Thursday, July 28, 2005

Ministry of Transport writes whatever about broadband

The Ministry of Transport has published a draft plan for bringing broadband services to "geographically remote" areas by 2008 using European Union Regional Development Funds in the amount of around LVL 4.3 million. The total cost of the project will be above LVL 6 million.
The whole document is both interesting and strange. It discusses the problem of defining broadband and settles for it being an "always on" connection to the internet, without defining the speed (elsewhere, the report notes, broadband starts at 2 Mbps). It also notes that the main reason for slow broadband take-up in Latvia is limited buying power and little cost/benefit from having a broadband line. Rural residents can't save travel costs and file documents with national and municipal authorities. The only possible savings is in using the internet for making voice calls abroad. The problem of poverty, to be sure, cannot be solved by the MoT alone and will probably not change by 2008.
Then the report goes on to take a cursory look at various broadband technologies and dwells at some length on power line communications (PCL), or running the internet on electrical power grids, It appears that this is the technology the MoT thinks will solve the problem of broadband access in the "geographically remote areas" (not defined in the document)/
However, Latvenergo, the only supplier of rural electricity has serious doubts that this will work. For one thing, there would have to be repeaters hung on long stretches of medium-voltage transmission lines and step-down transformers (from 20 kilovolts to 220 volts to power these.) Ovum analyst Mark Main also told this blogger (who was wearing his reporter hat at the time) that PCL was a difficult and dodging technology at best. It had been tried and abandoned by a power utility in Scotland.
The MoT mentions, in passing, that WiMAX technology with a radius for high-speed internet of around 10 kilometers, is also under development.
In short, there is no clear idea of how to bring fast, always on internet to the shack in the woods, and a better defined idea that whoever lives in the shack couldn't afford it or can't be persuaded of it's advantages, even if it was there.
If you ask me, I would look to Lattelekom's efforts to get some cdma450 spectrum (or cooperate with Triatel) to get wireless voice and internet to at least some rural residents who don't have it. Further down the road, there's WIMAX, maybe..

Monday, July 25, 2005

Happy dark secrets at Triatel

China's HuaWei, the maker of telecommunications systems, has officially registered a Latvian subsidiary and confirmed to this blogger that it is building out Triatel's cdma 450 network. More details were not provided, but it would appear that this could be a deal worth tens of millions of dollars.
The strange thing is that Triatel (actually, the deal was probably signed by one of the partners behind the brand, Telekom Baltija) is keeping this fact under wraps. It actually is good news - the company is getting, in all probability, a rather low-cost deal. As far as quality goes, this is a showcase project (though small), and HuaWei will probably do its best in this regard. It must also be remembered that this is a project in Ericsson and Nokia's back yard.
C'mon Mihail Zotov, maybe it is time to make it official that you like Chinese!
Yet another matter, that should perhaps be kept confidential, is that Lattelekom and Triatel are apparently playing some friendly footsie* with regard to cooperation in digitizing the remaining rural network. This means both companies would cooperate on fixed wireless services and wireless internet. They would, at the least, share infrastructure, making it easier for Triatel to afford its HuaWei equipment.
Long term readers of the blog will know that these issues have been discussed earlier here.
*footsie -- a secret expression of affection by rubbing another person's foot with one's own foot under the table.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Ayotollah of Transport, a short note

Only in Latvia can the Minister of Transport, Ainars Slesers, whose mandate has little or nothing to do with public order in municipalities or government policy on sexual minorities, pull off such a fuckwitted move as endorsing the Riga city manager's ban on a previously permitted gay and lesbian parade in the Riga Old Town scheduled for Saturday, July 23. Slesers says he is pleased with the ban and links it to an effort to prevent Latvia from being a destination for "sex tourism" and "homosexual recreation" - whatever the latter means. I suspect it means no gays playing golf at Ozo's Golf Course? No gay anglers fishing in the Gauja? What, exactly?
Besides roads and telecommunications, the Ministry has some kind of mandate to improve tourism to Latvia, and Slesers has done his part by encourage low-cost airlines and the like. But now it seems, according to his statement, that Ryanair and Easyjet should only be flying heterosexual tourists who intend to make pilgrimages to Aglona and go birdwatching in Latvian marshes?
I do not doubt that Ainars Slesers in his private is a good and pious traditional family man and one should respect these virtues. It is quite another thing when he makes statements that shift Latvia's position closer to Iran than to Europe on the government attitude scale. From minister he has become the Ayotollah of Transport.
The 10 % of the population being gay rule-of-thumb applies to the telecommunications and IT field as well, and Slesers is essentially saying that gay specialists, whose sexual orientation has nothing to do with their technical, financial, marketing or other skills, should be warned that Latvia is a prejudiced and homophobic country (and racist, to boot, the attitudes go hand in hand).
This is not a social comment or political blog, but this time I make an exception.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

TeliaSonera : Looking to be a wholly mobile mother...

It now looks like the main thrust of TeliaSonera's offer to start talks with the Latvian government on privatizing the state shares in fixed line operator Lattelekom (51 %) and mobile operator Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) is to get ahold of at least (but necessarily)LMT. Indeed, this blogger has seen a letter from the Latvian Competition Council, giving, on April 15, a kind of advisory opinion suggesting that any deal giving both the fixed and mobile operators to the same owner would likely be forbidden. The letter, written to the Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA), urges the LPA to draw up political rules that would discourage such a sale to the same owner.
TeliaSonera keeps pretty good tabs on what is happening in Latvia, it paid several low key visits to see Minister of Economics Krisjanis Karins and others, so it must have known about the letter. Karins, in an amusing and entertaining debate with Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, mentioned in passing that there could be trouble with the Competition Council.
TeliaSonera Denmark, Norway and Baltic States president Kenneth Karlberg, said that it was difficult to concieve of the company's expanding "Nordic-Baltic" home market without a strong mobile services element. By implication, it is less difficult to concieve of the market without a fixed operator, at least in Latvia. Mobile is "a basic service" of the future (and the future is now in Sweden, where nobody - and I've seen it in Kenneth's headquarters building – has a fixed line desktop phone). So it looks like there will be no crying and gnashing of teeth if Lattelekom has to be tossed to...whomever.
To be sure, the deal would have to, at best, extract the 23 % share of LMT from the fixed operator's clutches. Those would not be very tight clutches, because I think Lattelekom has a mobile strategy of its own. Remembering now that I read a hint of movement on the privatization issue in TeliaSonera honcho Erik Hallberg's smile at a wine-drinking event in London a couple of months ago, but apparently didn't blog anything to that effect. Therefore I now venture this wild hallucination:

I don't exclude that Lattelekom, left to its own devices (perhaps) and maybe, just maybe lucky not to be in the 100 % clutches of a rich but timid fullmother, will move on wireless communications in several ways. First, it will make all of its extensive WiFi network WiFi phone-friendly to the max. Then it will saturate some urban areas (entire rural towns, too) with WiMax or something like it , where these phones also work. Finally, it may do something outrageous - especially if fully privatized, such as buy Triatel. It has whatever is currently unspent of LVL 30 million earmarked for "digitizing" the remaining 10 %, shacks-in-the-woods part of the network. Why not build on a good thing and at least partner with the cdma450 operator, build out the net with some of this coverage and get a mobile service to boot? As Swiss Army knife GSM/UMTS/WiFi/CDMA phones come on the market, Lattelekom can cover its GSM side by partnering, say, with Bite Latvija, which says it will gladly host virtual operators. Bite can then share some of the Triatel/Lattelekom base station towers and the like. UMTS possibilities also open up with Bite, plus wireless internet, a service the company offers in Lithuania.
To take the fantasy even further, why not have TDC of Denmark buy Lattelekom as a, say, Christmas 2006 present for the Bite Group? In one swoop, you get the Latvian fixed network, the mobile business (though only number 3/4), perhaps the Triatel business, internet television and all kinds of goodies. Plus you have Citrus Solutions and C1 and the somewhat forgotten Sakaru Sistemas, which does IT stuff.
I don't smoke. I would like to, but no time to go for a weekend in Amsterdam :). This all real and possible, if you ask me.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Government open to Lattelekom, LMT privatization

Latvian prime minister Aigars Kalvitis says he has received a proposal from TeliaSonera to privatize the remaining government shares in fixed network operator Lattelekom and Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and will present it to Tuesday's meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, the news agency LETA reports.
The government current owns 51 % of Lattelekom and 28 % of LMT (23 % is owned by Lattelekom, 49 % by TeliaSonera).
Kalvitis says he will propose forming a working group to negotiate the possible terms of the sale. TeliaSonera, otherwise known as Lattelekom's half-mother, has been saying for a couple of years that it would like to take 100 % of both operators.
This is a turnaround from the policy of the previous government of Indulis Emsis, who put the issue of privatization on ice. Kalvitis' statement can be seen as a breakthrough. It is know that earlier, as Minister of Economics in a previous government, Kalvitis was open to doing some kind of deal with TeliaSonera to settle the then-ongoing arbitration dispute.
More on this later and tommorrow.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Warhol fame coming for this blog :)

Andy Warhol said everyone should be famous for 15 minutes, and in Latvia, at least, I may get my quarter hour when the national daily Diena publishes a story about blogging (I, feeding the online news of an unnameable employer with whom I am in some black pit of bad relations, have already written about v-logging, but, what the heck...). It appears I will be featured as Latvia's only blogger and therefore join an esteemed group of "onlys" --Professor Juris Bojars, Latvia's only admitted KGB agent, and my fellow journalist, Karlis Streips, Latvia's only admitted gay person. So watch Diena on Monday for my brief moment of fame and glory :).

Bill to meet Latvian IT honchos

I learned today that Microsoft is organizing a seminar in Seattle August 11-12 for just about everyone who is anyone in the Latvian IT community. It may be opened by Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, who will be in the US at the same time. Your blogger, despite being in some kind of ill-defined doghouse* with his unnamed employers(or rather, ultimate supervisor), hopes to hitch a ride to this get-together and perhaps get an interview with Bill Gates.

*for non-native English speakers, this means to be held in some kind of disrepute, to be consider a renegade, to be held in contempt.

The fruit, the non-explosive, and what about Mom?

Lattelekom presented its, as one would say in several European languages, daughter companies Citrus Solutions and the business process outsourcing company C1 (formally know as Contact Center 118, the call center and other customer contact services outfit). I already commented on Citrus' name, but actually, it is quite appropriate, when explained in terms of citrus trees blooming, blossoms, fresh fruit and all that. C1 has some associations also, like Call One, or number one or whatever. My first thought, however, was of the military plastic explosive C4. That is why this blog is an outlet for my more perverse associations...:).
However, the most interesting things that could be heard around and about today's (July 14) debutante presentation of both daughters was what Mom (Lattelekom) was going to do now that these full grown girls were out of the house (alas, Verdi, the IT daughter, is still chained in the attic, what's left of her, and we don't talk about that...).
Mom, it would seem, is getting a bit dowdy, fixed voice and just a (growing) sprig of DSL in her hair to remind us that there is still life in the girl. Relations with cousin Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) are still a bit too distant to open shop together (selling fixed and mobile under one roof, as many other operators do around the world). So what to do now that the girls are grown up? Wait, for one thing...
Wait for WiFi/Mobile convergence and throw in, possibly, WiMax and people will suddenly find that Lattelekom is right there on their WiFi/WiMax equipped mobiles (I think Nokia has a few, the Communicators). Also, expect Mom to become a major TV and entertainment platform and push the conversion of more and more ordinary fixed lines to DSL, with higher speeds for lower prices (the only game in town, although once we all become accustomed to broadband being as ubiquitous as electricity, there won't be room for many Latnet-style SNAFUs/situation normal, all fucked up, for my Latvian readers/, never mind the breakdowns a few years ago that Lattelekom's Apollo endured with its international lines due to fuckwit fishermen off the Swedish coast, etc.). So that's my take on it...tired, end of a busy day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Mad router zaps Latnet

Latnet, a rather popular business internet service provider (ISP), went down because of what amounted to a mad router on Monday. The presumably Cisco device, which also sits on the ISP's alternative international internet connection, went batshit around 8 am Monday and started feeding huge amounts of irrelevant directory information to the other routers in the system. They choked and died. It was also not possible to immediately determine the cause of the failure, and specialists from Latnet, Lattelekom and elsewhere were called in to put a straitjacket on the offending machine and clean up the huge mess it left. Service was restored late in the afternoon.
Among those fubared (f**ked up beyond all repair) by the Latnet fiasco were Latvian TV and Radio, the Customs service (electronic declarations stopped) and several private companies, such as the publishing house Preses Nams.
Latnet apparently isn't insured against beserk routers so may have to pay heavily on a number of service level agreements that it was forced to violate because of the incident. Oddly, not too many affected businesses seem to have taken the natural step of improvising a mobile internet link with a phone and a laptop. Latvian Mobile Telephone (and Tele2's) mobile internet services were unaffected by the Latnet outage (except for the poor suckers who tried to reach a Latnet hosted entity). LMT, at least, did not report any extraordinary GPRS or EDGE useage.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Apple Center under way in Riga

My very good sources tell me that an Apple Center, the functional equivalent of an Apple Store (though franchised, not owned by Apple) will open in Riga sometime this fall. It will be operated by Capital, the computer retailer now selling Apple products, such as the Mini and iPod, at a few retail locations and on the internet.
Capital is not ready to make an official announcement because the Apple Center will be at a location presently housing a Capital computer store that will have to be renovated. The building has some historical value and special permits are needed to do the renovation work. Until all is in place and the work starts, the company is holding back on publicity.
Prices at the Apple Center will be around + or - 5 % of Apple product prices in Germany. This blogger noticed that a hefty 17 " iMac with a 250 Gb harddisk went for a bit over LVL 1000, perhaps slightly less than it would cost at the Apple online store in Sweden (
By no means are Macs cheap, but then again, they are not lunch for the next hour's new attacks on Windows and Wintel systems. My little son's (9 years) Wintel laptop, which he uses recklessly on the internet (even with the Lattelekom Apollo firewall) is a festering zoo of unwanted malware and other critters. When my wife, who really uses it, tries to use it, she finds a mess where Office software doesn't open, etc.
Plus, Wintel is as uncool as you can get...:)

Triatel, Tele2 kept hanging...

The Public Utilities Regulatory Commission didn't put the matter of Triatel (Telekom Baltija's) and Tele2's frequency use renewal on the agenda for this week. This means more nail-biting at Triatel. The regulator says it is waiting for guidelines from the Ministry of Transport (MoT) but my sources at the MoT say the regulator can decide for itself. So we are back to the issue, mentioned a few times earlier on this blog, of a kind of undeclared low-intensity conflict between the two state authorities.
As far as the MoT rules for extending "licences" held by existing operators goes, it appears these will be finished and ready for Cabinet of Minister's approval by the end of the month. But people at the MoT say the regulator doesn't need them. And the regulator can't decide without them, or at least won't decided until it has the rules to use to settle what may be internal differences inside the regulator.

Cheap numbers?
Some good news: the fees being discussed for reserving phone numbers are in the range of LVL 0.12 to LVL 0.28 per number per year, which is less than the LVL 0.50 mentioned earlier. Even the earlier amount was considered to small to have an impact on mobile services costs for consumers. It also appears that fees for frequency use will also be moderate, designed to cover costs (of administration) rather than generate revenues for the state.

Apple Store Riga??
Another bizarre but pleasant rumor is that an Apple Store to sell Macintosh computers and iPods and various peripherals may open in Riga by the end of the summer. That would be cool, but I have to check this one out. The computer retailer Capital is said to be the local partner.
Latvia is not a Mac-friendly place, although this is being typed on a Powerbook G4 by a Mac user since 1985.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Triatel, Tele2 on the agenda?

On Friday (July 8), the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission will decide whether to put on the agenda for its July 13 meeting the matters of extending frequency use rights for cdma 450 operator Triatel and GSM/UMTS operator Tele2. In March, it seemed that, lacking some new rules, the frequencies used by both operators would have to be auctioned to the highest bidder. Well, there are no new rules yet, as far as I know, but Triatel, at least, isn't worried.
Top officials say they cannot imagine how the regulator can reject a proposed deal whereby Triatel essentially swaps a 450-453 Mhz band for a 453-457 Mhz band because, it appears, the government's frequency plan simply gave away Triatel's current bandwidth to the government's planned TETRA emergency radio network. Triatel wasn't warned two years ahead as the law states, but, hey, shit happens. So a ruling allowing use of 453-457 Mhz by Telekom Baltija, one of the partners in Triatel (a brand that looks and acts like a company :) ) would be very logical, especially since Radiokoms, the other partner behind Triatel, also uses it.
On the other hand, other sources aren't sure that everyone on the regulator's decision-making council is behind such a simple settlement. Indeed, it appears that Triatel was concerned about the possible outcome even to the extent of considering alternatives, such as suing the Latvian state for ruining its business (something that could be more profitable than running a minority standard mobile operator, considering Latvia's track record in internationa arbitration :) ). Now it appears that this is not a concern, although no one is bending over backwards to say that Triatel didn't consider this at some point.

Latvenergo and cable TV

Voldermars Plavoks, the head of Latvenergo Telekom, confirmed in an e-mail that the state-owned electrical utility had done some research on cable TV, mostly along the lines of offering carrier services to other operators. This could mean that Latvenergo is considering offering its network to operators who don't have coverage in certain areas of Riga. For example, there is only 1/3 of the city territory where the two major operators Baltcom and TeliaMultiCom overlap, hence there is no competition among the biggest players in much of the city. Latvenergo could make it possible for the overlap and the potential competition to be broader. We shall see what happens.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Latvenergo checking the cable TV market?

Another weird summer rumor. Latvenergo, the Latvian electric utility, has been doing some market research about cable TV in a Riga neighborhood. This according to a source in Poland at the moment (where all kinds of PR, analyst, and even journalist types--not me-- have flocked to the U2 concert). The idea seems to be that Latvenergo would deliver cable to homes, just exactly how is unclear. For new buildings, Latvenergo has probably discreetly offered to run fiber to the building while installing the necessary electrical connections (this kind of bundling has been criticized by the telecoms and internet companies). For older buildings, it isn't clear what the electric utility could do. Internet over powerlines is a possibility, but can the wires carry enougfh bandwidth for TV?
Another possibility is that Latvenergo is offering some kind of carrier capacity deal to the existing cable operators to give them a larger footprint (connecting via Latvenergo's net to areas where they have no fiber or coax or MMDS wireless service). That would also make some kind of sense.
In the US, a cursory Google shows that there are a number of small and medium-sized towns where the local public utility combines electricity, telephone, internet and cable TV in a kind of quad-play (US baseball fans would call it a home run :) ). So this is quite doable. Will hopefully be talking to the head of Latvenergo Telecom tommorrow, so watch this space.

Another tidbid, this one IT related...

The newsfeed website runs on a solution developed in Latvia by Lursoft, the business information and database company that maintains Latvia's commercial register. They've done some other stuff, too. Interesting. More, maybe. Not like a certain newspaper, whose self-defined target audience is the Latvian Jed Clampett (of the Beverly Hillbillies), Ķencis, is going to be jumping all over this story. So you may read it here first.

Monday, July 04, 2005

No Berry for the Bee?

One purpose of blogging is to report interesting background chatter that would not normally make it into a real news publication (like the rumor of Lattelekom buying MicroLink that I blogged late last year :)).
This I just heard: someone offered to sell Blackberry e-mail/phone devices to what was then Bite GSM (now the Bite Group), but they apparently considered the idea too expensive and the market too small. The Blackberry is a PDA/e-mail platform that looks like a phone (more or less) and is a craze in some business user circles in the US and some European countries. In fact, there are help groups for Blackberry addicts and the like.
In any event, this was a strange piece of news, because GSM networks here in the Baltic do support e-mail plaforms such as the whatchamacallit from Palm, plus all the e-mail capable Nokia and Ericsson and other phones.
I haven't researched what it is about Blackberry that makes it more difficult to support, unless it is their Enterprise Server platform, which apparently is used to deliver applications over a VPN to the device.
Perhaps some reader could comment this. It would seem Bite (yes, it means bee in Latvian and Lithuanian) would want to support the Blackberry as part of its business services concept. Maybe the price wasn't right from this Blackeberry agent or whatever...

Friday, July 01, 2005

Tele2 hit with LVL 10 000 fine

Tele2, the Swedish-owned Latvian mobile operator, has been fined LVL 10 000 by the Latvian Public Utilities Regulatory Commission for failing to eliminate discriminatory interconnection tariffs that favor incumbent Lattelekom.
says it will appeal the fine ruling, handed down on July 1, to the Administrative Court. The company will argue that it was not given enough time by the regulator to work out a solution. In the three months ending in February of this year, Tele2 failed (hardly to anyone's surprise) to get Lattelekom to back out of a 1999 interconnect agreement that was drafted and signed when market liberalization was still a pipe dream. The other seven agreements with smaller operators were signed in 2004 and 2005.
Tele2 press secretary Evita Matisone said the company had asked for an extension to find a solution but was not granted one by the regulator "who seemed set on some kind of punishment."
Liga Rimsevica, the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission press secretary said that Tele2 could have solved its problems by adjusting the interconnect rates downwards for all operators to the levels it agreed to charge Lattelekom.
Gundars Ruza, a telecoms analyst with Ernst & Young in Riga said that Tele2 has probably made an economic calculation that the revenue loss from cutting all tariffs to the Lattelekom contract level is the worst outcome, whereas an appeal to the courts opens up the possibility of delaying payment of the fine and freezing the status quo until the matter is resolved, possibily with a compromise (a slight cut for the "seven" and a raise for Lattelekom) that is more or less revenue-neutral for Tele2.