Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Telecentrs has WiMax plans

Telecentrs, a Latvian wireless internet provider, has plans to build out a WiMax network in the Riga area next year, based on Motorola's Wi4 technology. It just doesn't have any spectrum for this, not in the 3.5 to 3.6 GHz range that it needs.
This is the reason why Telecentrs has belatedly started a campaign to have some of competitor Unistars frequencies reallocated. The Public Utilities Regulatory Commission will decide on August 31 whether to extend Unistars frequency use rights in the 3.5 to 3.6 GHz spectrum. Telecentrs says that the allocation of six channels to Unistars is excessive and beyond the prudent and reasonable use of the spectrum. Trouble is, nobody has determined standards, short of doing nothing and letting the storks nest on your base station tower, as to what is reasonable use. The Electronic Communications Directorate certainly doesn't, even though they count towers and monitor technical compliance with frequencies, so they gave a clean bill of health to Unistars.
The only problem with all of this is that it can set a bad precedent (with non-existant or fuzzy benchmarks) for operators to pull frequency grabs every time a similar situation arises. If Telecentrs succeeds in persuading the regulator that the state can make some money auctioning off what it determines are superflously allocated frequencies, this could become a regular circus with dangerous incentives both for complainants (I didn't say whiners to be fair :) ) and for the government.

Hua would you like to work for us?

Hua being a play on "how". Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications infrastructure company, is hiring all kinds of staff in Latvia, mainly on the engineering and technical side. So it is more than obvious that they are here to build Triatel's cdma 450-based 3G and wireless high-speed DSL network. Huawei's honcho in Poland, Sun Gang (honcho is a good thing, means big boss, since I know that Sun Gang might be reading this, and he, like many readers, doesn't know American slang) has said as much. Now it is time for Triatel to admit that they like Chinese and not sneak around to the back of the house to hide the paper containers and plastic chopsticks (this is a reference to the way Chinese food – which I love – is delivered to the home).
What I wonder about is whether Huawei has managed to cozy-up to Lattelekom, because cdma 450 might just be the way to satisfy the "you must digitize every hut in the swamp" crowd in the government and politics who always point out that Lattelekom hasn't digitized the last, remote, technically near-impossible part of the network. Some kind of deal would have to be cut with Triatel, saving costs for both sides. I must look into this.

Bills, bills, 30 million bills...

The Swedish Tele2 group has started moving its billing operations to Latvia. They will be, for now (with around 100 staff) operate out of the new Tele2 offices in Riga. With around 30 million customers, that's a lot of bills, but what the Latvian operation will do is prepare the electronic documentation for dispatch by the Latvian or some other postal service (so it will be one big e-mail to Germany rather than a container full of paper bills :) ).
The billing center in Latvia will eventually replace similar, more costly facilities in Sweden and Germany, as well as another facility in Estonia. The costs of operation in Estonia are not significantly different from Latvia, but Tele2 doesn't believe it can find enough qualified workers who understand English to staff a facility there.
This was all disclosed to me exclusively by Tele2's vice president in charge of the Baltic States, Russia and Croatia, Johnny Svedberg in an interview last Thursday. I must admit I didn't blog this immediately because I was worried about "blowback" to the Latvian media before the story was run by my day job newspaper. At the end of the week, there is a special danger that the weekend rags (those who publish on Saturday) will get the jump on the newspaper where I supposedly have a real job :). This was the case with the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission extending Tele2's spectrum rights for just six months, so we (on Monday) had to lead with the obvious that there could be an international shitstorm if the spectrum rights aren't extended after March 1, 2006. I also did a freelance piece for IDG News, an international IT and telecoms news agency that serves hundreds of IT magazines, newsletters and websites from Los Angeles to Albania (HQ for this company is in Boston, my home town, to the extent that a Latvian displaced person can have any such thing :) ). The story was a transcript of most of my interview with Svedberg, except for the purely Latvia-relevant parts. Watch for the Latvian version, well, whenever...

Friday, August 26, 2005

Regulator to Tele2: adjust interconnect rates or die!

NOTE: Some corrections added late Friday

The Latvian Public Utilities Regulatory Commission has extended for six months (until March 1, 2006) Tele2's mobile radio spectrum useage rights, in effect warning the company that these rights will be withdrawn if the company does not bring the interconnect rates it charges fixed line incumbent Lattelekom into line with the rates it charges other operators. This means that it must either cut the interconnect charges to other operators, or persuade Lattelekom to re-negotiate its interconnect agreement (dating back to before the current regulatory regime and market deregulation). The rate differential is a fraction of a santim (1/100 of a Latvian lat), but Tele2 has been fighting a court battle with the regulator, appealing an administrative fine that it must pay because of the interconnect tariff discrepancy.
In a clear swipe at Tele2 (but also a move circumventing the courts?) the regulator said that Tele2's alleged arguments that «we are big, therefore we deserve to get something» would not be accepted and extension of the frequency rights beyond March 1 was dependent on compliance with its ruling on interconnect charges. Without spectrum use rights, Tele2 with some 800 000 (mostly pre-paid) customers and LVL 75 million in turnover will have to shut down. That, in turn, would cause a major international scandal. Once deprived of its spectrum rights, Tele2 could only recover them in an auction, something for which it could be disqualified if the interconnect dispute is still ongoing.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Inna to count beans, not Kurds :)

Slavishly following the lead of some moron (I should have known what sounds strange) at a news agency quoting a newspaper, I wrote that Inna Steinbuka of the Latvian Public Utilities Regulatory Commission would be taking a job as head of Eurostat's Ethnic and Regional Statistics Division. That is nonsense.
If she takes the job, it will be with the Economic and Regional Statistics Division. So Inna will be "counting beans" as one says of accountants and statisticians, not Kurds.
Thanks to LR (she knows who she is :) ) for an SMS clearing this up.

Alise sells, Inna to count Kurds in Bayern

I have to be brief-- TietoEnator has bought 51% of the Latvian IT company IT Alise, which is one of the biggest with 200 employees. The reason - a good core of Oracle specialists (they set up the E-Business thing at Latvenergo) plus customers such as Lattelekom and Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT). More on that after the press conference...

Just as we were starting to have fun, Inna Steinbuka, the head of the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission, has been selected to head the Ethnic and regional Statistics Division at Eurostat, the European Union statistics agency. Probably a good move – Inna has a doctorate in economics and specializes in econometrics, the application of mathematic methods to statistics or something like that.
So this lady, who did a stint at the IMF, is probably off to swinging Luxemburg to oversee the counting of Kurds in Bavaria (Bayern) and stuff like that. But if you ask me, with 18 different markets to define and more than 200 operators (from LMT down to farmer Berzins' son running an ethernet cable to the next farm and calling himself an ISP) on the Latvian market, the other exit for Inna was probably under escort from gentle people in white coats to the rest home..Keep in mind that the entire Latvian regulator has as much staff as you would see smoking on coffee break outside the Ofcom/Oftel or whatever they call it office in London.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Weird shit with Tele2's spectrum

It looks like Tele2 won't get its use of the 900 and 1800 Mhz spectrum extended by the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission at the regulator's August 24 meeting, making this a real nail-biter for the mobile operator with around (my guess) 750 - 800 000 users. Their frequency use runs out on August 28, after that, it can be auctioned to the highest bidder or given to the prettiest one in a beauty contest. Basically, Tele2 Latvia will have to shut down or operate in some grey-zone until it a) either buys back its own frequencies or b) negotiates with the regulator to get an extension after solving whatever problems there are.
Apparently there are problems, at least modest ones involving differences of opinion between Tele2 and the regulator on disclosure of information as well as other disputes.
So what is really going on is Tele2 is getting spanked and scared shitless with the prospect of having no legal spectrum after Sunday, August 28. The regulator will probably call a last minute meeting on Friday and save Tele2 from going over the waterfall. That will teach those cheeky Swedish f**kers...
All this comes after the regulator adopted "good children get extended" rules for spectrum use that included the requirement of having no violations of spectrum use (i.e. calls breaking into my favorite U2 song on the FM radio) and no other kinds of violations of normative acts. However, there is no precedent or benchmark for just what this means. This may be a first and spectacular precedent. I wonder if chicken-racing (two cars approach head on at top speed to see who turns away first) one of Europe's biggest alternative operators is the way to show that the Latvian regulator has balls. We all know she does :)*
*the regulator is chaired by a lady, Inna Steinbuka.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Geese in, telecoms out...

The meeting of the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers (da govermint) has removed from its agenda for August 23 a discussion of a possible sale of the remaining shares of Latvian Mobile Telephone and Lattelekom to Sweden's TeliaSonera. The item was there just last Friday, with Minister of Economics Krisjanis Karins scheduled to report. My colleague at my day job whose job is to be, as Bob Dylan wrote, "down in the basement, thinkin' bout the govermint" says this often happens.
A number of other things have appeared on the agenda, including an item about protecting migratory birds that fly between Europe and Africa. So the geese are in, and one of Latvia's most important telecoms issues is postponed. Why this happened is something I will look into, because the month allocated for the inter-ministry working group to report on TeliaSonera's yet again once more, hey, how about it guys? offer regarding LMT and Lattelekom has nearly passed.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Mihail munching mushrooms?

Or maybe (considering his Latin American connections), a peyote cactus slipped into his soup. I'm talking about Mihail Zotov, the head of Telekom Baltija, who has sent, yet again, a letter asking the government not to adopt rules on radio spectrum where he sees a threat of auctions of existing operator frequencies for which allocations run out (as they do for Telekom Baltija brand Triatel in 2006). There are new extension rules formulated by the regulator and this letter is a little paranoid. Besides, Triatel is getting enough publicity through its ads on the street and TV. Don't worry, be happy Mihail!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Passing 150

This blog has now passed 150 posts and will soon be a year old (in late September). Who would have believed I could keep the f**ker going this long :) :) :). Less obscene and cynical comments are welcome on this milestone or whatever...

Having your numbers and "eighting" then too

So hear is the deal that Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers came up with after a round of talks with Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT), Tele2, Lattelekom, and the kid he was leading into the schoolyard by the hand – Bite Latvija. (Yes, the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission was there as well). Latvia will start an immediate and parallel switch to eight-digit (mobile) phone numbers for those who need them, but still keep the seven digit system for those who still have some of this exhausted commodity. It will be up to the operator to choose. Some 10 million new numbers will be created, and Slesers said he will put the scheme on the fast track to be approved by the government. Translating in the silliest possible way from the Latvian, he will push it through as a "Cabinet of Ministers' Thing" (Ministru kabineta lieta) and bypass a couple of layers of bureaucracy.
At the same time, Bite and Lattelekom appear close to a deal to have a kind of virtual interconnect with the LMT and Tele2, who have not signed deals with Bite Latvija yet and insist that they are not stalling, but will not, of course, sign anything two seconds earlier than their procedures, schedules and previous practices allow. Indeed, both operators issues press releases to that effect, sounding miffed that anyone was reminding them of this issue and upset (in the case of LMT, at least) that they were not invited to Slesers' press conference, while the new kid in town, Jesper Thiell Eriksen, the honcho-to-be of the Bite Group (while he qualifies for honcho-hood in Lithuania, in Latvia the big guys, like Uncle Joe, can ask how many divisions does the Pope have?), was sitting by the minister's side.
The deal envisioned with Lattelekom is that until interconnects are signed with the Big Two (Bite and Triatel are already set to give each other great phone* -- they have an agreement in the bag) Bite Latvija calls will be routed through Lattelekom, which means the part-mother of LMT (23 %) gets more money from its already signed interconnect with Bite and the Big Two get their money (not real money, some kind of clearing of minutes used) from Lattelekom.
All in all, one could say that Slesers – the former kickboxer – kicked (sharply but politely) a few asses and it seems to have worked. As a result, Bite now says it will start up on its secret start up day according to its original plans, which were to launch a lot of consumer services, starting with pre-paid, then move on to pre-paid via internet, post-paid subscription, and, finally, flat rate business packages when the network coverage is sufficiently built out.

*giving phone is Anglo-American slang for phone sex, which is not really sex, but the ability to give each other pleasure over the phone line (which, actually, we do in many phone calls in a non-erotic way, calling friends etc., except calling the vacationing neighbor to say you think his cat has been dead for a few days, i.e. not moving for days, flies arriving...).
It is early Saturday morning and the writing is accordingly perverse :)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Weirdness on the Bite entry agenda

On Friday, August 19, Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers (Ok, no longer the Ayatollah) has called a press conference where Bite Group CEO Jesper Thiell Eriksen will participate. It appears Slesers will announce some kind of action plan to speed up and facilitate Bite Latvija's entry into the Latvian mobile market. Before that (the press event is scheduled for 1400 local) there will be meetings with the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission, Lattelekom, Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and Tele2 to try to increase the number of allocated numbers for Bite Latvija and to speed up the signing of interconnect agreements with the other two mobile operators.
All of this is sort of sounds fine, except that as far as I know, Slesers doesn't have the power to pressure, much less order the private sector around (even if Lattelekom is 51 % state-owned). Least of all can he influence the independent regulator.
My sympathies lie with shaking up the market and getting Bite Latvija going so that LMT, for instance, no longer has it so easy making what amounts to fuck-you profits. This is based on the scale of big money, huge money, enormous money and what is called "fuck you" money, where you can afford to buy half the universe, disregard everything and have enough left over to say "fuck you" to anyone who tries to criticize.
The good thing about fuck you profits is that, well, you can stuff your shareholders to bursting with dividend cash and if they don't like your style, you just whisper, look at this money, and well, fuck you! And they smile shit-eating grins while they count money like Scrooge McDuck (the super-rich relative of Donald Duck).
The bad thing about fuck you profits is that, like the very pleasurable habit of self-abuse (or perhaps smoking dope), is that it makes you go blind. One fails to see the abyss beyond the blizzard of cash swirling around one's head. That means in just one or two steps, you can be at the other end of the scale, at fuckedcompany.com.
So far none of this is happening to LMT (except the fuck you profits), but there is a certain incipient arrogance about the company. Letting Bite Latvija loose sooner, rather than later, and with a bigger stinger, rather than a pinprick, may not be so bad for everyone. It would certainly shake the incumbents into at least trying to get a jump on Bite's very likely far lower tariffs, its flat rate business services, EDGE data from day one, etc. Tele2, for Christ's sake, has been leaderless for months in Latvia since Mats Tilly leaped off to Croatia. Johnny Svedberg, a major honcho from the big Tele2 in Sweden will be swinging through Latvia next week and this may be a chance to get a feel for what is going on.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Mobile operators spared spectrum auction

The Latvian Public Utilities Regulatory Commission has adopted rules for extending frequency use rights that finally put to rest worries that at least two mobile operators – Triatel and Tele2 – could have their expired spectrum use rights auctioned to the highest bidder.
The rules essentially say "good behavior gets an extension", which is more or less what the operators wanted and which also makes sense. Earlier this spring, the Ministry of Transport confirmed that under the Electronic Communications Law and existing or proposed rules, there was nothing to prevent an auction of expired spectrum rights held by an existing operators with (in the case of Tele2) hundreds of thousands of customers. This caused an uproar at the time.
The new rules adopted by the regulator ar a bit broader than their draft version, which said that an extension would be granted if there had been no violations of the spectrum use regulations and that the spectrum was, indeed, being used for commercial activity and not "squatted". Under the rules as adopted, operators must show that they have not had any violations of rules and laws pertaining to commercial activity in the electronic communications field.
To my mind, this would raise some modest concerns about what happens if an operator is in some kind of serious dispute with the state authorities at the time of renewal (not the case with either Triatel or Tele2 at the moment). Will a tax case or a competition complaint (see Tele2 vs. Lattelekom on the issue of riding cattle, mentioned on this blog earlier :) :) :) ) raise spectrum renewal issues? This is not clear. Should some kind of gross misbehavior – billing fraud, willful disobedience of reasonable orders by the regulator, etc.– be grounds for not extending spectrum use and, essentially, taking down an operator in one fell swoop? Maybe... Ten years from now, when spectrum rights extended in the next few months are up for renewal again, there might be enough trust in the system to assume that this weapon will be used in a fair and reasonable manner.
Excuse the writing with no boldface, etc., as my favorite laptop is at home and I am using my piece-a-shit late 90s workplace iMac.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Tom Sawyer Software looks to Latvia

Tom Sawyer Software of the US, which produces graph visualization, layout, and analysis component software, is starting a subsidiary in Latvia to use, among other things, the GRADE business process analysis technologies developed at the University of Latvia's Mathematics and Informatics Institute (MII).
Krists Boitmanis, a software engineer at MII said that the GRADE methodology had served as a kind of mark of quality (GRADE is used by US/Latvian Exigen as one of its main tools for doing business process fixes on banks, insurance companies and the like in deals where Exigen is betting on sharing in millions of USD in savings). Tom Sawyer will likely have some of GRADE's graphic process display and analysis functions adapted for the toolsets it offers, but may also have Latvian software engineers design new stuff.
Tom Sawyer is a small outfit (around 30 people) in Oakland, California. One the Latvian subsidiary is up and running (well, running it already is, with MII people), the US based company will have a significant part of its staff and development work done here in Latvia.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Draugiem forges international friendship

The 365 000 + member Latvian internet social community www.draugiem.lv will be offering a form of international access in several languages in the fall. Founder and co-owner Lauris Liberts told this blogger that the site will offer access in several languages so that current draugiem members can invite their non-Latvian speaking friends.
At the same time, Liberts admitted that the plans to have independent affiliates of draugiem in places like Italy and Sweden were being partially shelved. Instead, people accessing these sites (the Italian one has a few thousand users and is growing slowly) will be added to the big Latvian data base and see part of the draugiem.lv content in their own language. Liberts admitted that his cherished address for a planned Swedish site www.minavanner.se had essentially been cybersquatted, so that the new name for the access interface is being kept a secret.
One thing that has struck me about draugiem is that its 365 000 18 to 40 year old internet-savvy folks with purchasing power include a noticable number of bi-lingual ethnic Russians. By opening draugiem to the more reticent Russians, (I would call some of them the "Sept 1 protest kidz" :) ) who have some kind of a problem with Latvian (either they know it poorly or don't like to use it), membership should rise by a few tens of thousands at least. Comment from my Russian-Latvian readers is welcome.
Still unresolved but tilting in the direction of more commercialization is the extent to which draugiem.lv will allow advertising (there are some ads) and how its promising user generated content will do. I'm talking about their "Let's talk" section. "Real" blogging may be added in the fall (the Parunāsimies section is edited, only certain content is published).
One thing is for certain -- the community is the biggest single attention platform in Latvia with excellent demographics (TV, with a bigger audience, is watched by the old, infirm, four-year olds, etc). Advertisers will try to get at this audience by all means possible, including guerrilla marketing, probably the best way to succeed. For example, why not have a bank analyst make him/herself a "star" in the self-publishing section when it comes to personal finance or someone from an IT company when it comes to office software?
I still stand by my earlier post that another way for draugiem.lv to commercialize without overcommercializing is to sell affinity products, such as the suggested alliance with Bite Latvija, maybe selling a draugiem phone card. Trouble is, if 300 000 sign up, Bite is out of numbers :).
OK, lets not go too far... I'll settle for a draugiem T-shirt...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Lattelekom goes Boingo

No, Lattelekom definitely has not joined the Boingo WiFi hotspot subscription network. It has offered a subscription to its own 130 location network in Latvia, including Double Coffee ( a kind of Latvian Starbucks), various restaurants and hotels and Statoil gas stations around the country. For LVL 2.95 per month you get to log on anywhere for LVL 0.005 (that's half a santim) a minute. For LVL 10.95 a month you get unlimited access, sometimes at 2 Mpbs or even 4 Mbps, depending on what the hotspot has to offer.
Right now, at home, I pay around LVL 15 per month for 512 Kbps, which barely ranks as broadband in Scandinavia. So I am expecting a rise in speed or a cut in price for DSL, otherwise I move to Double Coffee down the street :).
Meanwhile, there are places like centrally-located Hotel Reval Latvia and the nearby Ridzene that offer WiFi as an amenity, for the price of a cup of coffee or a drink at the bar. For guests, it is free. This draws the WiFi battlelines in Riga. Then again, why not wardrive and see where else one can freeload? :)

Exigen seeks Australia deal

Exigen, the IT business process solutions company with its headquarters in San Francisco but most of the work done in Latvia, is looking to rationalize processes at the Sydney Water Company in Australia.
A team of four Exigen consultants, including the "Godfather" of the Latvian IT industry, Janis Gobins, are doing a pre-feasibilty study (or some such thing) for the Australian utility, which is owned by the state of New South Wales.
The anticipated deal could be signed in 2006 (state-owned bureaucracies take their time) and will be worth several million AUD for Exigen. Most of the work of redesigning the utility's business processes will be done in Latvia.
Besides Gobins, there are two Exigen people from the US and one from Australia working on getting the deal. Gobins, the Latvian-American founder of German-based Infologistik in the late 1980s, was one of the first West European companies to employ Latvian systems analysis and programming talent starting around 1989.
From these beginnings sprang SWH Technologies, the Latvian IT company that was merged into Exigen Latvia.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Baltkom TV to offer HD channel in the fall

Baltkom TV, Latvia's largest cable TV operator, says it will experimentally offer a high-definition television channel on its digital cable network, as well as double the number of channels to more than 100.
The HDTV programming will be taken from Euro1080. The company will also offer an interactive TV guide (interactive, probably, in the sense that the de-coder will open program schedules for each digital channel on demand).
On the telecoms side, Baltkom's director-general Peteris Smidre says that the optical cable to Sweden he bought last year (bailing out the ill-fated Foco 16 project run by a former head of Stockholm's Stokab and some Russian entrepreneurs who turned out to be, well, worth the Powerpoint slides their plans were printed on :) ) now carries around 10 to 15 % of the data traffic "in that direction". It would seem that the cable is at least partly or wholly paying for itself. Prices, however, are going down.
Smidre isn't disturbed by Lattelekom's plans to implement IPTV. He sees these as potentially very expensive, since a basic 512 kbps DSL internet connection costs more per month (around LVl 15) than Baltkom's planned premium digital service at LVL 13.50 per month. It will take a lot more than 512 kbps to the home to carry IPTV, Smidre says, so Lattelekom will essentially have to dump prices on its DSL service.
Rival cable operators note that Smidre's 100 channels aren't a competitive threat, since they believe they will be mostly free to air stuff that nobody wants to watch. However, my sources close to Baltkom say there will be some MTV digital and Baltkom's own movie channels.
Baltkom is also thinking of offering some kind of "pay by the day" deal, like in hotels, where a set program of very new movies (and, at hotels, erotica) can be had for a flat daily fee. The trouble is, this costs around GBP 10 upwards, say, in Britain, where a DVD with just one film (not the five or six movies plus hours of sexual acrobatics you could see if you sat and watched all day) costs about the same - say GBP 12. In Latvia, a DVD from "the guy around the corner" -- the one whom you ask very few questions – costs around LVL 3 to LVL 5 at most.
Which reminds me, every since my day job office moved from the Press Building in Riga, we are no longer visited by a young man I started calling the baraholschik. This is a phonetic rendering of a Slavic-sounding word taken from a dictionary of 1930s Latvian criminal slang (reprinted in a history of the Latvian police). A baraholschik is one who sells things that do not belong to him, usually of trashy quality. Our baraholschik was not so bad, just I had one DVD from him that "ended" when a tall black man got up in front of the image and put on his hat (apparently, this lap-camera work was done in the US or Britain, where you see moviegoers of various races).

Playing the numbers*

Well, it looks like the Ministry of Transport will be looking at three schemes to free up more numbers for the "ravenous" mobile sector. A working group on numbering resources has come ip with a draft conceptual document (Latvians love "concepts" as the start of a long and twisted path to actually solving a problem :)) that offers three alternatives.
In short, alternative 1 will provide 400 000 numbers by the end of the year, it involves jiggering two domestic area code districts and changing 300 000 allocated mobile numbers (that have not yet been sold to customers). However, the 400 000 is all that will be available until a transition to eight digits starts in 2007. This is sorta good news for Bite Latvija, though not necessarily...
The other two alternatives will free up 500 000 numbers in early 2006, using different schemes for reassigning and freeing up national area codes (more or less the scheme proposed by Lattelekom).One scheme forsees a transition to eight digits in 2008, the other -- a decision whether to go to eight digits to be made in 2008.

*for non-native, non-American readers, the "numbers" is a kind of illegal lottery involving a lucky number played in ethnic (often black) neighborhoods in the US (though not by Latvian-Americans).

If the blogging has been a little thin and rushed lately, it is because I have had lots to do-- an extra translation project for my day job -- doing an English news service--plus I am still looking for other "arrangements" regarding this day job (see earlier posts on various problems). So if anyone needs a multilingual business writer (anywhere in the world, Latvia or Sweden preferred), just let me know. BTW, I am good at pretending to know something about telecoms.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Slesers honey for the "Bee" (Bite)

Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers, after meeting with top management of Bite Latvija and its parent company, Denmark's TDC Group, says he will urge Lattelekom and appropriate government agencies to free up 200 000 additional numbers by the end of the year.
This is an apparent response to Bite Latvija's main complaint, that it cannot start with just 100 000 allocated numbers. Presently, there are no extra numbers left.
This would be fine and good, except Lattelekom, which has presented a medium-term scheme to free up 2.5 million numbers by reducing the number of local area codes in Latvia (many have been allocated 100 000 numbers for only a few thousand actual rural users), says there is no way it can free the additional numbers by year end. The process itself takes at least six months and cannot be done without a government-approved scheme. After all, the numbers are given in trust to operators and aren't really their property to dispose of as will. In other words, it would be easier for Lattelekom to give away used desks for Bite's Latvian offices than to supply it with the numbers it needs.
Another semi-wacko looking document has appeared on the distribution of numbering resources. It makes the Electronic Communications Directorate (ESD) the custodian of the numbers, handing them out as instructed by the Public Utilities Regulary Commission. So far. the rules are just a set of operating instructions for warehousemen and the shipping room. The shipping room just ships what it is told to and makes no decisions as to where, how much and why.
However, there is an interesting reference to reserving number resources in case of tenders or auctions. This sounds at first glance like the regulator will be asked to auction off numbers in the future, a development that will not please operators. However, the man in charge of the Electronic Communications unit at the regulator (while Andris Virtmanis is vacationing) says there are no plans to auction number resources and the rules are aimed at some future tender or auction of yet another, say, mobile operator licence (number four or five, depending how you count :)).
So may it be, but in view of the hostile footsie*being played between the Ministry of Transport and the regulator, it is not unthinkable that someone has written the draft rules with some kind of auction of numbers in 10 000 or 100 000 lots in mind, and let the regulator do it. This will please operators to no end. They are already appalled by plans to charge an annual fee for use of numbering resources and for frequences, according to formulae that only a doctor of mathematics on mushrooms can understand.
*for the native Latvian reader, kicking or rubbing someone's foot under the table, often, though not always a sign of affection. Not in this case.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bite brings in the heavy artillery

Bite Latvija made its first official call in Riga when Henning Dyremose, the president and CEO of parent company TDC Group called a Lithuanian engineer responsible for setting up the company's first base stations in Daugavpils.
PR aside, Dyremose was in Latvia to push a few priorities, most notably, more number for Bite Latvija, which only has 100 000, as well as speedy interconnects with rivals Latvian Mobile Telephone and Tele 2. The TDC head honcho should, by now, have met with Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis and Ayatollah of Transport Ainars Slesers (OK, I call him that for the last time...:)) as well as Inna Steinbuka of the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission.
Dyremose will be prodding Steinbuka to press Tele2 and LMT to open their networks to national roaming by Bite Latvija until it builds out its network, and to keep the arrangement in place in thinly-settled places where it makes no sense to build three or four base-station towers.
Bite Group head Jesper Thiell Eriksen also said that when Bite Latvija launches commercial services, it will immediately offer EDGE mobile internet. While the launch will start with a pre-paid card sale, this is a signal that a flat-rate, business mobile internet package is not far down the path. It looks like we will see Bite on the market in a couple of months at most, although both Eriksen and Dyremose were absolutely closed-mouthed on any possible launch dates. Competition, you know.
I am now off to do an interview with Henning Dyremose for my day job.

Monday, August 01, 2005

A bank-owned Latvian MVNO??

My sources tell me that Hansabanka, the Latvian commercial bank owned by Sweden's Swedbank (called Föreningssparbanken in Swedish to twist even the tongues of the natives), has brainstormed the idea of becoming an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator, had to look it up myself ;)). Hansabanka is trying to stay ahead of the curve on all kinds of customer operated, distance services (internet, mobile bank, etc.). Looking ahead to the day when mobiles will serve as payment cards (that is, the payment card will be a function of the SIM card), it has occured to some people at Hansabanka that one might as well provide the whole service and sell a bank-branded prepaid/payment card hybrid. Or maybe skip the prepaid, just set a limit on what can be spend calling on the phone, and authorize other mobile payments via the SIM card.
I think it fits in with a vision I had of when the mobile phone may partly replace the laptop once public or low-cost rental docks/screens/keyboards are available. Think of it, you check into a hotel and simply pop your superphone 2007 (or whenever) into a socket, and the monitor lights up. You have your 60 Gbs of data and applications on the phone, and you automatically get debited (or you get it as an amenity) for superfast internet, etc.
All this about Hansbanka is pure conjecture, any idea of tacking on an MVNO to the mobile payment services was just an idea floating about that makes certain logical sense.

Zetcom launches granny & kiddie card

Hello! Zetcom, the Latvian MVNO has launched a new low-cost prepaid called, yes, Hello! that will retail for LVL 1 and include a magnetic stripe card with the kit (which includes a SIM card). You use the card at authorised retailers, swipe it and pay in as much money as you want to increase the calling credit. Notification of the increae comes almost instantly by SMS. LVL 1 also buys exactlty LVL 1 in calls, at a rate of LVL 0.064 per minute to other Hello! customers and LVL 0.12 to other services. Calling outside of Latvia is at Amigo rates, and there is no roaming or GPRS. It is very much a no frills card and is expected not to cannibalize the Amigo card very much.
Zetcom board chairman Egils Trumpe agreed that the card was a product "aimed at grannies and their grandchildren" or kids of pre-teen age.

Router madness at Latnet explained?

Although things are running smoothly and ruffled customers have been soothed, some questions remain about the incident that took down a significant part of the Latvian ISP Latnet Serviss on July 11. My sources in the business say they don't really believe the story of the "mad router" that Latnet gave as an explanation.
Now I have found something on Wired News that people smarter than I reading this blog (I hope there are smarter people out there :) ) can evaluate for themselves and consider what may really have happened with Latnet's router of a well-known but unnamed brand :);
Here is the link: http://www.wired.com/news/privacy/0,1848,68365,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_1

Otherwise I'm waiting out the summer doldrums.