Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Coming from the Baltcom/Bite skunkworks

For those who don't know, a skunkworks is a secretive laboratory where innovative things are dreamt up. The original SkunkWorks was started at an American airplane manufacturer during World War II.
The Baltcom skunkworks, in anticipation of the company's return to mobile telephony, is working on a combined GSM/VOIP over WiFi service that may appear in the course of 2007. Initially Baltcom, which sold the Baltcom GSM network (now Tele2) for USD 277 million in 2000, is looking to start a virtual mobile operator, most likely on the Bite network. However, the innovative angle will be that the new virtual Baltcom will offer hybrid GSM/wireless VOIP phones. The company is testing prototypes and working together with Bite on the problem of handing off calls between WiFi and GSM. The initial virtual mobile service will make Baltcom a quadruple play operator (fixed/mobile voice, digital TV and internet).
If the hybrid service is launched in late 2007, as some are guessing it might be, it could pre-empt efforts to start mobile WiMax in 2008. Lattelecom, which needs a mobile business now that it is likely to be separated (though they were never close)from Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT), is considering mobile WiMax as one way to enter the mobile market if the first choice of buying Bite proves to be too expensive.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A mobile Christmas

Hope all have had a relaxing holiday. We celebrate the second day of Christmas here in Latvia. In Britain and Canada, it is called Boxing Day. I think that has to do with the day for getting rid of Christmas packaging, not the sport of boxing.
Anyway, according to news reports, the most desired Christmas present this year in Latvia was a mobile phone. It will probably be several weeks before any statistics show up to indicate how many phones were sold before Christmas, but there is generally a surge and the operators almost all have subsidized phone campaigns ahead of the holiday. Also, the present-giving season is longer here. Many people still celebrate New Year's as a kind of second Christmas (the only holiday recognized under the Soviets) and part of the Russian population (those who are Orthodox) also celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas. All in all, not a bad arrangement for the sellers of gifts, trinkets and holiday trees (in most Western European countries, if you had a stock of Christmas trees by, say, 8 pm Christmas Eve, you were in the firewood business. Here, trees can sell into January, and presumably, so too, any mobile phone deals.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Venice Project - not news in Riga :)

Bloggers have been peeking at The Venice Project and, among other things, noting that it offers some kind of social networking tool (chat or whatever) while watch the TV streams. This is nothing new and has been offered for some time now by Lattelecom's IPTV service available (to customers) through the Apollo internet service. Users can chat in a rolling window as they watch shows. Whether this is a good or necessary thing, you can (if you read Latvian) judge for yourself. Mostly, it seems to be cryptic chatter between teenie-boppers (the few times I have looked at it, Lattelecom IP TV doesn't work on Macs :( :( ) .
I wish both original Skypies success. but to add chat to video streams is nothing new. The screenshots, however, don't look bad :).

Digital TV resurfaces

Just a brief note -- Baltcom together with Latvian Independent Television (LNT) has proposed a private sector solution for digital terrestrial broadcast. The companies essentially want to revive a project killed by scandal in 2003 with some hope of implementing privately-financed digital broadcast TV in Latvia sometime in the 2010s.
Meanwhile, the market for digital broadcast (as far as reaching audiences with any purchasing power) has been pre-empted by cable in the cities (Baltcom and IZZI both offer digital cable in Riga) and digital satellite outside the cable footprint (ViaSat is selling satellite dishes for LVL 1 with a subscription package).
This project creates a small hope that Latvia will not be the last country in Europe with an aging and unwatched (by the commercially interesting audience) analog TV service. It will, instead, in 2015 or whatever, be the last country to get a largely unwatched digital terrestrial broadcast system (with everyone watching satellite or global broadband TV via superfast HSDPA or a successor technology).

The new look and Tele2's HSDPA trial

Well, Blogger has upgraded and I did some minor remodeling on the blog. I think I destroyed several vital gadgets, bloglines, technorati links, a statcounter, etc. in the process, but I will fix that over the holidays. At least I have started to add links, put up a picture, etc.
Meanwhile, Tele2 started its rather modest HSDPA trial in Riga on Monday and hopes to go commercial early next year. It will try to be "price leader" again and probably undercut whatever LMT and Bite have been charging. Initial speed will be 3.6 Mbps, but all operators are expected to boost speeds in the course of next year.
LMT and Bite have HSDPA coverage in several cities, but Tele2 will has coverage in Riga only, If there is demand, there will be new UMTS base stations put up elsewhere. So far, however, Tele2 has been the most cautious on mobile internet, outside of Riga, you can't get much beyond GPRS (which may be enough for e-mail).

ADDED LATER: It now looks like Adsense and Google Analytics still work. Don't know about the rest. StatCounter seems to have vanished, also various RSS buttons.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The silence of the beekeepers and more on WiMax

Bite means bee in Latvian and presumably, also, in Lithuanian, where Bite the mobile operator was first established. Now almost all of this blogger's sources are in a total "no comment" mode, even knowing that any information they give will, at worst, appear as totally unsourced, wild and baseless speculation in this collection of rants and fantasies.
What does all this mean? It gives great credibility to speculation that something is going down with Bite, namely, that TDC will soon announce (in January) that it is, indeed, putting this rather excellent Baltic asset up for sale.
Then things get complicated. According to one guesstimate, Bite will be priced at around LVL 170 million, somewhat more than the USD 277 million that Tele2 paid for Baltcom GSM back in 2000 (?). However, there may be several bidders for Bite, at least some (0ne) of whom have been in backroom talks about purchasing the company. Lattelecom's interest in buying Bite to get a mobile business once it is swapped by TeliaSonera for the remaining state share in Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) is kind of an open secret among those privy to open secrets. Now there is talk of Vodafone, TPSA, the Polish telecom (which is closely tied to rival Orange), Hermis, a Lithuanian private equity group. To go even wilder on the guessing, why not throw in Norway's Telenor, which bought out Vodafone in Sweden and is favorably compared to TDC and what the hell, why not Telefonica? TeliaSonera, after all, just bought a 3G operator in Spain and launched it, so why not have a Spanish company buy something in Kenneth Karlberg's back yard?
What that means is that it is not at all clear who will get Bite, and that boils down to that it is not at all clear that Lattelecom will get it. Which, in turn, means Lattelecom has to have a viable plan B, C and so on for any mobile ambitions it may have.
So it should be an exciting early 2007...

WiMax details
The Lattelecom WiMax test platform is two Alvarion base stations, one in Marupe just south of Riga, and another in the suburb of Kengarags, both providing up to 1 Mbps download and up to 256 kbps upload. The test service is being provided to some 45 customers who are, for one technical reason or another, unable to receive DSL broadband. The signal, which carries around 10 km, is in the 3.6 Ghz spectrum.
The service will be able to handle normal browsing, e-mail and VOIP (including Skype calls), but not Lattelecom's IP TV service.
Lattelecom will decide after about two months of testing whether the service is commercially viable (the test customers are getting a discount, the commercial service may cost around LVL 28 per month, slightly more than Triatel's similar EV DO service where available). Presumably, the WiMax will be faster once commercial, because it is outmatched by HSDPA (where speeds will rise and prices may fall) from Bite and LMT. All of which means that 2007 will, in many ways, be the year of high-speed wireless broadband in Latvia.

Lattelecom launches WiMax trials

Lattelecom has launched trials of WiMax wireless internet in the Riga suburb of Marupe and at least one other place, this blog has learned.
This is intriguing for a number of reasons. First, it solves the problem of broadband access beyond the reach of Lattelecom's DSL network. Second, WiMax is a possible mobile solution for Lattelecom, though not earlier than 2008 or 2009, since mobile WiMax really doesn't work anywhere, yet, except some experiments in Korea, where it is called WiPro.
For fixed and nomadic clients, WiMax can, essentially, be a platform for all possible services -broadband, voice, VPNs, software as a service, etc., the way DSL is sort of becoming the universal platform on the wireline network.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Rural broadband tender sorta flops...

One tender has been submitted by Telecom Baltija (read Triatel) for the Ministry of Transport's call for bids for wholesale broadband solutions for remote, low-income rural areas. The call for tenders ended December 18.
In effect, Triatel will get the deal unless their tender was totally wacko, which is unlikely. Other companies were giving strong signals they wouldn't participate, including Lattelecom and IZZI, who thought the process was too short and rushed. Unistars, a wireless broadband company preparing for a major WiMax push in 2007 has also stayed away, as it hinted it would by saying there were too many questions surrounding the tender terms.
The Secretariat of Electronic Government Affairs, as Minister Ina Gudele's ministry is officially called, has been against this approach from the start and considers the allocation of LVL 4 million in EU funds to expand wholsale infrastructure to be a waste of funds. Instead, Gudele and the Latvian Internet Association (LIA) proposed subsidizing end-users. This would increase demand for existing services, which the minister and LIA said had sufficient coverage in most of the areas covered by the tender.
Raimonds Bergmanis, the head of the Communications Department of the Ministry of Transport, insists that his model, increasing the number of wholesalers, will reduce the cost of connections by creating competition among those providing wholesale internet to local ISPs.
Triatel's solution is likely to be wireless internet (EV DO over CDMA 450), but it will be interesting to see how it provides wholesale broadband. As I understand it, Triatel uses at least some other companies for backbone routing of the internet bitstream to its base stations (where end-user connections are made). What will the model be-- selling the capacity of an entire base station or regional cluster of base stations to an ISP, which will then resell it as individual susbscriber links (using Triatel's own subscriber equipment--what else?). Makes it all the more curious, since IZZI, which did not participate, is a Triatel reseller.
Well, we shall see...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Skype is too good for this electronic trash

First of all, I think Skype is great as a service. Free computer to computer calls, very cheap SkypeOut calls to most of the world (even Latvia cut its odd-man out outrageous prices somewhat), and I am even thinking of getting a SkypeIn number for my virtual presence in Sweden. I have used Skype to get in touch with my family in the US, to chat with various people by text, to record a few interviews with a recorder plug-in to the application, even to attempt a few video calls on my Mac.
Because we (my wife is a filmmaker and we have a small Swedish-registered company) have been thinking of getting a SkypeIn Swedish number, I thought of getting a free-standing Skype phone to keep around and on-line to take any calls here in Riga (or at least zap them to voicemail) to the Stockholm number.
By chance, the most excellent PR cheerleaders (never a week goes by without a Skype press release or two and a Skype event in Tallinn I will attend on December 20) Hill & Knowlton and their most enthusiastic and competent person, Egita, offered to lend me a Skype phone for testing.
I write all this so that the following tirade is understood as NOT being directed against either Skype or their PR folks.
Put simply, the wireless DualPhone given to me is a worthless piece of shit.
That's the short review. The longer story is that the nicely boxed gadget promises what it cannot deliver and does not even give an overview of how it really works. There is a wireless phone in the box that turns on and leaves the intuitive impression that it runs on WiFi. I even had my WEP protected WiFi password ready...but nothing happens.'
OK, OK RTFM! But the FM only in passing refers to a base station that has to be plugged into one's internet modem or router.
So we move right along from plug and play to finding where the fuck to plug it -- which is my problem, because the cubby-hole home office I have doesn't have enough extensions and outlets. I unplug a printer and do some work arounds and plug in the charger and the base station (a kind of black pod with a red miniature I am HAL the deranged 1968 version of a 2001 computer light on the front). HAL the pod's eye blinks. I press a reset button according to the MFM (my love of this piece of literature grows). At one point, we get a steady red light, and the base station is attached to my D-Link wireless router with an Ethernet cable. The phone offers me a chance to sign into my existing Skype account. So I start writing my Skype name.,
Up pops this dumb-as-fuck secondary menu that suggest which of the three or four letters on the keypad I should use and when I hesitate, it pops one in for me. My password requires capitals, so to get those, you go to upper case and then yet another thingy appears indicating that the phone is in caps mode. To get out of caps mode, I have to go through numerical mode with a click. Ok, done.
The phone sits there trying to sign on. It has another doohickey indicating that it is in touch with the base station (I think). After more than a minute, nothing. Try Again?
Oh yes, did I mention that after the user-hostile process of entering the Skype name and password, the phone offers to remember this. Great, I think, now on pressing retry, I will just sign on automatically. Turns out this half-brained piece of junk remembers only the Skype name and the password has to be re-entered through the same fuck-the-user interface.
It still doesn't work!.
I am writing this early on a Sunday afternoon, and, maybe, by evening, I could actually, by trial and error, get the fucker to work. But that is not the point.
Skype on my iMac or G4 Powerbook is something I can use in less than one minute. Double click..wait..wait..wait..then a SHOOP sound and the windows appear and my online contacts appear in green and I can be chatting or talking to one of them even before the minute has ended.
Any Skype phone should work out of the box and, for my personal preferences, it should be a WiFi device that can stay connected to my always on D-link and always-on DSL line, so I can, indeed, make and take calls without my "PC" (thanks, I hope to remain without a PC for a very long time, except my present job where I have to use one of these cludges from time to time).
Skype -- Niklas, you Estonian guys and gals and the owners at eBay -- dump this piecashit and disown its use of the Skype name. And Dualphone -- go back to baking pastries (seems the company is Danish??). Had they been (and probably, at the manufacturing level, are, Chinese, I would have set, go back to making noodles and let the thousands of Chinese companies that produce useful electronics get on with it).
I hope to get a "real" Skype phone, but no, never this one....

Starting a series of holday greetings

I inadvertently noticed a post on greeting respective readers on the start of Hannukah, so I will join in and begin by expressing best holiday wishes to all readers of the Jewish faith. I will add Kwanza, the African-tradition holiday others may celebrate and save Christmas and New Year's for the actual days, followed, of course, by the Russian Orthodox Christmas and New Year. Also, followers of Latvian traditional spirituality Dievturi celebrate the Winter Solstice. So happy everything to all... did I miss anything? I think the annual Haj takes place soon, too...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Latvian government wavers on telecom deal?

Now that the valuation figures for Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and Lattelecom have leaked to the press, some rather strange statements and discussions have started about what seemed like a done deal in principle -- half-mother TeliaSonera gets 100 % of LMT for its share in Lattelecom and some cash, and the Latvian state gets 100 ) of Lattelecom and the cash (quite a bit of it).
Dienas bizness (my former workplace) reports (citing the news agency BNS) that the government has "several alternatives for what to do with the state stakeholdings in Lattelecom and LMT". Whoa! Earlier this year, then Minister of Economics Aigars Stokenbergs made it clear that the Swedes could have LMT but would never get Lattelecom. So what new plans are there? Maybe do nothing and keep the seemingly valuable 51 % hunks of each enterprise, leaving TeliaSonera with what amounts to a stranded investment?
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance Oskars Spurdzins says that the issue of privatizing Lattelecom (once it has been nationalized through the deal with the Swedes) has yet to be discussed. So we seem to be on the verge of two semi-crackpot strategies at once -- look for some unpredictable plan C (plan A was the Swedes take the lot, plan B was the Swedes gat LMT) and/or declare that Lattelecom shall be one of the few wholly state-owned telcos in the European Union. It will also be a wireline telco, therefore, in a sunset market.
Strange talk has also emerged of the alleged disinterest of TeliaSonera in Lattelecom and of the declining value of the company. Sure, without a clear mobile strategy and alternative, a wireline alone operator is going to lose value and when in comes to market, no one may want to but it. To my mind, Lattelecom's financials have improved (surprisingly) and the company has moved into new areas such as business process outsourcing, IT services and international data transmission. That is about the best it can do, given that it has written off the fixed voice market and currently has no mobile assets (which is where the voice revenues are).
As for Swedish interest 1) there is a huge amount of foreign/Swedish capital in Lattelecom, more than LVL 500 million invested in the network 2) once the government said no to selling a majority of Lattelecom to TeliaSonera, why should it be interested, except to sustain the value of its means of payment for LMT (a very good incentive not to screw around with Lattelecom or to diss it, one would think)?
In short, the wackaloonies are back (they never left :) ), something underlined by the fact that Egils Baldzens, who headed a crackpot parliamentary commission on Lattelecom in the early 00s (that commission concluded that Lattelecom's presence in Latvia had had the negative effect of a medium intensity war, based on all kinds of gonzo statistical assumptions and thinking) has been quoted in the press, though not saying much.
There could be more to say about this, especially the bizarre reappearance of the issue of the 1994 umbrella agreement in the discussion, but I gotta get to work...

Shameful stunts by a Latvian on-line store

One falls into the habit of shopping online -- that's how I have ordered a Macbook (from Apple) and an iPod (from Amazon) to pick up in the States in January. So the habit didn't stop when we had to buy a big ticket item here, a hard-disk videocamera from They had an excellent price, and I ordered the item. When my wife prepared to pay for it (fortunately, we asked to pay on delivery), having received confirmation of the order at the original price, she was called by the store to say the item was almost LVL 40 more expensive (in a matter of hours, 8 PM vs sometime the following morning). So this is a warning -- the sleazy post-Soviet fucker habits have not faded away and are very much alive.
By contrast,, where I buy most of my books, apparently lost a shipment, around GBP 30 or so, and simply replaced it, no questions asked, and said if the original shipment showed up, it would be too expensive to send back, so please donate it to a worthy cause

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lattelecom living room TV will be interactive

Interactive features will be a part of Lattelecom's IPTV to home TV sets offering to be launched sometime toward the middle or end of Q1/2007. This blog already reported on October 30 that:

Lattelecom is going to launch a version of its IP TV for ordinary home TV sets sometime in the first quarter of 2007. The service will soon be tested by the company's own staff at a number of sites around Latvia, not only in Riga. The employees will be given set-top boxes and new modems with more ports for attaching the box.

So this should not be news to anyone who reads this site regularly. What is interesting is that the new service, with decoders to attach to the DSL modem, will have interactive features and probably a keyboard for accessing program information, internet banks and such new features as the ability to record shows for later streaming back from Lattelecom's servers. It will interesting to see how much takeup this gets, given that all kinds of hard-disk recorders are coming onto the market paired with DVD players, etc.
The reason why the launch of TV for home (rather than PC) viewing was delayed is the enormous interest that the Home Packages (up to 5 Mbps internet and free calls in Latvia) generated. All installation capacity is booked solid until the end of January, which is why I think the TV launch will be late in Q1, and, if properly priced and packaged (Home Package + TV), it could trigger another rush for the service.
Pricing will be competitive with similar offers from cable operators IZZI and Baltkom TV.
Some new details, from Lattelecom's TV honcho Gints Kirsteins are that the new service will offer 43 channels, up from the present 23.
Lattelecom also announced that it was opening a new retail store where it will sell TV sets, which makes sense in the context of the expected IPTV for home viewers launch.

Lattelecom, LMT valuations leaked

dBaiba is back! A past nemesis :) (a journalistic competitor, actually), Baiba Rulle of Diena, has been leaked the audit company valuations of Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and Lattelecom. Lattelecom has been appraised at around LVL 260 million (for the whole company) and LMT at LVL 668 million. This is a median figure because both appraisers (Sweden's Carnegie for half-mother TeliaSonera and Ernst & Young Baltics for the Latvian government (the slightly bigger half-mother). These figures are derived from two minimum-maximum type appraisals, which must be seen as educated guesses, since neither company trades on a stock exchange or any other market.
From these figures, in turn, one can derive the approximate value of the assets to be swapped when TeliaSonera gives up its 49 % of Lattelecom (minus the 23% of LMT Lattelecom holds) for the remaining 23 % of LMT). So it now looks like some kind of deal can be done during the first half of 2007.
Baiba notes in her story that Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, asked to comment, was angry (pissed off, an American would say) that the figures had leaked. Good for Baiba!! She has come back with full reporting powers after having been away from Diena, as I understand, on two closely spaced maternal leaves. Since I am not with my old newspaper anymore and my new employer and I are still figuring out what to do with each other :), I won't be berated for Baiba's scoop, but I do envy it :).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Update on the LMT nuisance

Things have either gotten worse or are on the way to being better. My wife, who has a Swedish mobile account for business reasons, keeps a second phone so she can take calls on that. She suggested I put my old, outgoing-call-disabled chip into a Nokia 6600 I have lying around. I would then get incoming calls. I tried it. Now the network won't register the SIM card. I tried the same with my N-80 (I had passed the 6600 around to some colleagues at my former job, trying to flog/sell it to no avail :(, so perhaps it has been mishandled. ). The SIM card didn't work in my current phone, either.

Which means:

1) The number is fucked (please click some ads of real interest to you in appreciation :) of obscene ravings). This is bad...
2) The number is in limbo between LMT and Tele2 (the corporate provider for my new workplace). This means I will eventually get it back.

Just to add: I am not the customer, merely the user of my number, since at my old workplace, the newspaper paid for my (sometimes outrageous) phone bills (folks called me in the States on news, etc) and now LETA will cover the bills according tp their corporate policies. As a user, I have been quite satisfied with LMT.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Denial, denial...

Just to keep everyone informed, Lazard isn't commenting rumors that it is advising Danish telecoms group TDC or Polish telco TPSA on a possible sale of the Bite Group (to the Poles). TDC isn't commenting either and Maarten van Engeland presumably will do his job and respond to my voicemail by also not commenting on what his shareholders may or may not be doing. What a start to the week, everyone doing their job as they should :).

And, by the way, we have passed 400 posts on the blog, for whatever that is worth. Perhaps will will make a bigger splash at 500...

For all you potential entrepreneurs

I understand I have some readers at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. First, I am sorry to hear that some of your classmates may have been involved in a very bad car crash where one Lithuanian person was killed. At least that is what commentators write.
The other thing that may be of interest to young students eager to become entrepreneurs is this article on how and Jeff Bezos are planning to offer some tools for building global businesses on the web. See here.

Strange and interesting rumors about Bite

Maris Zanders, a journalist colleague at LETA reports in his TV24 program and on his (as yet) not public blog a rumor that bankers Lazard have been asked to assist in the sale of the Bite Group to what he calls a Spanish investor TPSA. I think something has been mixed up, as the only telecoms company with that acronym is Telekomunikacja Polska S.A (TPSA), the Polish fixed network and mobile (Orange) operator. Their web page hasn't heard of English, so what, exactly, the company does remains a mystery :).
TDC, the Danish telecoms group owned by a private equity consortium, has long been rumored to be considering the sale of it so-called peripheral assets in the Baltic (this has been mentioned on the blog earlier). TPSA would be one natural partner, as Poland is next door to the Bite Group's biggest market, Lithuania (Bite started in Latvia in September 2005 and has only around 175 000 users). However, as this blog has reported, Lattelecom, which is about to loose its half-mother TeliaSonera in favor of Big Mother the government as well as its chilly ties with Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT), which will be taken over by the Swedes 100 %. So Lattelecom desperately needs a mobile strategy.
Even the rumor of interest by TPSA bodes ill or dear (in the sense of expensive) for Lattelecom, since there could be a bidding war for the companies should Bite actually be put on the selling block. We've already asserted (on good authority) that Lattelecom is very interested in buying Bite (or that is, at least, its plan A for going mobile). However, even without the Poles rumored to be coming in, Lattelecom should be increasingly worried about the closeness of Bite to the Vodafone group. I suspect Vodafone might be interested in buying Bite, especially after pulling out of Sweden and selling their business to Telenor, a partly state-owned company from fish-canning, oil-pumping Norway of all places :). And hey, let's not forget that the Norwegians are also expanding their European footprint. Is that an Ericsson or a herring you have pressed to your ear, Olav?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A nuisance problem with Latvian Mobile Telephone

I've started my new job, but my mobile subscription is still on its way. My old employer had my Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) number blocked for outgoing calls since December 5. That sort of makes sense. From November 30 to December 4, the phone worked for calls on my account. Again, fair enough. Now the lack of outgoing service was getting to be a nuisance, so I bought an LMT O-Karte prepaid, slapped LVL 10 on it and thought I would forward all my incoming calls to the new number. Within the network, this is free of charge. However, I encountered the utter absurdity of being banned for using a free forwarding service because my outgoing service was suspended (this was confirmed by a service operator). Absolutely fucking absurd because 1) it costs neither me nor my old employer (who technically is the subscriber) anything 2) it is a major inconvenience that in no way benefits anyone nor prevents any exposure to financial risk, since there is none. It is simply a way of screwing the user for no reason.
To be fair, I don't know if the other operators Tele2 and Bite might do the same. But it would be equally pointless. Anyone "between service providers" would want to use this kind of arrangement, forwarding their number in transit to a temporary number and then back to normal when the old number was is effectively prevented from doing so. I blew the better part of LVL 2.50 on SMS to people announcing my temporary number instead of having their potential calls simply go seamlessly to the O-Karte number.
I am curious how mobile operators outside Latvia handle these situations -- you go from Job A to Job B with a number you want to keep and with both A and B picking up your phone costs. What happens during the handover?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bite honcho looks to 2007

I had a chat with Maarten van Engeland, chief honcho of the Bite Group. He made some predictions for 2007:

1) Mobile internet (meaning HSDPA) is going to get a lot faster, beyond the 3.6 Mbps currently offered by Bite (and possibly achievable on the Latvian Mobile Telephone/LMT network).

2) This means that the possibilities for propagating mobile content will expand, especially for mobile TV. With higher quality and a larger audience, mobile TV (in the Baltics) will start to attract advertisers, opening the possibility for services that cost little or are free. Maarten doesn't exclude the possibility that some (virtual) operators will offer very low cost or free voice to those who agree to watch ad-sponsored mobile TV. Gadgets will appear in the course of the year that will have iPod quality video (Maarten says he has watched films on his).

3) WiMax is not a threat to mobile voice and won't be for a while, until technical and standards issues are solved. However, there may be some challenge to HSDPA for nomadic applications, such as internet access at various sites.

4) Skype will find its way into the mobile internet and possibly push operators toward fixed rate voice or some other solution.

5. The integration of GPS into mobile handsets (Berg Insight in Sweden has done a study of this and predicts rapid market growth in Western Europe) has the potential for creating a location-based services market, but this is happening because of pressure from consumers in the US (where are my kids services and the like). In Latvia, the government wants operators to locate where calls are coming from for emergency services and police.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Knowledge workers, not reporters

I've been at my new job for a few days and already feel the strangeness of being among knowledge workers, not journalists (in the strict sense). I have been assigned a workspace at the sorta-research unit of LETA, called nozares or branches of industry. One of my jobs will apparently be to edit the telecoms branch online infobase. That's where the knowledge work begins, because it is basically selecting, editing, putting in and placing (plus writing an analysis now and again) stuff written or compiled by others. There is no story here, or rather, the story is neverending and needs to be managed and sorted, rather than reported. Hence all the other folks just sit at their PCs (yuck) all day and do stuff for their respective branch databases. I'm not knocking this, it takes smarts to do this kind of stuff and not put EU statistics on dogfood production in the energy files or something like that.
The other thing I'm doing is writing a magazine article for Kapitals, a glossy business monthly affiliated with LETA. Magazines don't carry stories as in news and tommorrow's paper or even something that may appear on this blog. Well, gotta get used to it and it's not like I haven't done magazines, hell, I was writing for the monthly Sweden Now (dead now) back in the 1980s and have done stuff for various other mags, such as Institutional Investor (they paid better than the boringness of their title).
Another thing I have done in beta is start my Latvian language blog on more or less the same stuff that I write here. My first post was a long compilation of what I thought was important in the telco world at present -- the ITU World Telecoms 2006 in Hong Kong (no videocasts available without some complicated mediaregistration that is practically impossible online, so f**k 'em *), various stuff in the mobile WiMax space announced there, some other ramblings I have forgotten. We may actually launch the thing next week or whatever.
As for news, I am thinking of simply doing any exclusives I have (and I do have some up my sleeve, a big hush hush IT deal with Fritz as the Latvians would say) in the blog, then let the agencies grab it. LETA's first new media venture will have it first, anyway. Or maybe talk to the managers about that....

*If I actually write fuck, will more of you show your appreciation for the uncensored version by clicking on some ads along the side so I make, like three American centavos? :)

Fon something for Latvia?

Bleveland alerts me in a private mail to a campaign in the Nordic countries to give away thousands of FON WiFi routers. FON is a kind of international cooperative, where if you share your hotspot, you get access to FON hotspots around the world. FON was started by an Argentine living in Spain. As described, the FON router allows one to split one's broadband access into a public (shared) and private signal. It is also possible to share in revenue from the use of one's FON router by being something called a BILL (it's all explained on the FON website).
There is no shortage of WiFi hotspots in Riga. A wardrive by the defunct (?) website folks a couple of years ago revealed around 200 or more hotspots in central Riga alone, in around 10 square blocks or less.
I am a bit skeptical because most Latvians are skeptical, even paranoid about anything that looks/claims to be cooperative, shared or free. But maybe I am wrong. This kind of share the bandwidth idea is something that should please the folks who make (a Latvian language blog). I am also interested in what Kristaps Kaupe thinks of this.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bank CEO departure has nothing to do with Lattelecom

The departure of Hansabanka CEO Ingrida Bluma has nothing to do with any changes of management at Lattelecom. Bluma told a press conference that after 14 years of working at the bank, she wants to rest and travel before making any new career moves.
During the summer, my former newspaper reported that Bluma might leave Hansabanka to take up a post at Lattelecom. Only part of the rumor now appears to have come true.

Weird stuff, but will it affect Lattelecom??

I am sitting here at my new job with no f**king phone of any kind. During a transition, my LMT mobile is disabled for outgoing calls and the new employer has yet to install some kind of software phone on my Windows (yuck) PC. Meanwhile, Skype is blocked on my Mac which I have on the wireless network here.
That all sort of leaves me out in the dark regarding the story that Ingrida Bluma, the CEO of Hansabanka, is officially leaving her post on January 1, as reported in a rumor story my former paper ran over the summer. That rumor was that Bluma would take a post at Lattelecom, possibly replacing Nils Melngailis as CEO. The reason for this was allegations that the Swedish half-mother TeliaSonera was dissatisfied with Melngailis, possibly because of his independent and aggressive development of Lattelecom as a company that could challenge TeliaSonera on its home turf.
I kind of don't buy that dissatisfied story since I was invited to a breakfast back in the summer by aTeliaSonera honcho to specifically deny this. With the kind of dramatic changes going on in the global and Latvian telecoms market, it is hard to see any reason for replacing a person with Melngailis experience and background (IBM Business Intelligence) with a banker (albeit reputedly a very good manager). And whether TeliaSonera likes it or not (since it will inevitably lose Lattelecom in a swap with the government to get all of Latvian Mobile Telephone /LMT), Melngailis strategy of making Lattelecom a defacto broadband provider, of giving away voice, seeking new areas of operation and working on several mobile strategies, is hardly off the mark.
One plausible scenario could be that Bluma will join Lattelecom as Melngailis consigliere to replace the late Baiba Paegle, another strong, forward-thinking and service-oriented manager who died during the summer. Before her illness, Paegle ran C1 (now Lattelecom BPO) but was known to be one of Melngailis closest collaborators whose counsel, doubtless, is badly missed.
There will be a press conference at Hansabanka at 1300 Latvian time on December 6 that may clear up some of these issues.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Post-NATO notes and hacking IKEA in Stockholm

Well, the whole NATO Summit balagāns is over and I am sorta moving into LETA (just got my Powerbook G4 connected to a wireless network and will overcome my revulsion of Windows to use a pretty nice looking generic PC with a big bright Samsung flat display). Word has come that my MacBook (black) has been delivered in the US and I will pick it up when visiting there in January.
But back to NATO -- one of the coolest side stories is that the airspace over Riga was protected by a US Aegis guided missile cruiser, a system whose design was managed back in the 1970s by none other than The Godfather of the Latvian IT industry, Jānis Gobiņš. Gobiņš, a founder of Infologistik in Germany which in turn sowed the seeds for Softwarehouse Riga (later to become SWH Technologies, a/s Dati and finally Dati Exigen and Exigen Latvia), was a project manager designing the data processing systems behind Aegis, which can track and defend against dozens of differed aerial targets (missiles, aircraft, etc.). Since Gobiņš now lives in Riga, the Aegis cruiser actually came home to one of its founders during the summit :).

Meanwhile, I was in Stockholm for a few days moving my base of operations there to a new apartment (34 m2) that my wife bought close to the very hub of the Swedish/Nordic IT world in Kista. The biggest problem was assembling an IKEA wardrobe, which I did partially upside down (not discovered until disassembly was no longer physically possible). If there is a hell where tormented souls must do some unpleasant stuff for like, eternity, then one of the tasks I would assign IKEA furniture designers is to have to assemble their own stuff over and over and over...well, for eternity.
A theological aside -- I am a strict agnostic if not a total non-believer (in irrational stuff), and one of the reasons is that I could never quite put together the idea of a benevolent creator or intelligent designer and the rewards and punishments of the Christian cosmology. OK, like you don't accept a certain set of beliefs, are not saved and for this alone, you are condemned to some form of hell for eternity??? Gimme a break! OK, I could see roasting Stalin or Hitler's soul for say, 2 or 3 billion years, or even a billion for each victim, but, hey, eternity for a difference of opinion, just saying that Jesus was a nice Jewish kid who got into trouble and maybe not the Son of God and a Savior and, zap, off to hell forever?? Where is the intelligent in this design?

OK, that is the last time I mention these kinds of issues as they are way off topic. Just that IKEA makes one think about hell for some reason ...:).

The good thing about the crashpad that we now have in Kista is 100 Mbps internet as part of the rent. I must try it out to the fullest the next time I spend a few days in Sweden and am not putting together IKEA furniture backasswards.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

NATO Riga: More Macs, mutterings about the wireless

As yet another day starts at the NATO Summit in Riga, I have a couple of observations. First, there may be around 10 Macintosh laptops in the press center, including a MacBook Pro that I saw with no user nearby (I have not chatted up the other Mac folks as they were all busy typing away frantically). So there are a few others of the faith....:)

A major IT deal was signed to simulate a layered theater anti-ballistic missile system. Worth 95 million USD, it went to consortium led by a US company, Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and an bunch of other US and European companies. No Latvian or Baltic involvement.

Also talked to someone from the NATO Communication and Information Services Agency (NCSA). They manage and package NATO telecommunications and data transfer. It also seems they have no Baltic links as yet. A good partner for them in the NATO humanitarian effort (I cynically called this Earthquakes R Us) would be Mikrotik, who moved into Kosovo and Baghdad to set up wireless internet in 1999 and 2003, respectively.

I have yet to use the WiFi here, although there seem to be around seven networks available at the NATO press center, including on for the Latvian Police Academy (as well as the official open network for the Summit press). Some colleagues have grumbled that the WiFi isn't that great. It just goes to show that if there is a wire conveniently available, I will use it, but I'm glad there is a WiFi alternative, although I have not been writing from my laptop at press conferences and presentations. I did do that at the SAP event in Paris last summer.

The whole circus ends today, I'm finishing up at my paper and off to Stockholm for a few days and will start my new job sometime next week.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

NATO battles social networking website? :) :)

Three people at the NATO press center have tried to connect to the highly popular Latvian social networking website only to be bounced to the NATO summit home page. Blocking draugiem (for friends) is common at many workplaces, but since members of the Latvian press also use this for messaging, it is a rather bizarre thing to here under NATO auspices. Draugiem has more than 700 000 users in a country of 2.2 million. One wonders who had it cut off and what other websites have been blocked at the press center (most of the IT related international sites I have accessed yesterday from the press center were OK).

NATO in Riga: wired or wireless

The "big day" is about to start here at the NATO summit in Riga, with the city looking as it might look after a round of bird flu (the expected mutation that gets to humans). Latvian TV was shooting a bizarre spot nearby against the backdrop of a completely empty media center hall, asking the leader of the hundreds of NATO volunteers about how hard they were working (perhaps before the summit, packing thousands of mittens for media and delegates). But truth be told, there are many volunteers scurrying around one floor down, where most of the big press has yet to arrive (three or four Reuters staff of a mob of 30, no one from the AP yet). Ok, maybe these people are out at the airport covering the bigwig arrivals. Why I have never understood, these are mainly visual events of the same people climbing down airline steps in a place that could be anywhere (ok, Riga is a dull gray and unlikely to see any sun for the duration).
I am writing this on a wireline internet connection that seems to be working very fast and efficiently. There are three or four wireless networks running here, I will have to test them later. A colleague from the online portal of the newspaper (with a Windows laptop :) ) needed help in getting the wire connection to run, while my Powerbook G4 connected with no problems. So perhaps there will be a chance to compare service.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Mac-scanning" the press at the NATO summit

The press covering the NATO conference in Riga (at least on "day zero" or the day before) seem to be a very conformist PC Windows laptop bunch. One thing I always do at these massive press zoos is to scan the press facility for others with Apple Mac laptops. It is a good way to strike up a conversation with a fellow hack.
At the NATO summit press room, I found only three people beside myself with Macs -- I have a 12 inch Powerbook G4, there was a Latvian news photographer (apparently working for AFP) with a larger G4, a Canadian TV "one man band" with a MacBook Pro (17 " ?), and a journalist based in Frankfurt, Germany, but writing on a 12 " Powerbook G4 for his Turkish/German news agency.
Tommorrow may bring in a larger contingent of foreign press and jam the press center (1 700 journalists are said to be accredited). So maybe there will be more Macs around.

Electronic Arts seeks Baltic programming talent

Video and computer games maker Electronic Arts will be recruiting programmers from Latvia and the other Baltic countries to work at its Swedish "studio" Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment (DICE) (the link is half-assed and under construction). DICE has around 220 staff at present, but is planning to expand and perhaps double that number in the medium term.
DICE is best known for having designed and built the Battlefield series of war simulation games.
The Baltic C++ programmers and 3D graphics specialists will work in Sweden at Swedish salaries. As DICE spokesman Peter Hendriksson explained, the reason for recruiting across the Baltic Sea is not to outsource, but to get any talent at all. Apparently, programmers from the UK and the US aren't interested in moving to Sweden. Baltic programmers have a chance to get paid more than in Latvia (where they are relatively well paid anyway) and to work for a world-class company group in a situation where many, if they wanted to, could be weekend commuters to their homelands.
Recruiting Baltic talent for gaming is a departure from the pattern hitherto, where most IT work has been outsourced or nearshored to Latvia and its neighbors, and where most of the work has been on enterprise solutions (such as with Exigen and TietoEnator). However, Hendriksson believes that talented programmers can easily adapt to the gaming environment, where they still have to design and write code to specifications, regardless of whether it is to display CRM statistics or control the behavior of three-headed snake monsters.

Bite to provide mobile telecoms for NATO summit

I now see in an older press release (November 13), that Bite Latvija will be providing wireless telecommunications services for the NATO Summit here in Riga (it starts Tuesday, November 28, but the whole f**king town has already been shut down). I'm interested in who will be providing the broadband links for the press center, as this is of vital necessity to me and other journalists covering the whole balagāns (find a Latvian dictionary on this one :) ).
Good luck to Bite, let's hope there are no screwups.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A welcome latecomer (after the fact)

I just finished testing a Bite HSDPA connection using a Windows notebook, which was the primary problem with the test. I mean, the HSDPA worked fine, even saved an evening of regular surfing when Lattelecom took all night to do some work on my DSL landline. I just didn't use the HSDPA connection (which was fast, displayed video streams, etc) as often and regularly as if it had been attached to my Powerbook G4. I just don't like the whole Windows scene, since I have been using a Mac of one kind or another since 1984.
Now it seems that Bite's partner, Vodafone, has found a USB HSDPA modem for Mac laptops. It is described by TheRegister website. Since Bite is already a Vodafone partner and provides Vodafone Connect cards for PC notebooks, I certainly hope it gets a batch of these Mac friendly gadgets soon (they also work with PCs). I would repeated the HSDPA test enthusiatically and might even use the gadget next summer to see if I can get 3.6 Mbps in Carnikava, some 30 km from Riga,
By the way, the test was with a HuaWei PC card, it worked fine.
My parting shot with my newspaper, interviewing former government advisor Jurģis Liepnieks, who spilled his version of the beans about the digital television scandal in Latvia, has caused a great uproar, it is all over television and the other media. Makes journalism fun. You read it on this blog first, although in somewhat murky terms -- before it hit the newspaper and other media.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Who da man? Digital TV Scandal Explained?

Jurģis Liepnieks, a PR specialist and former advisor to ex-prime minister Andris Škēle and recently resigned advisor to the current PM, Aigars Kalvitis (both of the People's Party founded by Sķēle), claims that Kempmayer Media Limited (KML), a mysterious company that was awarded a USD 53 million contract to implement digital terrestrial TV in Latvia, was actually started by Latvian TV mogul Andrejs Ēķis and Šķēle as an indirect stakeholder.
This is the story my newspaper is coming out with tommorrow. Both Ēķis, the head of Latvian Independent Television (LNT) and Škēle have denied Liepnieks allegations, with Škēlē saying they were a mixture of fact and fantasy.
Since November 2002, when the contract, said to have, in fact, been between KML (owned by Ēķis and an offshore company connected to Škēle, with a stake held by Liepnieks at one time) and Ēķis former employees and pals (at the Digital Latvian Radio and Television Center/DLRTC), much has happened. All work on digital TV was stopped in 2003, when prime minister Einārs Repše called the deal with KML a shady and fraudulent arrangement and initiated arbitration proceedings to have the contract declared invalid. The Stockholm arbitration tribunal so declared in June 2006, though saying that the DLRTC had been misled into signing the agreement ( a milder ruling than saying it was deceived by deliberate fraudulent intent).
The boards of the DLRTC and its parent company, the state-owned Latvian State Radio and Television Center (LVRTC), which runs broadcasting infrastructure in Latvia, were quickly dismissed and 11 persons, representing a range of individuals (company and state officials, businesmen, lawyers and financial advisors) connected in some way to the digital TV deal, have been charged with criminal offenses, mainly fraud and money laundering, or actions to aid and abet such crimes. Since KML did actually deliver digital TV equipment and partially installed it, the fraud charge may be hard to prove.
What is striking about Liepnieks version of events (and it has been guessed at in the Latvian media) is the arrogant stupidity of those involved, who actually believed that in 2000-2002, one could carry on as if it was the "anything goes" early 90s, and that it was necessary to go to Byzantine lengths to cover one's tracks and then sit across from the DLRTC and say -- wink, wink-- we're this totally unknown British company, so trust us. And since everyone knew what the game was about-- so says Liepnieks-- there was no reason not to trust. Indeed, had the plan been executed, Latvia would have gotten a reasonable start on digital terrestrial instead of going nowhere fast. Alas, the homeboys (a paralell concept to the Latvian bālēliņi, hard to translate) didn't realize that there would be «a verry great messh» (viene liele šmuce) to mimic the Yiddish influenced accent of Ābrams, a Latvian Jewish country peddlar character who is seen in several classics of the late 19th century Latvian stage. Ābrams, a slightly comic but lovable curmudgeon, warns some Latvian farm women that their schemes will come to a bad end. Still applicable in the 2000s (rest your fictional soul, Ābram..).
Anyway, whatever Liepnieks motives for, to put it mildly, dragging his old boss over the coals and causing no small amount of possible trouble for Ēķis, it is a great parting shot now that I am moving on from the paper in the next ten days or so.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

«Da man» sings on the Latvian digital TV scandal

This is a paranoid post because I am worried that with the NATO summit here in Riga and its set of bizarre publishing schedule changes and days off, a potentially explosive story may get buried at my paper. It also is beginning to look like the paper will want everyone mentioned in a more than 30 000 character long interview transcript called up, read or summarized the entire transcript and then asked to comment on potentially embarrassing events that took place some four to six years ago. So with me transiting to my new job next week, I'm worried this could get mishandled. At the same time, I am saving exclusivity for the newspaper for now.
But to make a long story short (as told by one of the key «fixers», not the principal people):

The failed effort to build digital broadcast TV in Latvia was initiated in the early 2000s by a Latvian TV mogul who then went looking for another Mr. Big in Latvian business (not a media person). Together, through a muddle of offshore companies, they set up a seemingly foreign company that got the digital TV contract from the Latvian government. All sides involved (including key government decision-makers) knew or at least had a very good suspicion of what was what and who was who. Theories along these lines have already been raised on Latvian TV and in the press, but now a person claiming to have been instrumental in the arrangements has named names and given an account of his version of events.
In 2003, the whole thing fell apart with the government claiming fraud in the sense that the digital TV project was just a way to steal money (actually, the test of fraud may be hard to prove, since the foreign company with its local beneficial owners did actual deliver most of what it promised to deliver before the project was killed and also there was no provable intent to promise one thing and then take the money and run). The initial contract has been declared invalid by a Stockholm arbitration court on grounds that the Latvian side was misled and the local branch of the allegedly foreign company was preparing to repay all funds it received from the Latvian government. The Latvian prosecutor's office, however, has suspended the only remaining official of the company from office, hence no repayment can be arranged.
The lesson of this is that a Byzantine scheme which, at the end of the day if unhindered, would probably have resulted in building a digital broadcast TV network in Latvia (cost is debatable), has resulted in a situation where no digital TV will be built for years, and the parties involved will have lost more than they ever could have earned had everything gone smoothly.
In other words, a total clusterfuck Latvian style. What were these people smoking in 2001 or whenever, thinking this was cheaper than trying to do the project openly ( a prime consideration according to the version I've been told was an expected public uproar/envy/distrust if Latvians had openly done the deal from the start).
I hope this strange tale gets published. If not, maybe I will just put that interview transcript out on the blog.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Good news for Latvenergo's FTTH

Telecommunications Magazine reports that Fiber to the Home (FTTH) costs are expected to drop, which could be good news for Latvenergo Telecommunications, the telco unit of the Latvian state-owned monopoly power utility. A Latvenergo Telecommunications executive recently told me that the top priority for the unit was developing FTTH for new housing projects and major renovations (where powerlines are re-laid). So far, only around 300 housing units have had FTTH installed in the Riga area (this figure could be imprecise).
Latvenergo Telecoms approach is in contrast to what Peteris Šmidre, the CEO of the cable TV, telephony and ISP group Baltcom recently said at a press breakfast. Baltcom, too, is interested in getting its triple-play offering into new housing areas, but rather than laying its optical fiber when the first bulldozers arrive, it prefers to wait until there are actually housing units finished and occupied before moving in. That means Baltcom will initially use a wireless solution with a fast point-to-point link to the new project and local distributing by cable or other means.
A year ago Baltcom was telling how it had implemented a complete telecoms, TV and building-security/smart building platform at a prestige new apartment project, Duntes ozoli, in a Riga suburb. However, a year later, the luxury high rise looks 95 % finished, but also unoccupied (this blogger used to drive past the place until October as it was on one of the routes to my summer house). The situation is no fault of Baltkom's, their solution seems quite fine. And I could be wrong -- the place may be full of folks who don't have curtains, plants and other signs of life and whose lights are turned off during the day thanks to a smart building system.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rural broadband flop (?) and CDMA 450 rumors

Update--CDMA rumor
The rumor may be just that. Triatel says it has had some talks on practical cooperation (purchase of handsets, etc) with Nordisk Mobiltelefon, (Swedish language only) the Swedish CDMA 450 operator that is building out at present (Latvia, again, is ahead here, as it was on HSDPA deployment). No merger talks, says Triatel CEO Martins Klevers.

There doesn't seem to be a stampede to submit bids in the Ministry of Transport's tender for rural broadband solutions which closes December 18. When I checked, the following companies had not yet decided whether to apply--Unistars, Latvenergo Telecommunications, Triatel, Latvian Railways, the State Information Network Agency and, of course, Lattelecom. Everybody seemed to be trying to make sense of the 70 page tender regulations and various forms and tables and guarantee papers and certificates and other shit to be filled out (there's European Union money involved, that's why), plus some pretty strict rules to be followed on quality of service, etc. At the end of the day, you can get 35 % government and EU funding for a rural infrastructure project, that is, a fat wire or wireless pipe from which local ISPs will draw internet bitstreams and sell them to the poor peasantry, rural households and small businesses. The total jackpot is almost LVL 4 million, which means the private sector has to come up with another LVL 7 million.
As one executive experienced in wireless broadband in Latvia put it, there seems to be no business case for this. It would be a different story if there was some form of support for the end user, perhaps a program of subsidized PC purchases and a premises-equipment subsidy (for a WiMax or other wireless internet gadget) Perhaps it is too early to say that the tender will be a flop and no one shows up, but the possibility cannot be dismissed.

CDMA rumors

Someone may be sniffing around to acquire Triatel, the Latvian CDMA 450 telephony and wireless broadband operator. Rumor has it that a Scandinavian company seeking to revive a 450 Mhz network in its home country with CDMA 450 could be involved. I am checking this out for the paper. Or the rumors could have arisen from the Scandinavians talking to Triatel about a roaming agreement, pretty ordinary stuff in the business.

New Latvian blogsite opens for use

A Latvian blogging site,, has opened for registration and use by the general public. Until now, it has been a work in progress and limited to invitation-only (to keep the number of users under control while the system was being stabilized). The site is a labor of love by Kristaps Kaupe, a programmer at a small Latvian IT company and one of the bloggers featured in the cover story on bloggers in the annual IT magazine published by Dienas bizness, the newspaper where I work (until December, when I take a new job).
Kristaps has been writing his own blog on IT issues, music, and nationalist politics. He manages to keep these balanced in such a way that I keep reading him even though I disagree with his politics (I started a Latvian-language blog on libertarianism on just for fun and to present an alternative to the --to my mind-- somewhat loonie-tunes politics of the other bloggers on, Kristaps' friends and political sympathizers) and his musical taste is that of another generation. As a matter of fact, his IT posts are also too geeky for me to fully understand, but I like reading stuff that is written by someone who seems to be smarter than I on some issues. That's how you learn.
As opens up, I think we will see a greater diversity of views and subjects, although I suspect most of the blogs will be people writing about what they fed their hamster etc. But even these have a certain charm. There is one blog, for example (part of the pre-open site) written by an average, I would guess, 15 or 16 year old girl who is simply happy to have taken an exam, or that there is a school vacation, or that friend called her. I glance at it to be reminded that there are nice, normal kids growing up here in Latvia.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Blogger, move your ass!

Since I do not know how to make a wiki anymore than a wicker basket, I have started a closed blog on the new Blogger beta to write a set of random legacy instructions to my colleagues who will have to pick up the slack when I leave the newspaper to go to LETA. The options are great, almost like on Netvibes, I can design my own page, make a link list (to various IT and telecoms news sources) etc. etc.
I would love to do the same with this blog, to make a permanent link list and redesign things a bit outside the box of available blogger templates. However, blogger (now a part of the Googlemonster) is not making migration available yet, only to a select few. Since I want to move as fast as possible to a new look and wider possibilities for this blog (like making more than USD 30 from Adsense since 2004), would blogger PLEASE HURRY THE FUCK UP!!!

The Bite backup :) on HSDPA

I want to put in a good word for Bite Latvija's HSDPA service, which I have been testing for a couple of weeks (now and again, I have 5 Mbps DSL at home). Bite works just fine, one incident of strangeness (no service) but that was all.
Tonight, however, shows why, if you (as a business or mission-critical worker) in Latvia or elsewhere) should have Bite HSDPA (or anyone else's) if you can afford it. It seems that a Lattelecom upgrade that I was warned about--fair enough--lasted longer than anticipated, basically knocking out my DSL for the evening. This better be good, like they are upgrading to 10 or 24 Mbps (including TV) or something like that.
Anyway, having the HSDPA test kit as a back up with about the same effective speed and quality of service as DSL is a godsend for those who cannot live without broadband for an evening. It also means that the virtual wireless ISP service is viable.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Coming - A virtual wireless ISP

Look for a virtual wireless ISP to be launched in the near future, most likely using Bite's HSDPA network. The virtual operator, one of Latvia's "alternative" telecoms service providers, will offer its own wireless modem and WiFi unit (not the Vodafone solution offered as Bite's own Hotspot). The principle will be the same. Now that it has several MVNOs on its GSM/UMTS network, it apparently wants to do the same with its HSDPA capacity. Very impressive if it can keep uniform quality and if, next year, it upgrades the network to faster than its advertised 3.6 Mbps at present. The price also has to be reasonable, just under 17 LVL will get you 5 Mbps and free calls inside Latvia on Lattelecom's network, possibly jumping to 10 Mbps or 24 Mbps in the next six months or so (depending on location).
The virtual wireless ISP, unlike fixed solutions, will offer nomadic services in the area of coverage.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Moving and staying, a personal note

The word is already getting around in Latvia, so for the benefit of other readers: I am changing my "day job" in early December. It should not affect my blogging. I am going to work for what I hope will be the edgy-techie new media side of a major Latvian news agency/multimedia platform. LETA, if you must know.
Why? Call it an offer that was impossible to refuse and very difficult to accept. I have worked at my present newspaper for 11 years, longer than, say, any sane person stays at around seven different jobs in the US. Even the ones who work at the insane asylum probably don't stay that long :).
Difficult to accept because I really enjoy the people I have worked with, the generally loose workstyle keeping to tight deadlines and best-effort high standards. It was also fun to be considered among the best and only-est IT/telecoms journalists in Latvia(the guppy among the minnows in the fishpond). I hope not to lose that reputation.
It was impossible to refuse because I have a family to support and life is getting expensive even here in the partly-tamed East. I was given an excellent offer and I have to say, very simply, the cattle market for what people see as talent (flatters me :) ) has started. I am, at the same time, saddened to leave. Familiarity bred a lot more affection than contempt (none, actually) and it is painful to go.
Well, this is not a psychobabble blog for wringing one's hands about life choices, so that is all I have to say on this off-topic.

Mobile WIMAX in Latvia by 2008

A mobile WIMAX service provider will become the defacto fifth mobile services operator in Latvia by 2008, a well-informed industry source told this blogger.
By then, providers of WIMAX-like services will have developed the "smart antennas" needed to link to truly mobile devices (most likely hybrid GSM/UMTS/WIMAX handsets) and voice calls will be made worldwide using an all-IP network. The handsets will also offer presence detection as with Skype (many will actually run Skype), a timesaver when one has to call a list of people, like clients. No need to dial the ones who are "unavailable" (saving, say, a minute per wasted call).
Currently GSM/UMTS mobile services are provided by Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT), Tele2 and Bite Latvija, with Triatel providing CDMA-450 voice and data. Bite has several MVNOs operating on its network.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Video of Bite's new mobile internet offer

Maarten van Engeland of Bite Group describes the new Vodaphone Mobile Connect and Bite Hotspot services the company is introducing in Latvia.
I know that Latvian blogger Arturs Mednis doesn't think he benefits from video rather than text, but I think this is short, simple and turned out well.
Kristaps Kaupe of will probably see nothing again, unless he has updated his Flash gadgets. He has seen too much already :) :) and I am waiting for the blowback* of his Latvian-language post about my post about Lattelecom and IP TV for ordinary TV sets. The will be looking for the blabbermouth at the Great Satan**.
So I have pre-empted two critical comments :).

Murky hints :)

Things are going to happen in the Latvian WiMax space in the next few months. Big names are involved, things may be being tested soon. Mid or late 2007 could be when it is rolled out and when it may be the disruptive alternative to GSM/UMTS that some analysts have said it could be.
Certainly, Skype on mobile internet has some people concerned. Mobile operators are thinking of offering flat rate minutes to corporate customers as a counterweight (say, 600 minutes per user to Sweden or whatever for a sum comparable to SkypeOut and with some quality guarantees, as well as guarantees that business calls are actually made to Sweden and not to Cousin Borat in Kazakhstan, which can happen with SkypeOut since it practically has one rate to the world). The disruption is starting even before Niklas Z and his Estonian whiz kids finally work out how to do Skype on Symbian. Were it summer (nay, winter is 'a comin' in, loudly sing goddamn -- Ezra Pound or some dude parodying some medieval tune about summer, what you sing with lutes and shit...) I would then go out and finally figure out how the f**k to connect my Nokia N80 to one of Lattelecom's WiFi phone booths (I have a small collection of their scratch cards). I would then use the as yet unborn Skype for Symbian to gnaw at the revenue leg of Lattelecom's cousin Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT).
And that was the bizarrely worded post of the month. 'Tis Halloween after all...
* blowback describes news published in a foreign language coming back into the domestic, local language news market.
** the Great Satan is a name I borrowed from the rhetoric of eminent and dead Iranian clerics to describe a certain telecommunications company as viewed, in the late 90s and early 00s, by many Latvians. I even wrote an article for Northern Enterprise magazine (dead, too, I believe) with the title Surfing With The Great Satan about, among other things, how that company started offering DSL internet.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Livingroom Lattelecom TV in Q1 '07?

Lattelecom is going to launch a version of its IP TV for ordinary home TV sets sometime in the first quarter of 2007. The service will soon be tested by the company's own staff at a number of sites around Latvia, not only in Riga. The employees will be given set-top boxes and new modems with more ports for attaching the box.
Until now, it has been possible to watch Lattelecom's IP TV channels only on computer monitors (not under Mac OSX and nevermind the picture of the TV set on the homepage). The test phase will examine how the decoders work as well as the reliability and quality of Lattelecom's DSL network. In places, it has been upgraded to 26 Mbps, but that is not offered to customers as yet.
The most likely TV configuration will be a 2 Mbps or 5 Mbps channel for internet surfing and 3 Mps dedicated to the IP TV stream, so any home getting the internet plus TV will essentially have as much as 8 Mbps going down its DSL line.
One interesting question, aside from the cost of the service, is whether Lattelecom will offer a modem trade-in to those, like me, who recently bought a DSL modem when switching to the flat rate Home Package (free local and national calls, plus 5 Mbps internet for around LVL 17 a month). As far as I can see, the modem doesn't have a port for attaching a decoder.

More news...

Bite, as expected, launched its Bite Hotspot in Lithuania, and my sources tell me it is a fixed wireless internet gadget consisting of a WiFi unit (for serving up to five computers) and a HSDPA card which plugs into either the WiFi device or any laptop. Bite will announce its offering in Latvia on October 31. The price of the Lithuanian service will be LTL 180 per month for unlimited traffic plus a rental fee of up to LTL 40 for the gadgets (lowered to LTKL 25 with a three year contract). Also to be announced is roaming on Vodaphone's mobile internet networks (announced in Lithuania October 30).

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bite to offer fixed wireless broadband?

Bite Latvija will probably offer some kind of fixed wireless broadband service, probably based on HSDPA at the same time it announces broadband roaming with Vodafone Mobile Connect. The new new thing at Bite will be called Bite Hotspot and is a product for home and office use. It sound very much like a WiFi and HSDPA combo unit, but not the product Mikrotiks was developing. That is still on the way, though not specifically for Bite, as there is a market for this kind of wireless broadband in other countries, although the Latvian-assembled device could also be a low cost alternative to whatever gadget Bite will use intially.
This also might be a signal that the pricing of fixed HDSPA services will not be at some high flat rate like LVL 50 per month, but more likely at a price competive with Triatel's 1 Mbps wireless internet and comparitive wireline services (this will be an urban product). So with Triatel going for around LVL 20 per month and Lattelecom offering 5 Mbps plus free telephony in Latvia for around LVL 17, even LVL 25 for 3.6 Mbps (max) will be pricey, unless the gadget lease is included.
What it boils down to is that wireless internet of 1 Mbps+ speed is becoming a commodity differentiated only by quality of service in the medium and long term (a test Bite HSDPA unit I have, with a borrowed Windowsyuck– laptop is running OK, topping 2 Mbps from time to time). Even wireline speeds can get weird now and again. As I see it, broadband in urban areas will be available everywhere, directly wireless or from a very fast fixed connection feeding a home or office WiFi network. It will simply be there as a background hum that you can join for around LVL 20 a month (less for the home network location or office).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lattelecom's plan C...DMA?

I've already written that Lattelecom, in order to offer mobile services when it is completely de-coupled from Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and becomes a state-owned company, will try to buy the Bite Group. TDC, the Danish owner, in turn owned by a private equity group, has long been rumored to want to sell its "peripheral" holdings in the Baltic countries.
With Bite, Lattelecom would get control of a slice of the Lithuanian mobile market as well. It would be a costly acquisition in which Lattelecom would not be the only bidder.
Plan B, for Lattelecom would be to take a big piece of Bite's network capacity and build a powerful virtual operator based on Lattelecom's brand (sorta like Telia Mobil in Sweden).
Now it appears there is a Plan C, or better put, CDMA, or still more clearly-- buy Triatel.
Triatel is a small/midsized alternative operator running a CDMA450 mobile network, some pretty fast and good wireless internet, based on EV DO, plus some fixed network voice services. CDMA, of course, is a non-standard technology for mobile telephony in Europe, but it could have some promise in further evolutions. For instance, instead of running the handsets on the CDMA network, have them operate as IP phones on the wireless broadband network. Then, by signing up folks to a flat rate plan with, say, wireline broadband (10 Mbps +) at home and the handset running on WiFi, then moving to EVDO outdoors (on the next-generation, higher speed deployment), with the handset registered as an IP device, it may be possible to duplicate the current wireline offering of calls within Latvia at no extra charge that Lattelecom now offers to DSL customers.
With hybrid dual mode phones, it is also possible to have a GSM roaming option as well as the possibility to call other GSM phones.
Here is how it could work--say, in late 2007 or 2008, when Triatel is, hypothetically, absorbed by Lattelecom:
New customers to Lattelecom are simply sold "the connection" which is an any device (sold or leased by Lattelecom, plus one's home computers), anyplace high speed, multifunctional broadband connection suitable for voice, internet, "voice on the move" (formerly known as mobile), and internet TV. Voice and voice on the move are seamless, inside Latvia, they are for all intents free (no extra charge on top of the flat rate). Foreign calls are cheap, and calls to other Lattelecom "connection" devices that happen to be on the beach in Sydney, Australia, connected by WiFi, are also free and vice-versa) Once this would have been called quadraplay, but hey, who counts the sleeves and other parts of a well knit sweater. It is, after all, seamless.
By the time Lattelecom and Triatel could get this together, mobile IP telephony will already be nipping at the heels of the GSM charge-per-minute operators anyway (like folks standing near a WiFi phone booth in Riga, making calls on their Nokia N80s when finally, finally, the rocket scientists figure out Skype for Symbian).
So plan C may not be so crazy after all...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Love me tender...

The calls for tenders for rural broadband access will likely be published this week by the Ministry of Transport, giving some insight as to where funds (including EU money) and solutions will be first deployed.
This has been a hotly debated topic, with the e-government minister Ina Gudele and the Latvian Internet Association opposed to the MoT's plans to build new basic infrastructure. Gudele favors helping households and small businesses in Latvia's poorest and remote regions get last-mile access to the existing internet infrastructure (mainly Lattelecom's DSL network).
The MoT and its Communications Department favor funding additional infrastructure (i.e. new backbone lines) sometimes to compete with existing ones, so that competition will bring down prices and make the last mile connections cheaper and more accessible.
The tenders will start with the poorest regions first and may attract interest from some WiMax-type providers, possibly Latvenergo or Latvian Railways, which both have backbone infrastructure that could be extended out into the countryside by one means or another.
P.S. Sorry for the rant about Moneybookers. I finally used PayPal to buy my Skype credit. It is best to avoid these electronic fund fumblers if possible and keep their number to a minimum if they must be used.