Thursday, June 29, 2006

Headhunters, tarbabies and beekeepers

You read it here first.
After the company formerly known as MicroLink and quickly switched to Lattelecom Technology bit its own head off (or rather, the head at the time bit itself off :) ), Lattelecom was forced to bring in a headhunter to go out into the Latvian IT jungle and find – well, a suitable head.
The head has been found and was carried back from the local encampment of a pretty large beast found south of the Polar regions. The head has already been displayed to the Lattelecom Technology tribe and will be put on public display next week, when it will speak.
The head has some very useful knowledge of banking-related IT, something that will help Lattelecom technology expand its offerings in this area (together, perhaps, with Lattelecom BPO).
Also look for Lattelecom to perhaps drop its "tarbaby" deal for the Latvian e-signature (together with the Latvian Post Office), which subjects all of its business to the often cumbersome public procurement process. This is too much of a business risk and the company is looking for an exit before it has to issue a tender and go through three appeals to buy Nils Melngailis (the CEO) a new pen.
Finally, looking to the longer term, the idea of Lattelecom acquiring its own mobile operator is still very much alive in the airy regions where little birds whisper to bloggers. The beekeepers should be on the alert, especially if they decide to part with some of their outlying hives.
And, apropos nothing as the Swedes would say (apropos ingenting), Bite Latvija signed up its 100 000th customer, a lady from (WTF is...) Aizkraukle. She got 100 000 free minutes on her Bite account. So she can spend almost 70 uninteruppted 24 hour days telling the world WTF Aizkraukle is ...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A long talk with Mikael Bäck, Ericsson's HSDPA honcho

It has been a while since I spoke to Mikael Bäck, Vice President of WCDMA Radio Networks at Ericsson. An interview article was published in my newspaper (in Latvian), but a series of unintended circumstances prevented it from being published by one of my major freelance outlets. So as not to let this go to waste, I am presenting, here, a rough cut transcript of our talk in Stockholm some weeks ago.

What is HSDPA?

3G in the beginning introduced a wider radio carrier of 5 Mhz instead of 200 Khz, which gives us totally different possibilities. The first step in wideband CDMA doesn’t give us the full data capabilities, it is limited to 384 Kbps video and voice. HSDPA is the most efficient radio high data carrier that we have and we can bring theoretically even higher data rates that 14.4 Mbps over this frequency. That is up in operation today, better than anything anyone has been able to use in the world in the street. So if you compare it, the only other possibility to get these data rates is through wireless LAN in the office, which is limited.

What does this mean for business users? SMEs have internet in the office?

We believe it will be used in many different ways. The first step, partly because it is a good business case and is the easiest case is that people will be using the PC card to access internet from the laptop only. They will do what they do in the office without the cable.
Then what will come soon, is you will be able to mix voice and data in terminals, you will have a fixed terminal in some countries where in small offices you replace fixed for data. All this in combination means we will be able to address an extreme variety of needs without the operator having to invest in specific systems, as would be the case with specific systems for mobile TV and WIMAX. I think we can do a lot of things with only one infrastructure investment for the operators, and that is very much behind this.

How does it work?

It is a software upgrade from Wideband CDMA. For new operators, almost everybody is buying HSDPA ready equipment.

So, setting up a brand new operator and infrastructure, I would get HSDPA in the package?

That’s the way it works for all the new ones, if that would be in Eastern Europe or South Africa. It comes with HSDPA as the basic feature now.

How much uptake is there of HSDPA in the real world?

If you look at the uptake, I don’t know what percentage of the installed base has been upgraded, but it is a pretty good part now. It takes some time, however. We forget the marketing campaigns the operators must have before we get real users. In Europe, maybe Mobilcom in Austria is the biggest. Elsewhere it is small. Here is Sweden we don’t have it.

Why is TeliaSonera not doing it here but at their subsidiary companies Estonian Mobile Telephone and Omnitel in Lithuania?

That’s difficult to judge. In Sweden, it is a large area. In Sweden we will start in the big cities and EDGE is a feasible alternative for a lot of rural areas that are much larger in Sweden than in the Baltics. And it may also be that the competition between operators in Sweden is not so hard.

Once the phones arrive, what will be the content and the applications that are tailored to HSDPA?

Something that is a big thing already in 3G and that will take off is mobile TV. Different kind of tailored material. Either normal TV channels or content that is tailored for mobile, streamed or download pay per view or view or by different kinds of subscriptions. That is one of the things you already see in Western Europe. Quite a lot of operators have relations to a parent company that is involved in a media company. That will start quite early. 3 in Italy has no fixed line offering so they target pure competition with the DSL networks, they offer 1.8 Mbps for EUR 9.00 and will upgrade it to 3.6 Mbps and they call it ADSM. For them that’s pure competition with the higher priced fixed line. So you will see different types of alternatives coming out.
One of our customers in Japan, Vodafone KK, was recently bought out by Softbank, the biggest player in DSL in Japan and also the owner of Yahoo! Japan, so they have very advanced plans to introduce a lot of the services you see today on the internet, including voice over IP. Again we might see a trend that some of the first applications will be around in countries like Korea, Japan before they enter Europe which has traditionally been a bit slower on new services

Now that you’ve compared HSDPA to DSL, aren’t you facing the problem of being a supplier to both the fixed line operators and to the potential “cannibals” of fixed line DSL?

That’s part of our role. If you want to be one of the biggest suppliers in telecoms, it is totally unavoidable that you supply to competitors. In reality, you will have many different types of systems, WIMAX and such. It is very difficult for us to say that we will stay out of this part of the competition. We will have the easy cases, the 3s and the Vodafones that don’t have a fixed line offering. For them the positioning might be easier. But a big part of our customers, that’s the KPNs., the Telefonicas, the Telias, are very strong on the fixed and very strong on the mobile side. For them it is a very interesting internal debate on how are they going to position this. And very often, they start to position this not as cannibalizing DSL but as the businessman’s portable solution on the laptop that would not compete as much with the DSL lines, while 3 is competing directly with DSL.

You say HSDPA will be used for business. How much are you working with enterprise software companies and how will you deal with security if you have people working in the park with the SAP or Oracle ERP system and sensitive data?

We have a number of different things that will happen. If you take the device as such, you have the industry, driven by the Intels and possibly the AMDs, where today wireless LAN is integrated into the laptops. Before the Centrino, where Intel integrated wireless LAN into the motherboard, when you had separate PC cards, no-one believed that you would have wireless LAN in more than 40 % of laptops. Then it came as part of the Centrino platfom and with Intel holding an extremely large part of the laptop market, suddenly the uptake of wireless LAN on new laptops was 94 % instead of 40 %.
From my point of view, what we have tried to do with Ericsson mobile platforms in the same way as Qualcomm and other companies do, is to try to get HSDPA as integrated with laptops are wireless LAN has been. And that will come in various steps, starting with the PC card, which is the most simple. But there will be a market, and we will help to create it, where HSDPA is installed in the laptop as is. You can already buy such laptops, but the price is fairly high.

Who is making these laptops? Do you have an alliance with anyone?

If you look at what has been publicly announced, there have been announcements from Sony, from Dell, there are operators like Cingular, Vodafone, T-Mobile that are bundling, more or less hardware with the laptops. There is a small company called Flybook selling fairly expensive stylish Italian designed and today you can order one of those laptops with integrated HSDPA, not a PC card. It would be very strange if we couldn’t get it into every brand. They only problem is that if we can’t get the cost down, it will only be in the higher priced models.
Then, when it comes to how it works with the laptop, we are working with Ericsson Enterprise that is doing applications and clients for the P900 and those kinds of phones, but we will be working with that environment to create a secure environment, a simple password and SIM card handling environment. This will be important, since today the solution is a little bit too difficult. We have a separate key generator and you have to dial in a special number and get another code.

So today HSDPA equipped laptops have enterprise level security?

Yes, we use it here in Ericsson, I can use it. But it is still a bit of a hassle to set it up, because you have to create the secure tunnel. It has to be a bit simpler to be a hit in all corporations. But it is approved in all our own internal processes.

How can others do this?

A secure network can be run over HSDPA. The IT department would typically set it up, but you can purchase the solution from Ericsson or the other typical players you have, the laptop vendors and the Microsofts. That is part of the process why in some places this is very slow, these are very static parts of the organization.
The solution and the problem is the same as with wireless LAN. We don’t allow open wireless LAN at Ericsson, because then someone standing outside the building could use the network. I set up a secure tunnel and the solution is the same whether I am using wireless LAN or HSDPA.
I think it is a very impressive service, it runs at 1.8 Mbps now and will soon run at 7 or 8 Mbps. It is not as fast as the wireline network here at Ericsson, but certainly as fast as some of the fixed network DSL you could access abroad and it is enough for the kind of work I do and attachments I might need to send or receive.

What is the situation on the handset side? This is what is expected to generate all kinds of content viewing and revenue…

The first handsets will be available very after the summer, our guess is in September, that is the information we have now. We have them in the labs only. You can’t buy them on the street.

When Estonian Mobile Telephone announced its HSDPA service, it mentioned download speeds of 14.4 Mbps, which some observers received rather skeptically. What is the evolution track for HSDPA speeds and what will come after HSDPA?

If you take what we have defined as HSPA today – the D has disappeared because that refers to downlink and we have an evolution for both the downlink and the uplink– and if we could build as fast as possible according to the standard, it allows 14.4 Mbps on the downlink and up to 5 Mbps on the uplink. So it is up to us vendors to design the equipment. Today our system can run 3.6 Mbps with the release that is out there, in the Baltic States, for example. The PC cards and the terminals can run 1.8 Mbps. Then in the next release that will come out around Christmas will have the possibility to run in the network at 14.4 Mbps. It seems like the biggest part of the devices will go for 7.2 Mbps and maybe not higher for a while, maybe with an enhanced upload.

When you talk about devices, you mean PC cards, phones. But are there any other devices coming out, perhaps TV-like tablets?

Not so much has been announced yet by suppliers, but in reality if we have a market of small modules performing HSDPA operations, there is nothing preventing this device from being the communication device between tablets, between iPods or whatever kind of device that communicates and that is up to the device makers. And it depends on the price point coming down.

Using iPod as a general term for all these music devices, can we see iPods with HSDPA coming out soon?

Absolutely. If you look at the pure silicon part that does HSDPA, it is small enough to be inside anything. Then it is a question of how it will be sold, in small plastic modules or whatever, Maybe it could be difficult to integrate in the small iPod Nano size, but there is no reason it shouldn’t be in any kind of device.

So you could have an Mp3 player that is always on and searching for any kind of entertainment that is available?

That is my guess for one of the killer apps if you don’t take the normal broadband laptop broadband market. Being always connected to music, be it iTunes or the like, is an obviously very interesting market.

What about TV on demand, or TV that comes on when it detects something of interest? Say, during an election campaign, a candidate of interest is appearing in a news spot?

There is TV up and running and we have been doing tests to see which kind of data rates we can get and how that will affect TV service. At our recent event in Rome we showed a quite big, normal 32 inch display where we streamed two videos one over 384 kbps over wideband CDMA and the other HSDPA and it was an extremely good picture on the HSDPA.

So, assuming coverage, you could go out on a sailboat and watch HSDPA TV through a phone and a 20 inch LCD screen?

You will do that! But when you are talking about only downlink, you will always have competition from normal TV service. What will happen is that interaction will come more and more into these type of services. A device that cannot communicate will be less and less interesting. That will be one of the other killer apps.
One of the most important battles in the industry is now going on in Australia and can be followed on the internet because it is extremely public. What Telstra is doing is using HSDPA to cover the desert in the middle of Australia with extremely few sites. We provide them with a system that can run, as we have demonstrated in the desert up to 80 kilometers and can run up to 200 kilometers from one site, basically normally over water. And we can take care of the delay that would come over that distance.
In the desert from a high mast we can reach 1.8 Mbps over 79 kilometers distance.

So basically you are competing with WIMAX?

Absolutely, from that point of view. We are doing that in a good way, because WIMAX doesn’t exist, which is always a drawback. The WIMAX we have today are the pre-versions and not what will be the real WIMAX coming out from Intel in, say 2008. So we have a very interesting market window.

Is there a name for this service? I understand WCDMA runs on frequencies that don’t propagate very far?

What Telstra is doing is running this on 850 Mhz, which is better. But in many areas, as long as you have not really line of sight, but not many things in between, or you use a high mast or a high mountain, then you can propagate quite far with the 2100 Mhz. maybe not 200 kilometers, but if you reach 80 kilometers, it is an extreme distance.

In Latvia and some other East European countries, we have CDMA 450 operators who say they can deliver wireless broadband at 1 Mbps or under optimal conditions, over 2 Mbps. Where does this system, EV DO, fit in with HSDPA?

It (HSDPA) is a wider band and the laws of physics decide how many bits per second you can get out of a piece of spectrum. The CDMA is only 1.25 Mhz and the wideband CDMA is 5 Mhz. So the CDMA systems will be limited unless you add frequencies. The highest possible data rate you can get with CDMA is around 2 Mbps, while it is theoretically around 40 Mbps for wideband. If the theoretical limit is 2 Mbps, then you will have difficultly getting 1 Mbps unless you are the only user on the system.
My view is that realistically the 450 band is very difficult, it has good propagation. It was used in NMT for voice, but for any kind of data services, it is very difficult to use.

In Latvia we have Triatel, the CDMA operator, selling these solutions out of a box, voice and internet, and allying recently with Lattelecom to build out the network with wireless in the countryside. Ar you saying that HSDPA is the better solution for providing really fast broadband in the countryside?

The problem with CDMA 450 is that it will work perfectly well for voice, it will work as well as the (analog) NMT 450 system did, but with smaller telephones, It will be very good for voice, not for other things. Unless you create something very new, the 450 band is not good for data. In Europe you use the 2100 Mhz, the 1800 Mhz bands, the 900 and 850 Mhz.

So if the telcos, such as Lattelecom in Latvia, want to offer wireless broadband in the 10 Mbps range, as they are offering in the cities, they will have to turn to HSPA?

That is my view, If I look the things I have been working with with wideband and before wideband, HSDPA is the absolutely the single item that is creating interest on the market among both the end users, the operators, the content industry. I think this will be looked back upon as a very important step for going away from cable broadband services.

So you are saying that when it is all developed, networks, terminals etc., it will be as fast broadband as anyone with normal consumer or enterprise needs will require?

That is my view. In reality all types of DSL services are limited by the distance to the station, and in most places you will be limited to around 10 Mbps if you are not living close to the station. So the only way to get much higher rates is fiber to the user, which is very expensive. So we will see different behaviors on different markets. In the Nordic countries, it is difficult to see this kind of fiber development, in the US you might see that trend.

What is over the horizon after HSPA? How fast can radio transmit data?

We can go very high and what we are doing now is introducing the next step in standardization that we call long-term evolution where we will use wider bands, which is realistic in Europe, up to 20 Mhz, which means you will be able to transmit 100 Mbps, in reality up to 200 Mbps. You can go even higher with wider bands, but those are hard to find, frequencies are a limited resource.

So if there is going to be an HSPA 2.0 it won’t go higher than 200 Mbps?

I think that will be a practical limitation for quite some time. And it is difficult to forsee needs that you will not be able to serve with that kind of capacity.
A problem we are working on today is latency, something that happens on GSM and GPRS can be hundreds of milliseconds and affects such applications as gaming or protocols where you have a lot of acknowledgement will have performance lags. What we are doing with HSDPA is getting those latencies down to 75 milliseconds and we may get it down to 10 milliseconds, which will open up a whole world when it comes to voice over IP, push to talk, where delay is an issue.

You can run VOIP on HSDPA today?

Yes. It works well.

So we are back to creating more cannibals, aren’t we?

It is up to price model and the operator. If you charge a high amount for the voice and low for the date, you create that kind of cannibalism issue.

Ok, but if you want to sell lots of data services at attractive rates and you have that other company across the Baltic Sea (Nokia) releasing phones with WLAN capability, what is going to happen to GSM voice revenues?

Of course you see already today a trend toward lower cost for voice and different types of bundlings. You have that kind of development whatever you do. In Sweden we have had drastic price changes in just half a year.

But if the network sees many phones as just IP devices, then your call to another one of them will simply be part of some flat rate data service…

This is a fairly complicated market. If you look at the internet and the enterprise networks, then voice is a very small component in a data network. On the mobile networks, voice is 99 % of the traffic. Operators will try to block Skype type of services for a while, then they will come to their senses. But it will not be a technology issue, it will be how operators package these things, how they offer voice over IP.

Still, thinking about HSDPA, I am reminded of the 1980s Gremlins movies, where these nice fuzzy creatures got let into an office building, then they got wet and turned into these raging little monsters that tore the place apart. Hasn’t HSDPA put the Gremlins into the GSM building?

It would be very strange if certain things that happened on the fixed networks didn’t happen on the mobile side. It is so that most operators don’t want to lose control and become a bit pipe. They are opening up the bit pipe but trusting that there are no devices that make it easy to use, like it is impractical to use Skype on a laptop, you don’t walk around with it and talk. The first devices are expensive, so there will be some time to fiddle around with the strategies and these first devices won’t hit as hard as they did on the fixed lines. But this is big question that operators are working on.
Also, the application development for mobile phones is not as fast as the extremely fast application development happening on the internet side. You will have two markets meeting. If you go to an all IP world on the terminals, which has to happen, of course there will a lot of players like the Googles and the Yahoos that will want to get into this business the same way mobile players are trying to replace the fixed line DSLs. We have been talking about convergence, but it has not happened, it has mainly been bundling of different offerings. Here it is very obvious that this is convergence. You will have the same type of services and then you will have some really strong tools in the mobile environment, that you will have mobility which you are not used to from the fixed line side. We are working a lot with IMS to create an environment where you have presence information, so you tailor your offerings a lot more, location based and so on.

So IMS is important for HSDPA?

IMS is formally a separate thing but it comes together very much, IMS if you don’t have a good bearer will not be as strong. Of course IMS is for both the fixed line networks and the wireless LANS and HSDPA. But for me the strong correlation is with HSDPA.

So if you are at home watching a football game on TV and you are called to the office and have an IMS compliant device, you can continue watching it on your mobile in a cab…

That is one of the extremely strong offerings that could come from us to operators and to the end user. But it is also fair to say that this type of development will take quite a long time, maybe not for us, but this is quite a big change if you look at world most operators are living in, how they sell phones and distribute content. It is quite a big change and it will take some time. But one thing we have seen with mobile broadband and with mobile telephony is that if you want to have a fast uptake, it is a very good step to take a service that is existing already, such as telephony was existing in the fixed line network and move that to mobile telephony, because you have an immediate understanding of what the service is for me as an end user. The same goes for mobile broadband, if you take what you have in the office or on the home DSL and move that to a mobile environment. People understand how to use it and why they want to have it. The same could go for TV as well. Whatever the TV you have at home, or the IP TV coming on now, you would be able to take it with you when you walk out of the home. You understand why I want that and so on..

So that is it, not the usual blog format.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Fiber in the Lattelecom diet

Lattelecom's subsidiary Citrus Solutions will soon announce that it is offering to run fiber to the home (FTTH) in all new housing projects going up in Latvia, starting with the greater Riga area. This is a direct response to Latvenergo, the power utility's, FTTH projects at a new apartment block and a single family housing development in the Latvian capital. FTTH can deliver 100 Mbps or more, practically unlimited bandwidth. A significant deployment of FTTH will put Latvia in the forefront of this technology, about the only one that can compete with some of the high speed wireless stuff, like my 300 to 600 Kbps in the summer cottage yard Triatel connection, HSDPA (coming this fall) and some WIMAX or pre-WIMAX technology to be deployed by Unistars and Telecentrs. Look, also, for Lattelecom's fiber-to-the curb/building that will run up to 24 Mbps into urban residences and offices.
The illustration is of how it is to sit here, random mosquitos hovering, on the Triatel connection.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Baltcom enters mid-teenage

Baltcom, the cable TV, internet and fixed telecommunications company has come a long way since founder Peteris Šmidre and a few other guys spent a sleepless, nervous night individually tuning dozens of German television sets to around 40 channels of cable at the Hotel de Rome in the early 90s. The hotel was Baltkom's (as it called itself at the time) first major customer and the German PAL standard TVs, it seemed, did not auto-tune to the cable channels.
Since then, Baltcom has reached its mid-teens and will be celebrating its 15th birthday on June 29 with a party. The company now has around 150 000 cable subscribers (I am guessing this figure out of my head here in the hammock), as well as a fixed telephony and internet users (quite a few of them on Baltcom's triple-play offer).
Another major accomplishment for Baltcom was launching the second mobile operator in Latvia, now called Tele2. Šmidre made an unsucessful bid for the "third" GSM and UMTS licence that was bought by Bite last year. The "Golden Fish/Zelta zivtiņa" prepaid card brand launched by Baltcom remains one of the strongest trademarks on the Latvian telecoms market, with even rival Okarte cards and the plethora of other pre-paids being called, generically zivtiņas (fish) in popular useage.
Having said that, it doesn't look like Baltcom is planning any major announcements to coincide with its birthday. HDTV has been hinted at, but there is only one real European HD channel, which shows mostly HD demo stuff, nature scenes, mating spiders where you can count the hairs on their legs, etc.
The company may make the rather unspectacular but smart move of repackaging its 103 channels of digital TV into interest group oriented packages. 103 sounds like a lot, but it includes a number of narrow interest and, frankly, weirdo-sounding channels such as the Korean-language Arirang, the Wine Channel and some Russian-language channels dedicated to comedy and ( I am guessing) fishing? Nothing wrong with Russian, since the typical cable TV customer is supposed to be a Russian granny/babushka. But that may change and that certainly isn't where the money is.
Look for Baltcom to repackage more like rival IZZI, which has less channels but definite interest-group (music, science/documentary, news etc.) packages for a moderate subscription fee for each. Lattelecom with its IPTV is also going the low price package route, though they have yet to offer a solution that can be viewed on "real" TV sets through a decoder. Meanwhile, Baltcom internet subscribers on or near the optical network may be offered a form of IPTV.
The more interesting plans are further down the road. By the time Baltcom "comes of age" (at 18), it may well be a pan-Baltic cable/electronic communications operation. My wish, should that happen, is that all programming on PanBaltcom will be original sound with local/Russian subtitling. The Latvian or Russian mumbler/murmulis dubbing the soundtrack must be ended at long last.
I am adding yet another photo from the outdoors (an undisclosed :) plant that has simply sprouted at an undisclosed location). Let's make some hemp butter, anyone??

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Happy Midsummer/Jāņi to all

This is the eve of the most "Latvian" of all national holidays, Jāņi or Midsummer, which is the shared name-day of Jānis (June 24) and Līga (a female name, June 23). Jāņi are celebrated the night – all night by tradition– from Līga's day to Jānis' day and the time is often called The Līgo Evening (Līgo vakars). This has less to do with Līga, more with the endless number of friendly mocking, drinking and sometimes bawdy songs sung with the refrain "līgo, līgo", which means to rock or swing. If this is getting complicated to non-Latvians, it should :). If you are not confused enough, ask a Latvian friend to play the old Čikāgas piecīši (a satirical singing group) record with the track in English explaining Jāņi, when «Latvians burn blacktop in barrels".
Anyway, Baltic and Nordic readers will find this familiar, as June 23, by accident of calendar, is also Midsummer in Sweden, Norway, Finland, as well as in Lithuania and Estonia. The Danes are always romping around with beer bottles in their hands (so I remember an evening in Copehagen many years ago) so perhaps there is no special midsummer for them (or am I covering up my ignorance/knowledge with special needs on these matters?).
Unlike the Nordics, who preserve their work week by always celebrating Midsummer on a Friday, Latvians always celebrate June 23-24, which is an ordinary weekend next year, but becomes interesting again in 2008, when the festivities will run again from Friday night to back-to-work Tuesday,
In many other places, the idea of Midsummer (India, for instance, where it is summer all year long)must be strange, and this is just a way of explaining to readers in such places why I am wishing all my readers, etc. who understand what Jāņi/Midsummer is, PLEASE HAVE A SAFE AND GREAT ONE.

More comments, please :)

My post about surfing under the shady apple tree generated some nice longer comments from Solnyshok and other readers. This is great stuff, I really want to see the blog become a bit more of a community of opinion and information.
Putting the brakes on high volume file transfers is not unique to wireless operators such as (allegedly) Triatel. My oldest son, a student in Umeå, Sweden was sharing an apartment (one of several residences of the nomadic young) with another person, which had a 10 Mbps internet connection. One of their first roomate debates was "who blew the limit" of some dozens of GB allowed by the fixed network ISP. There is also some limit on the use he can have at his present student dormitory room which has symetrical 10/10 internet access.
I am waiting for Bite to launch its HSDPA 2 Mbps service in the fall (I will be back in town then :( ). This is the real rival to EV DO and fixed line DSL in summer cottages and outlying single family houses (which sounds like Solnyshok's living arrangements?). Then again, if Triatel gets some 850 Mhz frequencies, they may be able to match HSDPA Mb for Mb. I hope Bite will offer some kind of free standing transciever for the fixed user who wants to link it to a WiFi home network. After all, they promise 22 channels of TV, and it is better viewed on a monitor than a phone screen.
If I have time, I may post most of a raw transcript of my interview with Michael Bäck, the Ericsson vice president in charge of HSDPA. I talked to him in May, some of the interview went into my paper, but it didn't, for various reasons, get into IDG News, for whom I also string.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Latvian wish-list for Google

Kristaps Kaupe, a erudite (meaning I sometimes don't understand WTF he is writing about :) ) blogger on IT matters, sports and politics (alas, on the wacko side of radical nationalism but then, my oldest son, about Kristap's age, has taken up with some Swedish loonie-zoonie socialist - as in the great economic disaster of the 20th century - party, and we must respect the choices of young adults :) )...anyway, Kristaps in his Latvian language blog has taken note of Google's intention to localize many of its services.
Kristaps then makes a wish list that will be pretty hard for Google to meet, not only in Latvia, but in a lot of small countries with little-known languages. Here is what he would like:

Google Maps that knows Latvian towns, villages and ponds (Google Earth actually thinks it does, and I spotted some bizarre stuff :) )
Google Adsense with Latvian language ads (I think you have to make Latvian advertisers aware of the medium, there are ads in other languages, I would guess)
BookSearch that includes Latvian books from Latvian libraries (as digitization/scanning proceeds, this may be possible and maybe Google can help speed things along)
Google SMS to reach Latvian mobile operators. (Latvian mobile operators, are you listening?)
And finally, this is the real tough one -- Google Translate to translate texts from Japanese to Latvian. Seems that Kristaps has been doing some searches that lead him to Japanese pages he has no idea what they say...

So there it is, the essence of the Google Everywhere challenge - an ordinary, smart 20-something user in a small country with potential decades of Google use and loyalty ahead of him if Google can at least fulfill some of his wish list. Can it....?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Widgettron comes to Latvia, 2007

This, again, comes from the hammock, what you see is our shed.

In the summer of 2007, the mid-sized European doohickey manufacturer Widgettron started operations in Latvia with a manufacturing plant and logistics center near Riga Airport. Riga was the first place where Widgettron would manufacture doohickeys in a major diversification move away from its traditional widgets. It chose the site because of Latvian skills in making ķiņkēziņi, which roughly translates as doohickeys.
Moving into the industrial park, Widgettron found a pre-installed fiber optic network and a web address to go to to set up and start the connection.
Plugging her laptop into the port, the new Widgettron Latvia SIA managing director Mara Zarina (Stanford MBA 2004, Riga Tech 2001) instantly got a menu that said: "What would you like to do today"?
Basically, it was a link to Lattelecom BPO, which offered her a choice of "build your back office" modules. Already there were 60 e-mails on Mara's Blackberry (courtesy of Bite), all of then ardently interested in buying doohickeys. So the first thing Mara clicked on was a set of windows for configuring a order intake and customer relations management (CRM) system. One would also need an inventory management system and, eventually, some kind of megasystem to run the whole Latvian operation and link it to the rest of Widgettron Europe.
Since Mara was setting up a new and largely independent doohickey business, Widgettron left it up to her to pick the IT solutions, together with Antons (MIT 2000), the CIO/CTO rolled into one (and speaking of rolled, he skateboarded around the largely empty manufacturing building, connecting doohickey assembly machines to the network ports in the floor).
By the summer of 2007, Lattelecom BPO, thanks to its cooperation with Big (guess what color), Larry E, Bill, the Germans and others could offer a suite of on-line, on demand business support services, most of them electronic but some involving staff such as call centers and web-based help services.
Upon closer examination of her e-mails, Mara saw that there were two huge potential orders. Bardakchik of St. Petersburg wanted 100 000 doohickeys practically yesterday for putting inside its matroschka dolls, and a Swedish company wanted the same for its line of talking stuffed reindeer. This meant there would be a lot of customer queries -- how do I make the doohickey sing in Russian or chatter in Swedish (or Lapp, for that matter, considering the most likely language of the reindeer)? So Mara immediately put in a request for provisioning of call center capacity in both Russian and Swedish. The appropriate toll free numbers, reachable by VOIP to Lattelecom's POPs in Moscow and Stockholm, would appear on the customer web-based order portal (these were being generated in Russian, Swedish and other languages using a toolset available from the Lattelecom BPO).
By the end of week one, Widgettron Latvia had set up, simply by using its fiber-optic connection to Lattelecom, a functioning CRM and order taking system, inventory and supply chain, manufacturing process management and an ERP metasystem from Larry (yes, Fusion worked at last) but with its on-line ordering portal running on something from Big Guess What Color. Also included were VOIP, e-mail and videoconferencing on demand. In fact, all of these services were on-demand with pre-signed service-level agreements.
And you know what, except for a number of local PCs (well, Intel Macs, Widgettron believes in cool :)), the company never installed a single server nor DVD disk with any of its core business systems. All that stuff was running, virtualized, somewhere in the caves and bunkers where Lattelecom, a company formerly know as a telco, kept its web accessible business operations services platform hardware.

P.S. This is a kind of vision thing, what is done in this fantasy is something all fixed network telcos will have to do or simply die.
And yes, I did have an interesting and visionary chat with those IBM honchos :).

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Under the shady apple tree

I am reclined on a swing sofa with my Apple Powerbook G4 under an apple tree in the yard of my family summer house in Carnikava, writing this blog online through an adequately fast Triatel wireless internet connection (EV-DO) and a D-Link wireless router. My son, 10, is inside also surfing with his laptop, some kind of Windows machine.
This is what always on is all about. A wonderful sunny afternoon, gentle breeze and the whole world just a click away. Next summer, I imagine I can try an HSDPA connection that promises up to 3.6 Mbps (the Triatel is benchmarked at around 1 Mbps, but does between 256 Kbps and 600 Kbps).
Nice as this is, I sort of feel compelled to fold up the computer and do my one big Saturday pleasure -- read The Economist (for once, it actually got delivered on Saturday to my Riga apartment so I could drive out here with it). I will write some more stuff later about another future vision for Lattelecom and stuff they may be doing for the European Parliament.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The semimadre goes to Spain

The half-mother (semimadre) of Lattelecom, TeliaSonera, has bought 80 % of the Spanish mobile operator Xfera with the intent to fully develop its 3G mobile services. Xfera actually doesn't do anything yet (except keep a 3G licence in hand), which is why the move led to a plunge of TeliaSonera shares on the Stockholm Stock Exchange once the deal was announced. Press reports say TeliaSonera will put up to SEK 9 billion into the fledgling operator to get 3G services up and running across Spain.
What is interesting for us is that the semimadre seems to be reaching south rather than east across the Baltic, where, according to the word on the street, further talks on the Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) for Lattelecom and cash swap have made no progress. The government troika has not met on the matter and no progress has been made in naming an appraiser to set values for all the companies involved in the deal.
Behind the Xfera deal is a man with a forehead bloodied by battering at the doors of the Latvian government, TeliaSonera's Baltic/Nordic honcho Kenneth Karlberg. There are a number of versions about this. One is that the Swedes are tired of Karlberg's fruitless pounding and have somewhat rethought their Baltic/Eastern strategy. They asked Kenneth to open a southern front and he did.
Having done that, Karlberg may be a step closer to moving up the ladder to replace the main honcho at TeliaSonera, Anders Igel should he retire or be eased out. Whether the Xfera deal flies may be an important test for Kenneth. (this is, of course, all mutterings and rumors after drinking beers and Asbach Uralt at the office after work today).
Should that happen, I don't think Kenneth will forget the Baltic home market (like a home where you don't have a key to one of the doors :) ), but he will seek medium-risk opportunities wherever they come up, at least in Europe. Lattelecom is most likely written off, and LMT will come along in due time, I would say, 2008, when the dust (and dried manure) from the elections settles and the new baboon pride settles into its cages. By then, competition may have knocked a few corners off LMT, giving good reason to cut its appraisal price a bit, while the possible success of Lattelecom's new strategy of becoming a business process utility and media portal will have increased its barter value. In other words, letting Lattelecom do what it pleases, even if it disrupts the semimadre's own plans, may be the best way to increase the value of the 49 % of Lattelecom owned by the Swedes. More about that in a subsequent post.
The next post may come from my summer cottage, where a test of Triatel's EVDO internet link is proving initially satisfactory, with the claimed 1 Mbps link getting anywhere between 256 and 600 Kbps, about the same real world fluctuating performance as my Lattelecom Apollo HomeDSL line in the Riga apartment (though generally the DSL tries to stay close to 1 Mbps).

Music: none
Recreational substances: Aldaris Legenda Beer (two bottles) and around 100 grams of Asbach much earlier this evening.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Lattelecom and Big Blue up to something?

Lattelecom is hosting some IBM honchos, whom I will meet later in the day. The gist of this is that something interesting is going on. Clearly, whatever its plans for steroidizing the DSL connections of its customers, Lattelecom realizes that all that does is make a fatter bit pipe. And nobody wants to be left holding just the bit pipe.
So my guess is that there is some kind of corporate network/application provision idea in the works. Think if Lattelecom could offer businesses ready-made IBM solutions over the net, computing on demand, whatever. Web 2.0 for businesses and all that.
Just a guess.
Not listening to aging hippy music, not sipping whiskey or toking joints. I have my Hunter Thompson writing urges under control. But I love the man's work. A shame he punched out...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cookies for those with special needs

Been a busy week, not much happening since the last post, but yesterday (Monday) 620 participants from 46 countries blew into Riga for a major international shindig on e-inclusion. At first I was skeptical, this was another event for the (to use politically incorrect speech) lame, halt, blind and the huddled masses yearning for bandwidth. However, the event seems more than relevant, with the European Union's main information society honchess (and scourge of roaming fees)Viviane Reding saying that inclusion in the form of bandwith can boost your country or region's GDP by up to 1 percentage point. She also ranked out (haven't used that expression since junior high school) Latvia as no 23 for enterprise use of the internet and IT (outta 25 EU member nations, one has to at least whisper shit under one's breath which I didn't, as I was sitting across from the lady at a press breakfast). Meanwhile, household internet use ranked no. 13 in the EU, which is not so bad as one would have to want to whisper shit under one's breath.
Anyway, for those of you who wonder what exactly a press breakfast is, aside from the information and quote gathering opportunity for us journalists, it consisted of cookies, tea and coffee. Somewhere, in the real press room for this event, there was a rumor of croissants.
As far as the objects of this conference (at the Hotel Reval Latvia), I noticed two wheelchair bound people eating at ad hoc tables (one at the juice and water table for lunch, the other at an internet access desk). Everyone else was supposed to eat at stand-up tables. Rather bizarre, given the subject of the conference and the exhibition of various software and other gadgets for assisting those with special needs – computerized lip reading, even a data base and management tool for re-integrating and rehabilitating ex-convicts (good to know where the fuckers are and what they are doing, at least).
Anyway, came away from that event – much other stuff to do for my day job, wish they would finally hire another IT capable journalist– quite impressed.

Music behind this semi-coherent post: The Eagles, Take it Easy; Jefferson Airplane, Come Up the Years; Jimi Hendrix, Freedom; Boston, Smokin; Grateful Dead, Dark Star (live version).

Mind altering substances: Ballantine's whiskey, around 100 grams/

Wished for, but unavailable mind-altering substances: Northern Light, one joint, or a bowl of dark and dreamy hash.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sad news, weird news from Lattelecom

Baiba Paegle, In Memoriam
The sad news is that Baiba Paegle, the chief executive of Lattelecom BPO, formally known as C1, died on June 5 after a long illness. Baiba contributed immensely to building up C1 and was a close advisor and confidant to Lattelecom's top management. Her death, while not unexpected, was nonetheless a shock to the Lattelecom community. Baiba was a women at the peak of her career and abilities. I would guess she was in her early 50s and is survived by three grown children, according to my information
Personally, she was a good source and very supportive of my journalistic and blogging efforts. I shall remember her from the last time we met in person, in the fall of 2005 at a conference in Stockholm, where she, Lattelecom CEO Nils Melngailis and I discussed their visions for the future of the company sitting in the cafe/bar of a hotel. I will remember her from that time, when she was at her shining best.

The weird news
The Procurement Monitoring Bureau, a Latvian state agency, has informed Lattelecom that, because of its 51 % state ownership and the fact that it is involved, together with the Latvian Post Office, in creating and delivering an electronic signature system, it falls under the rather strict and bureaucratic Latvian Public Procurement Law for all of its purchases. This means that everything Lattelecom buys for a larger amount (over LVL 70 000, I believe) is subject to the same kind of rather bureaucratic tender (and above all, slow) tender procedures that government ministries and agencies spending taxpayer money must use. Not exactly something for a telco that has to get more nimble every day. Interestingly, the Public Procurement Law excludes procurement for providing electronic communications services or for building electronic communications networks. But the head of the Procurement Monitoring Bureau, Andrejs Tiknuss, insists that the law should be applied to Lattelecom. A Lattelecom manager, informed of the new strictures and asked what they meant for the company, replied in a one-word SMS -- shit! Lattelecom will most likely contest this ruling both on the basis of the text of the law and on business logic. The public service of providing an e-signature is an insignificant part of the company's overall business of providing telecommunications services (and all that other stuff, BPO, whatever) in a competitive, commercial market.