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.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Moneybookers - Skype's clusterfucked partner

I just tried the supposedly simple exercise of buying EUR 10 in SkypeOut credit. For some reason, my Visa Electron card was not verified, and Skype's website advised me to try using instead. I entered all my data, opened an account, entered my card number and, remarkably, was given a verification number by SMS to Latvia. Most excellent so far, except that when I entered the verification number and pressed next, I was repeatedly told there was "an internal server error". If you are running a payment system, well, that sort of thing does not happen, FOR FUCK'S SAKE!!
Anyway later the system at MoneyCROOKERS said the transaction had been completed. I don't trust these fuckwits and neither should anyone else, least of all Skype if this kind of shit happens. They also suggest Click & Buy, a site where I was ripped off for almost 200 LVL until my bank set things right. I NEVER used Click&Buy, but this site-- supposedly run by British Telecom --= was used by some ratfucker lowlife to buy various shit (services) with my Visa Gold card, which I used only once while passing through Heathrow in March (the theft started in August). So be warned, Click & Buy is frequented by fraudsters, thieves and pirates and should get its payment security in line.
This is not a good way to end a busy day. TGIF...

Oh yes, my usual use of Firefox to post to this blog also fucked up and I have to use Safari, which does not allow me to use bold, italics, etc.

Privatization of Latvia's State Information Network Agency proposed

There is a proposal before the Latvian government to privatizedthe State Information Network Agency (VITA) which operates a data and voice network for certain government and security services in Latvia.
Part of VITA's network consists of secure, but perhaps antiquated sealed cable channels (they are said to be gas-filled, leaks trigger alarms) and some more modern stuff. This are left over from the networks run by the Soviet military and the KGB.
This seems like a wise decision, as there are very few countries in the world that actually own and run their own government communications networks. In the US and Sweden, there are government agencies for the purchase of telecommunications service from the private sector. In the US, it is the General Services Administration and in Sweden, Statskontoret or The Swedish Agency for Public Management which procures telecommunications services. The GSA's Networx services appear to be composed entirely of private telecommunications and IT services procured, but not directly operated or provided by the government.
The best solution would be to sell VITA, get its debt to the government of nearly 900 000 LVL paid off, and reconstitute the functions of the agency as a government telecommunications procurement and standards-setting institution. In other words, VITA 2.0 would define the kind of service level agreement needed by, say, the Border Guards or the health services and then put out a tender to the private sector.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Catching up...

Well, no decision was made on Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and, in fact, it didn't really go on the government agenda, it was sort of on again off again in again out again Finnegan (some unknown doggerel written about Finnegan's Wake, the most weirdly unreadable of Joyce's major novels). Some kind of discussion of putting off the issue until appraisals were finished did take place.
Any, that didn't change the essence of the issue -- the government will, at some point, swap its 28 % direct and indirect share in LMT for getting 100 % of Lattelecom, but leaving the fixed line operator without any mobile link.
Meanwhile, Lattelecom is looking into when and how to implement IMS (Internet Protocol Multimedia Subsystem), a set of network architecture standards coming from the mobile world and, indeed (I am no geek, correct me if I am wrong), making it much simpler to link/converge fixed and mobile services.
Certainly a hint that Lattelecom is going to look for a mobile solution (big surprise) once it is on its own as one of Europe's few, if not only 100 % state-owned telecom. I am not as worried about that as much as before, because the recent election here shows that for at least the 16-18 month lifespan of a typical Latvian government, telecoms policy will not be in the hands of complete loonies.
Lattelecom's chief honcho Nils Melngailis has confirmed that a strategic decision must be made about going mobile and this is up to the shareholders (the state and TeliaSonera, for the moment).
I have already written that it looks very likely that Lattelecom will make a move on the Bite Group, getting a Latvian (small and growing) and Lithuanian (big) mobile operator in one big bite (sorry :) ).
Officially, Lattelecom will never confirm this until it can confirm it (i.e. if and when the deal is done), but it is pretty obvious there are not many options. LMT is written off, Tele2 is not for sale, Triatel is...well, it's CDMA 450, and may be interesting as a wireless internet provider, especially if it can beat/match HSDPA when EV DO speeds go up to 8 Mbps.
That leaves starting a MVNO and brings us back to the mother of all MVNOs -- Bite. While not exactly chasing folks down the street with its offers, it is gathering a little flock of virtual operators in Latvia and shows no signs of stopping.

Harakiri time
Speaking of Triatel, I am hereby performing imaginary harakiri for shame at missing a major CDMA conference in Riga. Our newspaper just "relaunched" switching not only its style but also its layout software and at the same time, we are heading for a) an IT supplement, b) an IT magazine c) an TOP 500 Latvian companies magazine d) the US Secretary of Labor drops in -- and I am working on all of this shit all at once. Plus a couple of reporters are sick, away, and despite the cool new look of you-know-which Latvian newspaper, we walk the edge of bardaks every day.

The Latvian blogerati
Oh well. It must be a hereditary disease, because my oldest son is semi-dropped-out of the University of Umeå in Sweden to work as a writer-reporter on what I consider a wacko leftist Swedish political newspaper. It's his thing. But the kid writes well.
Finally, we had a round table discussion of Latvian bloggers for the IT magazine. I had some of the Latvian blogerati at it -- Arturs Mednis, Kristaps Kaupe, Ingus Sturmanis and Martins Barkans, head of the news agency and media company LETA, which may also be heading the the multi-media direction.

Monday, October 09, 2006

LMT sale decision on government agenda

It appears the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers (the government) will put the sale/swap of Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) to Sweden's TeliaSonera on the agenda of its regular meeting October 10.
Minister of Economics Aigars Stokenbergs indicated to this blogger that the issue would be on the agenda, even though an appraisal of LMT and Lattelecom has not been completed.
The government decision would clear the way for the Ministry of Transport (owns 5 % of LMT) and the Latvian State Radio and Television Center (owns 23 % of LMT) to divest their holdings in the mobile phone operator.
Carnegie, the Swedish finance company, and Ernst & Young Baltics are working on a consensus pricing of both telecommunications companies so that LMT can be sold in a swap of participation shares/cash deal for TeliaSonera's 49 % holding in Lattelecom. Lattelecom would then (temporarily?) become a wholly state owned company. The appraisal should be completed soon.
Since the previous government coalition was more or less re-elected, it is unlikely that there will be any change of policy regarding the sale of LMT to the Swedes and the decision not to sell Lattelecom. If Lattelecom becomes a state company, it appears less likely that it will fall under a completely loonie-tunes government now that the election results are in. In effect, the decisions on privatizing the remaining state holdings in LMT will be made by a lame-duck but same duck government.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Another Vlogging Experiment

This is an experiment using The sound is a bit off because of the disk noise from my iMac G5