starting to go mainstream.
And why not? What we have here with Triatel, assuming -as one never should - that all works, a plug and play (from the customer's viewpoint) total wireless communications and services provider. In less than a day, by unpacking the Triatel "box" (there is none, there are probably several boxes) you can get 3G mobile phones, data cards for the laptops, desk phones (with a softswitch PBX and SMS to deskphone) and DSL-like high speed internet. The best speed for EV-DO (?) on cdma-450 is more than 2.4 Mbps, but Triatel will probably package it in 128, 256 and 512 kbps (well, maybe a meg) low cost, home, business and premium business packages.
Interestingly, this sort of matches Lattelekom's wireline internet offering. One area where Triatel will seek customers is "out in the green grazing fields" where developers are selling lots but there is no infrastructure. Unless Lattelekom or electric utility Latvenergo (with its possibility to run fiber down the same cable channel as electricity) beats Triatel to the punch, it is an excellent idea for getting new homeowners. Just open the box and start surfing even before the roof on your new house is finished.
Latvenergo can't provide its service without wires, but Lattelekom, rather than running optics for kilometers across glen and glade, could opt for WiMax (once someone finds where to buy it)
Both wireline and wireless operators also have to get the jump on the companies hawking satellite parabola packages for LVL 1 to get customers for television services(just sign up to subscribe for more moons than your grandmother has seen, but that's another story). Using the 3G handset as a digital TV decoder is not a crazed future vision. In fact, why not recharge the gadget by plugging it into the TV and feed IPTV broadcasts to the 40 inch plasma screen?
A challenge for Triatel--can wireless triple play be done on cdma450?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

More thoughts for Mikke on TeliaSonera

Mikke is Michael Törnwall, a Swedish business journalist who has written an analysis of TeliaSonera, the half-mother of Latvia's Lattelekom and the full parent of Lietuvos Telekomas, Omnitel and Elion of Estonia. It was retold, more or less, in English here earlier.
I have some thoughts to add to his earlier analysis.
It seems that the "children" or subsidiaries may be more nimble and speedy than the parent. Lattelekom, at least, is moving ahead into business process outsourcing, making alliances with Germany's T-Systeme (for public sector, EU related work) and with Exigen in the private sector, something which has stagnated so far because of unresolved issues between the Latvian and American (in name, all of Exigen's development work is done in Latvia) companies.
The view may well be that compared to the kids, momma in Sweden is a bit slow on making major decisions. Which brings us back to the issue of what will happen to TeliaSonera in the medium term. As it continues to meet resistance to its planned acquisitions in Turkey and Russia (but with sufficient cash to do so, were the other parties ready to sell), TeliaSonera looks more and more like it could be snatched by someone bigger and faster. This thought has entered the minds of some of the TeliaSonera affiliated companies' management, that it is perhaps inevitable that TeliaSonera will be bought by someone. The hope is that the someone will be more like the "kids" than the present mother – that is, lean and fast and likely to put its acquisition into order. In fact, if this happens, the Baltic subsidiaries may be called upon to help make their now "married" mother work more efficiently.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A little more on Bite

The paranoid intro
This is a resume of what may appear --well, you know where. In fact, I think it will, so I am blogging it just for the benefit of the non-Latvian readers. But I have this strange feeling that indirectly dissing NN may bring down more shit. Time to lie low until it is safe to jump to the next lilypad...ribbet..
Apropos nothing, my summer house is around 200 meters, if not more, from this stagnant body of water that was once part of the river Gauja or whatever. Well, it seems they are having a frog Woodstock (like 100 000 creatures in one place, with loud frog music). For me it was like this distant murmuring, but if I lived any closer to the gigantic frog chorus, which apparently goes on all night, I would serious start looking for a box of hand grenades. A couple of loud bangs, lots of seagull food, but then those flying fuckers would start screeching and gathering in the hundreds for the feast. Next step, rifle, next after that, police, lunatic asylum... You saw it coming first.
Hunter Thompson is dead, long live his spirit.

...and now about Bite and other stuff

It looks pretty much like Bite, once it gets sufficient coverage, is going to come in with a fixed-price business data/mobile internet package, plus a number of voice deals for getting the lowest cost to certain numbers, countries and the like. You can see it on the website, this is no inside word from me. Basically it is a set of building blocks or starting points for putting together an individual, tailor-made package of services for your average SME. As Johan Fagerberg of Berg Insight in Sweden told me, nobody in the business community who buys telecoms services buys them by the official list price. Comparing list prices is not very useful except as a starting point for applying your own policies and best practices to getting a good individual company deal.
One of the best deals around may be Tele2's free GPRS service (missed that it was "still free after all this, ( just one) year). You buy a Zelta zivtiņa card and GPRS all you want, though check the small print that your meter isn't running, though it shouldn't be. Tele2 has had free GPRS since last July and it is still using it as a tool to see what folks do and want from it. The company will probably jump directly to 3G for fast business class mobile internet. But for a small business who wants to really limit costs (i.e. LVL 10 and the fish --zivtiņa in Latvian -- dies) plus all the GPRS you can eat.
While we are on the subject of freebies, or so-called freebies, Triatel is giving away Huawei and other cool but obscure brand-name cdma450 handsets along with 24 month subscriptions. Make that 18 month real subscriptions, because all calls in the network are free until year end. Competitors will call this dumping, but it is basically writing off all your operating costs (running the network on zero revenues) as a one big (medium-sized?) m--f--ker of a marketing expense. It may work. It looks very much like what 3 did in Sweden. If I were to say that a 3 salesperson who started chasing me with a free (or SEK 1 or whatever it was) phone last summer in Stockholm's Gallerian shopping center and didn't stop until I was checking in for my flight back to Riga, it wouldn't be too far off the mark.
I hope to be able to test the Triatel 2.4 Mbps wireless internet modem at my summer house and if I was really heading for some kind of sanity boundary, I'd get a Huawei phone, attach a webcam and broadcast the frog festival as a webcast. Why not -- all kinds of sex on the internet, why not thousands of amphibians doing it and being cheered on by the rest.
Oh yes, Triatel may finally admit that, yes, Huawei is building out its network.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The straight dope on the Great Satan

Just to make sure everyone understands: Lattelekom is not the Great Satan. I have called it the Great Satan to illustrate some fundamentally irrational perceptions of Lattelekom at a certain newspaper and elsewhere. I also think the whole Great Satan thing is cool, retro-early 80s Iranian jargon (when the US was, and still is, the Great Satan). It brings up images of exotic mobs chanting for the downfall of the Great Satan (there were actually some demonstrations against Lattelekom in the late 90s :)). The last time the Great Satan raised its head was during the parliamentary debate on the settlement agreement with TeliaSonera, which I suppose was the Greater Satan, or the Satanic Half-Mother (rings a bell with the Latvian expression velna mate, meaning the devil's mother or your mother-in-law) or whatever.
I will try to refrain from mixing the malevolent weirdness at my real workplace with this blog, though, if anybody knows of any opportunities, you know where to write. Telecoms newsletters, newspapers, hello...?

Friday, June 10, 2005

Here comes "balaganas"

In Lithuanian, balaganas (pronounced balaGAHnas, I think) means a kind of honky-tonk carnival show and its equivalent in Latvian is balagāns (balagaahns). I remember many years ago, when hearing that a ballerina had performed at the Lutheran confirmation party of a young man with wealthy parents in a Latvian community in the US, my mother described doing that sort of thing as a "balagāns"
It is now clear that various kinds of balaganas or entertainment are going to be part of Bite Mobile's consumer market package in the form of a mobile portal called Bite Plius (meaning Bite Plus, will probably be the same in Latvian), which packages lots of balaganas and private services, including SMS weather bulletins and the like. I am not putting down balaganas, it is where all the value-added paid services revenues will come from - ring tones, games, screen pictures, video clips, Mp3, all that stuff. In the wider world, this is a billion dollar market and the money comes painlessly. I mean, there is some balagāns you can buy for LVL 0.35 or something, which is less than a PET bottle of Coke at LVL 0.42. Tens of millions of users around the world spend that kind of money without thinking and it adds up to huge revenue in micro doses. Unlike Coke, you can (legally, for sale) get all the copies of a ringtone you want without exhausting the supply, but you can only drink the can once before you have to produce all kinds of physical stuff (water, sugar, secret brown syrup) to get the second, third etc. can.
So, dear graduate (nobody, believe me, nobody will understand the movie reference), the word is not plastics (nor soft drinks) but balaganas.
Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) has gotten the word and they just launched mobile TV services by putting together an informal alliance of some of Latvia's major commercial balaganschiki (producers of balaganas), Latvian Independent Television (LNT), TV5 and the portal That comes on the same day as they launched EDGE, the high speed data service (the balagāns looks best on this) so people have something to do with the nearly 60 000 EDGE phones already on the LMT network. EDGE will be charged at the same rates as GPRS, the current slower system, a hint that EDGE will be the data plaform of choice (until EDGE+ or something new comes along, or we all switch to UMTS) on LMT.
So far, not bad. It is also clearly an effort to pre-empt Bite, and here the act is not quite put together yet. Bite Plius can be accessed with a single key on customized subsidized phones. The LMT portal looks distinctly uncool at the moment and has merely added a mobile TV link. Some of the other links (and please note I have not made an extensive study of the LMT mobile internet pages) that used to lead to newspapers and a mobile version of the BNS news service now lead into the arms of the paid Lursoft media archive with few ways of turning around and going back (I haven't figured them out). This is not good. I'm sorry, but in my superficial opinion, these aspects of the LMT portal SUCK.
So basically, while LMT appears to be marshaling the troops to fight Bite with mobile TV and EDGE, it had better get a cool, easy portal together or all this effort will be a waste. The content providers are certainly thinking in the right direction of repackaging their digital content for the mobile plaform. During the demo of streaming broadcast TV, LNT was showing (at just under 5 santims per minute) the paid commercial broadcast TV Shop where an American actress (dubbed in Latvian) was showing some kind of vegetable grinding machine. It was not possible to read the phone number to call (on the small screen) so that anyone watching this and paying for it would be buying a) a program paid for by its producer and sponsor to be watched for free (OK, you sort of pay for free to air commercial TV over cable and satellite) and b) unable to buy the vegetable grinder since the number was illegible. Interestingly, the Russian subtitles on a later "real" TV show could be discerned.
Anyway, mobile content editing and making it user-selectable cannot come too soon to this new service and I think it will.
Why would anyone want to puree (make into a kind of liquid) radishes? This is what I think I saw the veggie grinder woman doing. Any ideas?

The knives come out for fuckwit reasons

I write this blog because not everything I consider worth saying can be published in a certain newspaper. One reason is, we print news and not rumor, musings and personal speculation. The other reason is there are some things that pass over the flight path of those putting the paper together. That's fine with me -- the eagles don't bother the geese and the geese don't hit the eagles.
Until today. I get a stern talk about doing allegedly bad work and being too friendly to Lattelekom, hereafter THE GREAT SATAN. All of this applies to the merry month of May. I was on vacation one week and did a total of 25 newspaper pieces, 28 % of which were exclusive, though not by any means in the OH MY GOD run screaming through the street stampeding pets and cattle category. But they were pieces that nobody else had, including the first vague but interesting disclosures of what Bite GSM intended to do, also reflected here. Plus, if anybody noticed, after the auction, just about fuck all was happening in the sector. Only 8 % of these news items concerned THE GREAT SATAN. The one about THE GREAT SATAN cooperating with Germany's T-Systeme included some third party commentary plus reference to the fact that THE GREAT SATAN was not moving ahead in its cooperation with Exigen along sort of similar lines. Not, to my mind, slanted or abominable journalism, but something I probably did get because in my own mind, I think I have been fair toward THE GREAT SATAN so they were willing to exclusively tell me the story.

I did, in fact, offer to do a hatchet job on
THE GREAT SATAN to one of the editors who scolded me for not calling THE GREAT SATAN a evil motherfucker of a slime drooling GREAT SATAN. It had to do with a wacko survey of alleged marketing experts who said 60 % of the business customers of THE GREAT SATAN would bolt as soon as number portability was introduced. And the day after that, sugar-coated doves will fly out from under the robes of the new Pope...

These claims were told by a respectable source, so hey, he said it, we write it. It would not be the first and hardly the last fuckwit opinion to be passed along in a certain paper and other media. I mean, they say it, we print it.

At the end of the day, however, the wacko piece was killed after discussing it with another editor. So it wasn't me glossing over the terrible fate that awaits

But this shit has gone too far(there is an economic side to it) , and if anyone knows of, shall we put it discreetly, other opportunities for a hack of my twisted talents, any tips are appreciated. No money to be made from these fuckin' ravings, but certainly it keeps life fun.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Bite hopes to win over business users

Bite will come into Latvia as a true Lithuanian-Latvian company, running core functions (billing, accounting, content management) with its existing organization in Lithuania and adding Latvian staff to handle marketing and the build-out in Latvia.
Bite intends to capture a part of the business market by moving quickly to offer high speed EDGE data services and a package of flat-rate services known as Bite Bizpak (?) in Lithuania. For consumers, Bite will adapt its Bite Plius mobile portal which offers ringtones, Mp3 downloads, games, weather and a range of other services. Many subsidized phones sold in Lithuania are customized with a special Bite Plius button - look for the same in Latvia.
The company will start operations this year and build out a network in three stages, the first covering the major cities such as Riga, Ventspils, Liepaja and Daugavpils and at least three heavily traveled highway routes (from Riga to the Lithuanian border via Jelgava and Bauska, and to Daugavpils).
Bite officials scoffed at claims by Latvian Mobile Telephone and Tele2 that it would be difficult o expand network capacity to allow Bite to have national roaming in some parts of Latvia until the network buildout is completed. They said that increasing the capacity of any base station was a matter of installing an additional "box" that would be paid for by the fees charged to Bite for network use.
In other countries, according to Bite GSM CEO Jesper Thiell Eriksen, operators compete to sell national roaming to newcomers.
More later, have to check out of the lovely -- because it has free wireless internet - Reval Hotel Lietuva.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Flak ahead as Bite flies to Latvia

I've been in Sweden at the high school graduation of my second oldest son (18) and also seeing my oldest (20) who was down from Umeå for the event Saturday. As a result I have been slacking off from the blog.
Some upcoming news – Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) is announcing mobile TV over GPRS, EDGE and UMTS later this week. It has signed up Latvian Independent Television (LNT), TV5 (the weird reality and interview shows) and some others.
The double announcement is a jump on "third"operator Bite Mobile, which has had EDGE in Lithuania for some time and also a jump ahead of "big half sister" Lattelekom, which is still cooking its internet television (IPTV) plans. LMT's service, like the planned Lattelekom IPTV (which half-mother TeliaSonera already offers in Sweden), is going to include some direct broadcast (not clips on demand, but apparently what is actually on LNT). Who knows. perhaps it's a test of a common platform? It would be a good sign that, hello!, LMT and Lattelekom are actually cooperating.
One reason for this launch that a number of mobile-TV capable handsets are already on the market or about to be launched. Look for them as the next campaign of subsidized phones in the stores in Latvia.

Turbulence for the bee?

It's probably not going to be such a smooth flight for Bite (means bee in Latvian and presumably, Lithuanian) coming into Latvia. Erik Hallberg, a senior executive at TeliaSonera and a member of the board of LMT made it clear in an interview with Neatkariga Rita Avize that LMT didn't have the spare capacity to be able to offer national roaming to Bite Mobile, the "third" Latvian operator.
Bite Mobile has said that two pillars of its entry into Latvia would be pre-paid cards (cash in hand, sell like hotcakes) and national roaming during a buildout. Hallberg's statement only confirms what I have been hearing from my LMT sources (and I hope I had it on the blog). Tele2, however, seems to be leaving the door ajar - after all, they and arch-rival Telia got together to pool resources for a UMTS buildout in Sweden, if I am not mistaken.
One thing is for certain, the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission isn't going to have a hard market analysis to base any orders on until early next year at the earliest. They published a 40 page document that simply describes how they think they are going to analyze the umpteen various markets. They will be lucky to meet their own hopes and finish the whole business by late 2006. I mean, Ofcom they ain't, staff wise, and as I said to an official at the Latvian regulator, about halfway through that 40-pager, I would have decided (were I working for them) either to hang myself or apply to herd sheep in Ireland for better pay. That's Latvian black humor...
The serious point is that Bite Mobile is unlikely to have anything with big teeth behind it when it begs for national roaming. Jesper Eriksen is a little optimistic in thinking he will get this without a fight.
BTW, I am off to see Bite tommorrow (today in six minutes) and may try to blog something from Vilnius. I don't know how much more they will disclose than I have already lured out of them, but we shall see.