Monday, December 24, 2007
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
The issue will be decided by "the next government", in effect, the present government 2.0 (shaken and stirred a bit), where attitudes and opinions are unlikely to change.
My call -- the whole thing will be muddled around until 1) Blackstone backs off and the consortium falls apart 2) Melngailis resigns. At the end of a day lasting 2-3 years, we may see TeliaSonera at last collecting what it has been waiting for -- both Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and whatever is left of Lattelecom.
An outside chance is that the new government will organize (after a decent interval) some kind of MBO or sell-off 2.0 that will have the "right" bidders, including local interests. Though it is strange to bleed something half to death just to get your claws into it...
Monday, December 17, 2007
Unfortunately, Godmanis (of the Latvian First Party/Latvian Way merged entity) has to deal with his future coalition partners, where the nationalist Fatherland & Freedom has opposed the MBO, with the positions of the others unclear (even though the same political salad backed the MBO deal in principle during the summer). My prediction -- more muddle well into the next year and Melngailis and Blackstone leaving the scene still very likely.
This presents both an opportunity and a problem for TeliaSonera, the only realistic potential buyer of Lattelecom (regardless of whether it is sold by open auction or as an item hanging inside the coat of a shady street peddlar). If the government abandons the MBO but nationalizes Lattelecom (and lets the Swedes buy LMT), TeliaSonera ends up holding two contradictory means of payment. One is the shares in Lattelecom, whose relative value will plunge(simply on uncertainty) once the MBO crashes , and the other is cash, which will have to be paid for LMT anyway above and beyond the share swap. In other words, the whole thing will cost more cash.
If TeliaSonera buys both companies, then, of course, the total cost will be less because of the diminished value of a leaderless Lattelecom (after the deal, of course, it will be run by a CEO sent by Stockholm to run the company as a division of TeliaSonera responsible for the Latvian market)
Thursday, December 13, 2007
"They were thinking if Lattelecom can do it, so can other non-wholly-owned subsidiaries,"the source said. The Swedish company was worried that Elion and Estonian Mobile Telephone (EMT) (which it owns 59 % each) and TEO, the Lithuanian fixed-network and broadband operator, owned 60 % by TeliaSonera, could get subversive ideas.
I have never heard any such rumors from Estonia or Lithuania, but it is an interesting thought experiment. All four Elion, EMT, TEO break free and then join up in one pan-Baltic company, putting Humpty-MicroLink back together again in the process and making a small IT/nearshoring and data transmission powerhouse to sell services to eastern and western markets.
Would The Blackstone Group, in the process of being burned by the Latvian government, be interested in financing such a coup? After 6-8 years, a Balttelecom with customers in the Nordic countries, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus might fetch a good price should Blackstone or some other private equity consortium then want to exit.
Sorry, TeliaSonera, I didn't scare you for Halloween, so I'm doing it now :).
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
As I see it, this letter is the next to last before Nils resigns and the MBO collapses. The government will then get letters from The Blackstone Group and the bank consortium stating that they have withdrawn as financiers of the deal. That will be the end of it.
What the government does afterwards is hard to predict, except that whoever replaces Nils will face all the same problems exacerbated by almost a year of indecision. Put simply, the mobile operators are capable of starting to eat Lattelecom's lunch by offering flat rate deals and quality of service guaranteed wireless broadband (at least at select locations) that is as fast as Lattelecom's DSL (10 Mbps).
Until a final resolution of Lattelecom's ownership is reached (this may take a few more years, seriously! ) the new CEO will face the same issues as Melngailis -- limited opportunities to expand outside of Latvia and no possibility to go into mobile services.
It may all end in 2010 with TeliaSonera or TeleNordica (TeliaSonera + Telenor) or Telefonica Norte or whatever buying Lattelecom at a firesale and making it the fixed network internet and IP TV division of Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT).
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Berzins said the next Latvian government (most likely a mash-up of the present, departing one) would have to decide on whether to go ahead with a management and employee buy-out (MEBO, if you wish) proposed by Lattelecom managing director Nils Melngailis, who has essentially been fired as chairman of the Lattelecom management board.
This can only be seen as yet another bizarre twist in the saga of Lattelecom. A proposal by TeliaSonera to buy both companies -- Lattelecom and the mobile operator Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) has been on the table for several years and has been delayed and muddled by the Latvian government ever since.
Last year, the government told TeliaSonera that it would not be allowed to buy Lattelecom, so the Swedish group proposed swapping its shares of Lattelecom for the remaining shares in LMT and setting a final price for the whole deal after independently valuating both companies. This was done last year, but the government muddled away its chance to nationalize Lattelecom and get some cash for LMT as well.
Now Berzins and the Latvian Privatization Agency (which formally holds the state's 51 % share of Lattelecom) have essentially torpedoed the MEBO and pushed Melngailis toward inevitable resignation from Lattelecom.
As things now stand, Lattelecom, at best, is a gefundenes Fressen (a meal discovered lying around for those who don't know German) for TeliaSonera, which had, essentially, written off the idea of owning any fixed-network assets in Latvia and was preparing to concentrate its efforts on LMT as a full-spectrum service wireless company once the MEBO went through.
In my view:
1) TeliaSonera should ask for a new valuation of Lattelecom (minus Melngailis) and then decide whether it wants to buy.
2) Maybe it should press the government to nationalize Lattelecom so as to hasten its acquisition of 100 % of LMT. That is, it should put up its 49 % for sale triggering the state's right of first refusal so the government either puts up or shuts up.
3) It should not, at the end of the day, rely on any promises or representations by the Latvian government and perhaps consider some form of legal action to force a decision. I think nothing else will work for the foreseeable future.
Friday, December 07, 2007
The stakeholders (Latvian government 51 % and TeliaSonera 49%) are holding an electronic meeting on December 7 to vote on these recommendations.
The council's actions amount to a defacto dismissal of Melngailis, but no replacement candidate has been recommended. Supervisory Council chairman Gundars Strautmanis predicts that despite the Council's recommendations, Melngailis will be re-elected and also continue to work as managing director (CEO) of the company, a position theoretically unaffected by his loss of a board seat.
Meanwhile, lame-duck prime minister (his government resigned on December 5) Aigars Kalvitis says this is the best time to privatize Lattelecom (!?), a surprising reversal of the government's defacto rejection by delay of the MBO offered by Melngailis with a consortium including several banks and The Blackstone Group to finance the deal. The fact that the government has apparently voted against recommending re-election of Melngailis also amounts to a rejection of the MBO, even though some officials say this is not so.
My interpretation -- make things such a murky mess that the MBO consortium, especially Blackstone, will go away all by themselves. Then, perhaps, the carcass can be divided among local vultures...:)
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
The event has been interesting, for example, Chris Anderson of WIRED (on how more and more stuff and services will be " free" ) and others talking about (Joseph Paradiso of MIT) talking about ubiquitious sensors and Google for Reality (finds your sensor-traceable possessions) and other rather far out stuff.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
This year's clusterfuck award goes to the Nokia World press room in Amsterdam, which promises free WiFi but actually tries to drag you into a Boingo subscription through a one week free trial with software that can only be downloaded for a PC (I have a Mac) or a Nokia phone. In addition, there are almost no power outlets for one's own laptop in the press room, just lots of IBM think pads or some other faceless laptop chained to the table and attached to a LAN. I am not happy unplugging these or mooching the LAN, but I will do that. What else can I do.
Oh yes, and the press work room is severely overcrowded. No place to sit, no place to mooch a LAN cable. No internet connection unless you join BoingoWorld. Doesn't anyone arranging these events ever learn that it is bad to fuck with the press?
Good news-- OVI, the Nokia WebNG (as in next generation) application/platform will be available for Mac. Well, as the Swedes say – good morning axe handle at last! Also, all Universal Music's songs will be available for free download for a year on any new Nokia music capable phone. Great news for kids and 20 somethings and yes, I have an iPod and an N95 too!
More later. Gotta write for my Latvian blog who is paying salary for me to be here.
Monday, December 03, 2007
The newspaper points to Melngailis support of a management-employee buy-out of Lattelecom as the reason for the government's step. Reported Baiba Rulle suggests that former prime minister and founder of the ruling People's Party, the so-called oligarch Andris Skele may be behind the effort to unseat Melngailis.
She earlier wrote that Melngailis brought the large US private equity group Blackstone into the MBO deal in order to checkmate efforts by Skele to get a piece of Lattelecom. Skele has been known for making extremely complex and byzantine arrangements to take an almost untraceable interest in major projects. He allegedly backed the discredited Latvian TV digitization project through several layers of offshore companies.
Friday, November 30, 2007
According to my sources, the Swedes, by not objecting to Melngailis plans for a management and staff buy-out of Lattelecom have indirectly declared that they want to keep Melngailis as CEO and not upset the status quo. TeliaSonera can only gain by getting out of its nearly-stranded investment in the fixed-line operator and getting a full 100% of Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) The government, however, seems to be considering dumping Melngailis, possibly as a way to back out of the MBO for reasons, so to speak, that lie beyond conventional reasoning.
The deal has already been shaky since the Latvian government's present crisis (prime minister Aigars Kalvitis has set an on-again, maybe off-again resignation date of December 5), which arose for reasons unrelated to the Lattelecom deal. If it goes down (rather than goes down :) ), Melngailis would resign anyway.
As to what happens next - I would say -- Nils gets an international position somewhere, with the usual hassles of moving residence and family, while Lattelecom faces the consequences of what can only be described as a typical, but in this case, very large-scale Latvian clusterfuck. TeliaSonera continues to sing the role of the half-mother Agonistes in this increasingly bizarre telco opera.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
On the way down, I went through Copenhagen Airport, which is rapidly developing the status of a monster airport, soon to challenge Frankfurt (as I remember it, last transit there was to Australia in 2003). Try kilometer walks between connecting flights. The airport has grown from being comfortable to a monstrosity that it takes, perhaps, 30 minutes to cross on foot in a rush, ignoring all the shops, restaurants, etc. etc.
I only have one thing to say about Paris Charles De Gaulle: the use of bad hallucinogenic drugs by French architects in the 1970s (or whenever the wacko thing was built). Also, the brilliant idea of separating the public toilets from the waiting area with the security checkpoint in Satellite 7 (WTF is a satellite, some mushroom munching froggie's cool idea while the other guy at the architect's office has left his drawing board and is giggling and shaving the office cat?)
OK, here is a video of my chat with Hyam Bolande, the American marketing director for Alcatel-Lucent's marketing director for its wireless business group. It will also be posted on my Latvian-language blog:
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Yes, I know he has the kid's arms coming out of his head :). Videoblogging is a learning process.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Here is the video:
Monday, November 19, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
The government is expected to resign on December 5, the same day that beleaguered Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has said he will step down. Kalvitis was under pressure to resign because of a number of political scandals and controversies unrelated to telecommunications privatization.
Lattelecom management led by CEO Nils Melngailis had hoped to seal the LVL 300 million deal involving The Blackstone Group as a equity partner by year's end. It now looks like Latvia could be under a caretaker government or facing political turmoil, perhaps including dismissal of the national legislature, the 100-member Saeima, well into 2008.
The political situation along with increasing uncertainly on financial markets around the world increases the liklihood that the Lattelecom MEBO will simply be muddled to death. See my earlier posts.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Thursday, November 01, 2007
It now looks like the government may disintegrate without deciding, or put off a decision beyond its own rapidly diminishing shelf-life. I was on a very popular TV talk show here with a number of people speaking out on what would be Latvia's largest privatization deal hitherto, including Lattelecom CEO Nils Melngailis and two persons who were actually three government ministers (Ina Gudele as herself, the Special Assignments Minister for E-government and Gaidis Berzins, Minister of Justice and acting Minister of Economics). Ina clearly signaled that she was leaning toward approving the deal, while the two-in one Berzins tilted toward reservations and hesitation. Ina said she had not read the latest government documentation on the MBO and Berzins said it was confidential, but basically dealt with "principles" rather than a yes or no to the current proposal.
Aivars Tabuns, a mildly suborbital sociologist then mocked the confidentiality as if we were addressing a terrorism case, not a business deal and I could largely agree. But then Tabuns insisted that the price of Lattelecom had to be calculated on all the money spent on network investments (more that LVL 500 million) and the market value of all the real estate owned by Lattelecom (as if we were preparing for an asset strip, not a privatization). Peteris Smidre of arch-rival Baltkom, a cable TV and telecommunications group that has clashed with Lattelecom in the past on interconnect and other issues, also said that the only business case he could see at the time is an MBO. Smidre had also indicated his interest in a Lattelecom privatization. In terms of getting a substantial part of the company, were that option open, Baltkom would also have to go to the banks and to private equity, perhaps for a "management buy-in"(if Peteris wanted to exercise some board/managerial control in the deal).
Latvian speakers might be able to watch the show through this link.
A couple of additional considerations have come to my attention:
--The Blackstone Group probably won't wait more than three months, six maximum, for the deal to be approved. Then it will walk away.
--Should the deal fall through, Nils Melngailis will resign as Lattelecom CEO. If it is delayed beyond November 6, Nils will hang on to the bitter end or close to it, but the word is that some of his key staff may be handing in resignations and seeking other work as early as next week if the MBO isn't approved. However, one doesn't know how much job churn there would be anyway.
--according to a valuation of Lattelecom made for the magazine Kapitāls (I write for them as part of my job at LETA) , the company is worth around LVL 300 million as it is now (with a 23 % stake in Latvian Mobile Telephone/LMT), but only around LVL 175 million when the stake is taken out. Although Lattelecom is not traded and all valuations are educated guesses, Nils said on TV that he believed the value of the company had declined somewhat since the MBO proposal was made in the spring.
It looks to me like the muddle scenario is the most likely one. If Nils goes, then I see TeliaSonera getting Lattelecom at the end of a long and rocky road ahead (perhaps a desperately organized public auction in mid-2009) and getting it, probably, on the cheap. This is not the worst case scenario, but neither is it the best. As I think I said on TV, the whole process has been dictated by the government's clear decision not to sell Lattelecom to the Swedes and subsequent refusal (by delay) to do a deal that would have given them 100 % of Lattelecom plus cash for 100 % of LMT ending up in Swedish hands.
Monday, October 22, 2007
As I wrote in my Latvian language blog, the current proposal for the MBO is threatened by ignorance, muddle(by the government, been at it since 2003 or so on these issues) and hounding (as close a translation of noriešana -- literally, to bark to death). At the moment, it looks like muddle will trump all other cards. However, the hounding has already started (several articles expressing suspicion, questioning the motives of the Blackstone Group, etc.).
One of the strongest critics has been Latvian MEP (member of the European Parliament)Inese Vaidere, allegedly representing right of center nationalist party, but proposing, instead of the MBO, a dirigist arrangement where Lattelecom remains majority owned by the state and is governed by a special law. Vaidere points out that the value of future dividends to the state is, in her opinion, higher than the LVL 300 million that will be paid for the company through the MBO. By this argument, some enterprises should be nationalized to provide revenues for the state instead of paying taxes. Classic socialism.
In a worst case scenario (though not "worst"for those who think a government that finds excuses for firing the head of the anti-corruption agency for minor violations should be dismissed along with the parliament backing it), the Saeima (Latvia's parliament) could be dissolved and new elections called following a referendum on the dissolution. This could drag well into 2008. At present, the government is in disarray, there is no Minister of Economics and even without the president dissolving parliament, the government may yet fall. Deciding the future of Lattelecom is the least of the government's worries.
So what will happen? The muddle will drag on to where the terms of the deal may have to be changed because of unstable financial markets globally and in Latvia (the inevitable crash of the real estate market must come soon). Then the possibly weakened or reshuffled (or caretaker) government will have to decide again. The clamor for a public auction of Lattelecom will increase, but such an event, I believe, will simply lead to it being purchased by TeliaSonera on the open market.
The MBO is not a bad idea, it has been tested with mixed, generally positive results in Europe and the USA, but don't hold your breath that it will go through in Latvia for Lattelecom.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Click To Play
Friday, October 05, 2007
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Monday, October 01, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
An interesting observation -- only women can do a mash-up (literally) of Latvia's three favorite brands -- Nokia, Laima confectionaries, and Hansabanka (Swedish-owned). How? Toss a Nokia phone, a Hansabank credit card and a half-eaten Laima chocolate bar into a ladies handbag and they will all mix and stick together :).
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Triatel, I think I have mentioned earlier. Their wireless EV DO based broadband service is what could be of interest to Lattelecom if the price is set right. Lattelecom needs some weapons in a coming war against both Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and Bite, who will surely move aggressively with higher speed HSDPA as a direct competitor to DSL and the only alternative where the optical/copper infrastructure doesn't reach. Bite has already announced it will boost its HSDPA to 7.2 Mbps and by next year, it will be pushing the envelope of the technology at 14.4 Mbps. LMT is a large boat that turns slowly, but expect them to announce a speed boost as well. Triatel is looking to be bought and Lattelecom has been working with them on "digitizing"the rural network using fixed wireless CDMA phones.
IZZI, the cable TV, internet and mobile services (an MVNO running on the Bite network) company, might be of interest for expanding Lattelecom's cable TV base, although they do not directly use IPTV technology to the home (they use it for backbone transmission of their signals, I think). It would be a way of getting over 100 000 TV customers and slowly switching them to Lattelecom's IPTV. IZZI resells Triatel's wireless internet and provides fixed line cable internet where its network is present. IZZI was owned by TeliaSonera (and known as Telia MultiCom) before being sold to private Latvian investors some years ago. Its name is derived from how East Europeans pronounce the word easy :), suggesting that IZZI is easy to use :).
More along the lines of a cooperation partnership, Lattelecom could also look at the wireless broadband network builder Unistars. It has a strictly business customer base and builds some application-specific networks, for retailers and construction projects. That is, these wireless networks are used primarily for running retailing applications (point of sale networks, retail accounting and inventory control applications, etc.) This is the sort of thing Lattelecom is moving into -- setting up IT solutions that run on mission-critical telecom networks. For some customers, the right solution for Lattelecom might just be to call in Unistars as a partner, in others (farmstead internet, small-town business internet access), Triatel may have the solution. Unistars also has some WiMax know-how and is closely watching the mobile WiMax market. Lattelecom CEO Nils Melngailis and Unistars honcho Aleksander Rutman should talk, if they already haven't.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
My talk with Fred Hrenchuk, the recently appointed CEO of Bite Latvija is here:
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
One of the things I did do in researching the unwritten longer piece was to send questions to TeliaSonera, since one of the points was that now that Lattelecom was doing an MBO, its most likely full-spectrum competitor would be Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT), which, when all the privatization deals are finished, will be 100 % owned by the Swedish telecommunications group. Helped by Niklas Henricson, the secretly :) half-Latvian member of the TeliaSonera press team, I did a kind of e-mail interview, which was answered by Anna Augustson, the head of communications for TeliaSonera's Business Area Mobility Services. Here is the e-mail "interview" in full, edited just to remove some explanatory links that Anna added:
TeliaSonera seems to have internally adopted extensive fixed wireless convergence with many /all of your employees carrying mobile phones that ring when their fixed line is called (via an inhouse wireless?) and apparently switch to the GSM/UMTS network outside the offices. Is this now the emerging/preferred solution for business in
The migration from traditional fixed telephony to mobile and Internet-based services in business and for residential customers is one of the clearest trends in telecommunications right now. Basic services like voice telephony will no doubt increasingly be replace by wireless access, regardless if it is an office environment or out in the streets, in the home etc. And to a large extent, we will see data go the same way as voice and be provided with wireless access.
First of all, it should be noted that negotiations regarding our ownership in Lattelecom and LMT are on-going and any comments in this respect would - before an agreement is reached - therefore be purely speculative.
It should be noted, though, that we do roll-out HomeFree also in our markets where we have a large market share in fixed communications (e.g.
Speed is a constantly moving target: Today we can enjoy access speeds which we could not foresee a couple of years ago. But both wireless and wireline/fixed access speeds are developing simultaneously and we do have a decent gap between the two access technologies.
What is the degree of adoption of totally wireless solutions in
What is the degree of adoption of totally wireless solutions in
Since you still own and run a fixed network, what will be its function in an increasingly wireless environment? Will it merely be a "backbone to the home/office" and carry. say, HD TV on demand, telepresence, other services beyond the bandwidth of wireless?
As stated above, wireline will increasingly be focussed on providing the backbone infrastructure, access to radio points and also the really heavy connections to e.g. offices.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
I strongly recommend against flying with either of these bozos, except I guess everyone is bozos these days, US air travel being a default clusterfuck, so I suppose one simply has to travel light and carry on anything of value. Fortunately, I also wore my brand new Clark's shoes to break them in.
Later today we will have some preliminary news on the financial consortium financing the management buy-out. Am a little tired after a long trip back to Latvia from the US, (lost baggage, etc) but will try to get some video up on this (in English).
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Here is the video. Blogger's video upload did not work on several attempts. It sucks.
Friday, September 07, 2007
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Wasted after 8 hours on the plane from Helsinki, but will try to stay up and sleep normally
Friday, August 31, 2007
Another priority is to move into mobile services. In this regard, I have mentioned a number of options, with the most likely one being a virtual operator (MVNO) on the Bite network, where all paying customers are welcome. Another option would be to experiment with mobile WIMAX (something not likely to be viable until the middle of 2008). I have also mentioned that Lattelecom could forge closer ties, perhaps even buy Triatel, which runs a non-standard (for Europe) CDMA mobile phone and data network, plus an EV DO wireless broadband network (satisfactory at my country cottage 35 km outside Riga). Triatel is already cooperating with Lattelecom for installing fixed wireless telephony and landed an EU and government-financed rural broadband project.
After a bit of chatting with sources, it looks like the best fit between Lattelecom and Triatel could be in the wireless broadband space, or so some think. Triatel appears ready to be persuaded into some kind of broader, more permanent deal. The question is, how much infrastructure overlap there may be and is this not at odds with the rather strange rural wireless broadband project backed by the government? The basic idea of that project, rather than helping spread "last mile" solutions (which Triatel is) was to establish parallel wholesale infrastructure and hope that resellers would appear in the poor rural areas and have a choice of wholesalers whose internet connection they could then distribute to the rural farmsteads, huts and hovels in the forest.
Meanwhile, earlier this summer, Lattelecom announced it was buying a bunch of Alcatel point to point high capacity microwave links in order to extend its broadband reach beyond the optical and wire network. That sounds like extending infrastructure to me. Still, the last mile could be set up and sold by Triatel, especially if it was part of the Lattelecom fold. Watch these developments...:)
HP in New York
I'm off to New York on September 4 for some kind of Hewlett-Packard (HP) all day event on September 5. Piecing together some sparse e-mails from the local organizers, it will be a series of break out events on various gadgets and issues. There has not exactly been a flood of information as to what, when (and just some bios of who), but it will held at some posh hotel (the Ritz) on the Battery, far from the delights of the rest of Manhattan. Or so the month old e-mails claim. But hey, I already have my electronic ticket (in French) from HP, so thanks!
Many of the discernable events are of interest, and, hopefully, I will be able to blog and videoblog from there, both here and for my Latvian employer. I notice blogger has added a "add video"function, which means I may be able to bypass the sometime slow(to post uploads) and (therefore) dubious YouTube and the quicker alternative, blip.tv. Anyway, I will give it a test. After that, I will be off to Boston to see family and back in Latvia on September 11