I’m in Stockholm over New Year’s and have just a dial-up connection, so I’m writing this offline and hope I can manage to post it.
The year’s major events, to my mind, have been the arrival of Bite to spur competition in the mobile market as well as the emergence of Triatel as a viable alternative offering “telecoms in a box” and the first real 3G services in Latvia.
A couple of non-events: the government has not made up its mind whether to sell Lattelekom to its half-mother, TeliaSonera. At year end, it still looked ready to offer the fixed line operator, alone, to ABTS (anyone but TeliaSonera).
At Lattelekom, the non-event of the year has been IPTV, which we will see before Easter, but which has been promised us since last summer (when it was supposed to be launched in the fall). All one can say is SISFU (something is seriously fucked up), and perhaps I will find out when back in Latvia next week.
The pseudo-event of the year was IZZI saying that it was launching IPTV that looked exactly like its digital cable TV offering. It turns out that you can get IZZI digital over the internet if you a) have a 5 Mbps connection and b) rent or buy their decoder.
Since it doesn’t look like HomeDSL is going to jump to 5 Mbps before the end of 2006, why not just get their digital cable, which is reasonably priced and packaged, and why make a balagāns (a cheapo show) of pretending to have IPTV?
To be fair, this is a product one can offer for resale by other ISPs. We will see if that flies.
On December 1, number portability was introduced, but there was no stampede to switch. Bite had more than 50 000 users by year end, and perhaps just over 500 were switchers.
On the fixed side, a War of the Gagoons (Gāganu karš, colorful Latvian expression for much ado about nothing much) erupted between Baltkom and Lattelekom over number portability charges.
My analysis: yes, Lattelekom is probably overdoing it with their starting offer fees (they finally caved in to sharply lower interconnect fees ordered by the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission in 2004, it was not the end of the world); no, there will not be a stampede of thousands to Baltkom, rather, many hundreds who want their digital triple play – internet, TV and voice.
Fixed line is not where the action is. For international calls, you can get everything from Skype (free), Skype Out (cheap), various cheapo internet phone services and cards, and some pretty good tariffs from the bigger companies, including Lattelekom, if you pick the right tariff plan.
Looking to 2006
Lattelekom will finally launch IPTV before Easter. Most people will shrug and say: „interesting“. If I were writing this in the evening on my HomeDSL line, maybe I could open a window and watch Panorama while typing (by year end 2006, maybe even watch BBC World).
Bite will get over 100 000 users, maybe more, by the end of Q2 2006.
Bite may launch flat fee business services by end Q2.
With a parliamentary general election in 2006, it is unlikely that the issue of privatizing Lattelekom and Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) will be settled. Maybe in 2007. Trust any Latvian government to a) procrastinate (drag its feet) and b) probably fuck it up, selling Lattelekom at a firesale to TDC, Telefonica or Telenor (these are near-hallucinatory guesses). TeliaSonera will get all of LMT before Kenneth Karlberg retires, in any case. Kenneth is a man in his prime ☺.
Someone will launch WiMax by the summer, at least in Riga.
Triatel will get several thousand small business/upscale household customers in the Riga suburbs and in some country towns. It will have to look seriously at 3G services (content, a portal, etc.) in addition to actually having the network running.
We will have another internet speed race during the year. 1 Mbps will be the standard home connection by year-end. In Riga, there will be premium home services that offer 8 Mbps, perhaps even 24 Mbps (as in Sweden).
The first cdma450/GSM hybrid phones may appear, an opportunity for Triatel, and a challenge/opportunity for the GSM operators. The first mid-priced GSM/WiFi handsets will also appear, challenging the GSM operators to offer some kind of home cell discount. After all, from my apartment, I can Skype the world through my home WiFi from a hybrid phone. There are also hundreds of public and private hotspots in downtown Riga, so GSM operators will have a problem.