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.