Thursday, September 28, 2006

Norwegian new media group aims at Delfi?

An Estonian newspaper has published a story saying that Norway's Schibsted media group may be looking to buy the Delfi Baltic and Russian language internet portals.
This could be a challenge to all of the conventional press and fledgling internet media in the region. In Norway, Schibsted owns the VG newpaper and multimedia portal, whose managers are said to have tired of hosting visitors to their futuristic operation, where much content is reader generated (both news, photos, video and sound/podcasts).
This may well be the media of the future, with a live, constantly changing "page" on the internet that will slowly eat away reader/user/participant attention from the printed press and ordinary TV.
One would like to think that Lattelecom is moving in a similar direction, where "My Page" generated by a broadband internet connection with user input will greet and guide everyone who logs on through a range of personal and business services. But that is probably a couple of years off and worthy of a seperate post.
The basic issue for this kind of media, if it already hasn't captured and engaged an audience, is whether it may be preempted by a programmable software agent (perhaps open source freeware or an advertising-supported version) that allows the user to define and manage his or her experience entirely from the edge of the network. That sort of leaves the operator, like Lattelecom or anyone else, holding little else but the network. After all, why, having paid for a broadband connection (flat rate) should user A (on the edge of the network) share any more revenue with the operator for providing (for payment, perhaps) user B with entertainment or information?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Coming soon on Lattelecom

Watch for this in the next few weeks or months.
The number of Lattelecom DSL subscribers will top 100 000, largely as a result of the offer of unlimited free domestic calls on the Lattelecom network to anyone signing on for one of two (2 Mbps or 5 Mbps) home flat rate packages. Some 16000 subscribers have already signed up, many of them switching their current subscription terms.
Lattelecom intended to have 100 000 DSL users by year end, but it appears the final figure will be more, as the 90 000 mark has already been reached.

In October or November
There will be a higher speed, 10Mbps, maybe even 24 Mbps premium business DSL service. More areas of Riga will be jumped to 10Mbps for home users. The reason for this is that Lattelecom will start offering IP TV for "ordinary" TV watchers. This means that Lattelecom will start selling or leasing some kind of decoder device that will attach to an ordinary flat-screen or kinescope-based TV set. Everyone who signed up for one of the home deals will be offered to amend it to get higher speed and most or all of the IP TV channels. The service will be no different than the digital cable TV offered by Baltcom and IZZI. With 100 000 DSL subscribers, Lattelecom will have a strong base for catching up with these cable operators if its channel offering is attractive enough.

Mikrotik to make fixed HSDPA devices

My sources tell me that the Latvian wireless internet equipment and systems designer Mikrotik (the stuff is made mostly by Hanzas elektronika in colorfully named Ogre) will start making its own HSDPA home/office device in the medium term. Earlier, it was rumored that Bite, the mobile operator, had talked to Mikrotik (known as Mikrotikls in Latvian) about making a router for it. Now it looks like the product will be operator independent and moderately priced. In other words, you get a gadget to mount on the sweet spot (for HSDPA) coverage in your home and office, nail the thing to the wall, then set up a WiFi hotspot for the home or office computers and other devices. By the time this hits the market, we may be seeing HSDPA speeds above the current 3.6 Mbps, so this may also be the a kind of home entertainment reciever for digital IP TV, streaming media and all that stuff. Look for this thing on the market next spring. It will be another addition to the almost instant, out of the box broadband that the UMTS/GSM mobile operators and Triatel (EV DO) can provide. No wonder Lattelecom is giving away free phone calls to switch as many of its 600 000 subscribers to DSL (up to 5 Mbps) as it can.
I hope to write some musings on Lattelecom and the serial deaths of traditional telecoms business models at some later time. Now it is late and I am burned out ...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

We're two years old!!!

This blog turned two years old on September 18! Missed it, just noticed today that the archive goes from September 2004 to September 2006. Have I really been doing this crazy shit THAT LONG? I guess time flies when you are having fun. Belated birthday greetings are welcome :).

Back to the Future, Baltcom, and other stuff

Baltcom is back on your mobile
Baltcom, the guys who gave us... Baltcom (as some incorrigibles still call the Tele2 mobile service) is going back into the mobile market as a virtual operator by year end in order to offer a quad-play package to its customers, who can already get digital cable TV, voice telephony and internet. It looks like Baltcom 2.0 will be operating on the Bite network and offering both postpaid and pre-paid (Golden Fish 2) services. HSDPA will probably come with the Bite network, so we may even see a quad point five service, high speed wireless internet to a nomadic device (a portable HSDPA modem attached or WiFi linked to PCs and other gadgets).
Anyway, good luck, as I am starting to lose count of the MVNOs buzzing around the Bite hive.

Avoiding the scammers
Baltcom has been on the market long enough and probably won't run into the scam that was pulled at a cost of several thousand LVL on Master Telecom, the new postpaid MVNO. People with "respectable" and apparently clean company papers and records came into sales points and order up to 20 postpaid SIM cards. They then proceeded to sell these on the street as "prepaid" cards at a big discount. Gullible fools bought them and made calls until the limit usually put on new postpaid corporate customers was exhausted and the card ceased to work. Often the sum that was used for calls was less than the price the poor sucker paid for the card, but, in any even, Master Telecom got stiffed for the costs. Other people simply took the "new" operator's best offer, called for what they were worth, then gave the finger to paying the bill. Unfortunately, Master Telecom's management say they are going to go after these people and get their money back, putting the deadbeats on a list of poor credit risks and fraudsters for the foreseeable future.

Vitaly shows up
Vitaly Rubstein, a top manager at www., the mobile content, e-mail and social networking portal whose contacts I had lost, fortunately showed up at the Lattelecom conference on change management on September 21. We had a very interesting talk in which Vitaly pointed out that was building up a strong social networking site mainly for young Russians. In Lithuania, the "one" group claimed 1.2 million social networking users, mostly Lithuanians (the Russian population there is small). Anyway, what Vitaly had to say was an interesting answer to my question in the earlier post on the planned Russian-oriented FivePlus MVNO as to whether young Russian Balts really needed a "Russian" service and social network. Apparently they do.
Vitaly was also challenging a remark by Swedish internet entrepreneur and guru Ola Ahlvarsson that was the most succesful (relatively speaking) social networking project in the world (725 000 users out of a population of 2.1 million).
Also chatted with Lauris Liberts, the founder of draugiem, who said the next move would be to start a multi-user game service where, apparently, draugiem users will be able to play with or against each other. Look for it in a month or two. With draugiem open to people of all languages and nationalities, Lauris also believes he will pass the 1 million member mark in the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, one's Vitaly says that Lauris made a mistake by not simultaneously launching a draugiem for Russians in Latvia, leaving the field open for his guys. Make more mistakes like that Lauri, is that what Vitaly means :).
All in all, an interesting day.

The e-signature and the great strange beast

Well, here is, at last, the videoblog on the e-signature. It turns out I was hasty in going at YouTube, raving f----ing this and that, because the problem with this particular video was that, for some reason, while editing it to get it rightside up for YouTube (it may still not be right :( but WTF...) it turned into a great strange beast of 2.26 Gigabytes. Why, only God knows... I tossed it after re-saving and reduced it to 8.1 Mb. Anyway, YouTube does not take such humungous files, and even at the ultrafast 40 Mbps I have seen at my workplace, it still would have taken some time to upload (I suspect the up speed was some few Mbps, not 45 Mbps).

I now see the video has gone in all fucked up and sideways, the way I shot it holding my phone upright. Whatever. This is less bizarre than a lot of other stuff on the net. Just lie on your side...

Does anyone have any idea why flipping the image in Quicktime Pro would produce this bizarre shit with 2.2 GB?
Erik – sorry.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Alternatives to YouTube?

As I write, YouTube is taking eons to upload a couple of megs of video that I have of Eriks Eglitis, IT manager at the Latvian Postal Service, talking about the planned e-signature. I have clocked my connection at over 7Mbps (and on a good day, it was screaming along at 55 Mbps on I am getting tired of this shit. Briefly, YouTube worked for my videoblog, but now the m--f-- is slow even though it is the middle of the fucking night in the US or wherever they keep their servers.
Are there any better ways to upload, host and link videos to blogger than this? GoogleVideo is the mother of all nightmares, taking days to approve a fucking talking head.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bite launches HDSPA (Video)

Bite Latvija has launched UMTS and HSDPA services in five Latvian cities(Riga, Jurmala, Ventspils, Liepaja, Daugavpils), with two more (Rezekne and Jelgava) to follow shortly. A business voice and data package is also offered. At the end of a year of operations, it claims 155 000 users. Here is what Bite Group CEO Maarten van Engeland had to say to Telecoms in Latvia.

Please note that the 12 % he refers to is 12 % of the total market, not the business market. At some point, Bite hopes to get around a third of the business user market.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

FivePlus to Latvia's Russians: davai!

Well, I think I got that right. Davai in Russian means, sort of, "on with it", "let's go" or such. Whatever .. as my readers know, I don't speak Russian, but most of the country does and many of them because they are, in fact, ethnic Russians .
Anyway, the Moscow-based company FivePlus (5+), named after the best grade (the A+) of the old Soviet (and pre-WWII Latvian) school system, will be starting as an MVNO running on the Bite network next week. For now, the website at that link is half-finished, but Russian readers may find some interesting tidbits. Looks like the pre-paid cards will be sold on the internet, just as Bite does.
As the company's CEO Eugene(or Yevgeny)Lupov, a Russian entrepreneur who spent many years in the US, told this blogger, FivePlus hopes to get around 50 000 users in Latvia by the second year of operations, which puts us somewhere in 2008. In the first year, he sees 20 000 users (by early fall 2007, I would guess).
The first thing that comes to mind is -- what took these guys so long? Everybody talks about Latvia's Russians in one way or another, often in politicized, often in strange terms (how are you treating your Russians is sometimes asked of Latvians by foreigners in the same tone, like have you been abusing your housepets?). Well, the Russians are mostly fine, thanks, so fine that there is a substantial middle class that buys and consumes most of the stuff that well, the middle class consumes anywhere.
And, of course, the Russians have not forgotten their language, culture and that they are part of what has become a global non-state community (from Brighton Beach to Buenos Aires and Tel Aviv) looking to a still rather influential and controversial and multifaceted nation-state (Putin's Russia, Arabs with balalaikas if you watch the oil price, or whatever.) So it was about as surprising as a daily sunset that somebody has shown up with mobile services aimed at this market in Latvia.
A better time might have been when Latvian Russian Russianess was under pressure, such as when thousands of kids were in the streets sorta protesting the school reforms around two years ago. It probably would have worked to stand in the crowd hawking the ethnic Russian phone card the same way that Bite Toxic cards were given out to schoolkids of all ethnicities. But that could well have backfired. Even looking political is a major risk, and, besides, you can't make too many generalizations about the politics of Latvia's Russians. After all, the Fatherland and Freedom nationalists and the even more radical "All For Latvia/Visu Latvijai" youth nationalists have some ethnic Russian leaders.
Anyway, the hot youth market is probably lost. Your barely 20s are mostly bi-or trilingual, they are part of the MTV Generation and probably don't identify very much with Russia (long, boring trip to see great-aunt Lidiya in 1993 and then your dad took off for a week to Novgorod in 2000 when the dear old lady died, some lady named Ljubova shows up in 2003, knew your mom in from Pioneer camp, whatever that was, near Kiev, 1982, but that's not Russia, is it? ). Bring home a 5 + these days and get your MTV cut off for a month. So, basically, this is a service for the 40+ people at best.
Content is going to be another issue, or rather getting good commercial and user-generated content. All kinds of Russian pop singers, comedians, etc. seem to be coming to Riga all the time (judging by the posters on walls) and there is a Russian Drama Theater, radio and TV in Russian, Russian websites and print media. The problem is getting some of this to fit on mobile phone screens and to get phones on the market that support Cyrillic text entry (again, a problem I have never dealt with, though I understand there is much use of Roman phonetic spelling, which doesn't exactly boost the Russian language as it is supposed to be written.). But FivePlus has hinted they will sell phones specially adapted for their services.
Tariffs will also have to be as cheap, if not cheaper than landlines and somehow competitive with Skype and the like.
So, we shall see if FivePlus can give itself a good grade a year from now.
I would appreciate any comment from my Latvian Russian readers who probably have a better handle on this than I? I mean, can you read Chas on your phone while sitting in a park in London?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The half-mothers agree to seek a price (Video)

TeliaSonera and the Latvian government have agreed to an appraisal of Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and Lattelecom by two independent appraisers, Carnegie, the Swedish investment bank (for TeliaSonera) and Ernst & Young for the Latvian government. This is what TeliaSonera senior vice-president Kenneth Karlberg had to say:

After this interview was recorded, it was learned that several other applications to privatize LMT had been made, something which could complicate the situation.
It is expected, barring further complications, that the appraisal reports will be presented just after the October 7 elections in Latvia. The entire transaction - most likely a swap of Lattelecom shares plus some cash for the state's 28 % holding in LMT – could be completed within a year.

Bite bites back?

Look for Bite to launch its HSDPA semi-commercially around the Ides of September. Then, or maybe at the commercial launch, look for them to build out their network outside of Riga. Bite, it seems, is buying UMTS base stations just for this purpose. This will get it a jump ahead of Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT), which got the jump on Bite by launching its HSPDA last week. Wonder when Tele2 will make a move? Have they taken over the role of the dozing giant from LMT? Triatel is also going to juice up its version of EV DO and get more megabits ( currently 1 Mbps) over the radio. It also hints that it has a good slice of places outside Riga covered. Looks like soon you will just have to stick out an antenna and look for the best and fastest wireless internet deal in the neighborhood.
Oh, and Dizzy IZZI has done a mirror-image of Lattelecom. They are giving away cable internet (well, the barely broadband cheapo XS version) if you take their digital cable TV service. It is the same thing as Lattelecom giving away nation-wide free telephony IF you subscribe to their DSL internet service. Things are getting merrier all the time.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Checking out Sweden, surprising with Latvia

I am in Sweden for a couple of days, looking at the mobile services markets for some stuff I may write for the paper or some freelance customers. I was at this Kista Mobile Media Showcase (more than 60 companies contribute to keep this running) and was pleasantly surprised to hear that they were surprised by how far along Latvia is with mobile penetration, mobile services (like HSDPA) and the IT industry in general. The Mobile Media Showcase is thinking now of going to Latvia and looking at some cluster-to-cluster cooperation possibilities.
At least some good may have come of this. Otherwise, I spend 30 minutes at a Nordea branch (with my little number tag) just to talk to people who couldn't operate the data system so that I could terminate an old Postgiro/Plusgiro account that I no longer need. Well, to have geniuses (in mobile service) you have to have idiots for contrast somewhere.
Back in Latvia Tuesday night in time for Nordic Mobile Media 06 , will cover as much as possible and blog anything of note.