Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas and all other seasonal holidays!

 A Merry Christmas to all my readers who celebrate the holiday. I have apparently missed Hannukah (it only sometimes falls on the same dates as Christmas, but I do hope that any Jewish readers celebrated it well).  And yes, a Happy Kwanza, to any African-American readers who follow this tradition (around Christmas time, if I am not mistaken) as well as, I suppose, any Africans. Maybe I should stick to Season's Greetings and stop struggling to do the ethno-politically correct thing for everyone? :)  
Oh yes, and a Happy Solstice (Saulgrieži) to any and all Latvian Keepers of the Diety (Dievturi).
Did I miss anyone?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Blackstone honcho outlines what could be

I had an opportunity to do a phone interview on December 20 with Walid Kamhavi, a Blackstone managing director (they have many) connected with the foundering management buy-out of Lattelecom
The odd part is that I published a complete translated transcript of the interview on my Latvian-language blog(can be found through  almost immediately --I simultaneously translated and transcribed. But I am not really up for listening to the whole thing again (unfortunately, I leapfrogged to videoblogging, skipping podcasting along the way).
So here are the main points:
--Blackstone can offer many synergies to Lattelecom, since it hold stakes in several telecoms companies (Deutsche Telekom, TDC) and telecoms related companies (some wireless and cable outfits listed on their home page). It can also offer economies of scale in certain kinds of purchasing and sophisticated financial advice and contacts should Lattelecom or any of its subsidiaries want to tap the capital markets. 
--Blackstone is partnering with the present management of Lattelecom (Nils Melngailis) and any change would mean a review of their commitment.
--at some point, the passage of time will erode the anticipated benefits to all parties to the proposed deal (a nice way of saying -- delay long enough, and the thing will fall apart, which I believe is exactly what the Latvian government wants to happen).
--should the deal go through, Blackstone does have an exit strategy, but this is a long-term project that would involve growing the value of Lattelecom with the engagement described above. The eventual divestment could be within the telco industry, as a merger or consolidation (again, presumably in telecoms), or to new financial investors (another Blackstone-type outfit).
All in all, it was a fair view and shows that contrary to the hallucinations of some Latvian commentators, Walid and his team are not George Soros' handpuppets nor mere speculators tossing their telecom roulette chips on the table and standing back to wait for a win. 
Alas, I view Hell as a place where journalists spend eternity transcribing interview recordings, so I probably won't do the English-original version unless the Christmas spirit and long Christmas holidays take their toll. 
The reason I rushed to do the Latvian-translated version was that I saw the Dienas bizness (my former workplace) journalist come in after me (at the Lattelecom office) to do her phone interview and presumed they would put something on their website immediately. They did, but it was a rehash of my Latvian blog. The article with some different nuances, was published the next day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another death knell rings for the Lattelecom MBO

Sorry, folks, for being a bit behind on this, but the outgoing Latvian government on December 18 decided not to extent the memorandum of understanding with Lattelecom, The Blackstone Group and the bank consortium and TeliaSonera regarding the management and staff buy-out proposed by Lattelecom CEO Nils Melngailis.
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

PM nominee hopes for decision on Lattelecom

Ivars Godmanis, nominated by Latvia's president Valdis Zatlers to form a new government, has said he hopes to settled the issue of Lattelecom privatization, either by going through with the management and staff buy-out proposed by partly-deposed Lattelecom honcho Nils Melngailis, or by selling the company (along with the remaining state holdings in Latvian Mobile Telephone/LMT) to TeliaSonera.
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

Two, three, many MBOs spooked TeliaSonera?

One of my sources tossed out this interesting theory of why TeliaSonera, while it agreed to the Lattelecom MBO, was also disturbed by it.
"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

Lattelecom honcho's next-to-last letter

Nils Melngailis, the deposed board chairman but still managing director of Lattelecom has written a letter to the company's owners (Latvian government 51 %, TeliaSonera 49 %) stating that the present state of affairs presents commercial and legal risks. Lattelecom does not have a fully functional management structure in the absence of a permanent board chairman. The government has not named anyone despite effectively firing Melngailis.
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).

Kenneth Karlberg (TeliaSonera) talks about data roaming

Kenneth Karlberg, head of Mobility Services at TeliaSonera, speaks about mobile data roaming and the advantages the Baltic countries have over countries with legacy-bound mobile services. This was filmed after a seminar in Stockholm on December 10.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A last chance for the half-mother? Or sue the bastards?

Latvia's acting minister of economics and minister of justice in the lame-duck government Gaidis Berzins has said that Sweden's TeliaSonera might still have a chance at acquiring Lattelecom, the fixed line operator, where it is presently a 49 % half-mother. Berzins said this in a radio interview on December 11, according to media reports.
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

Lattelecom CEO fired, essentially...

The shareholders of Lattelecom (Latvian government 51 %, TeliaSonera 49 %) declined to extent the mandate of Nils Melngailis as managing board chairman of the company. He will continue as managing director, but the move is seen as a clear expression of no-confidence in his plans for a management and employee buy-out of Lattelecom. The decision also effectively torpedos the 300 million LVL deal which depended on Melngailis and his team continuing to run the company. Among the intended investors in the MBO was The Blackstone Group of the US, one of the world's largest private equity companies.

Lattelecom CEO out, but not...?

The Supervisory Council of Lattelecom has decided on December 6 not to recommend the extension of Nils Melngailis mandate as a member (and chairman) of the Lattelecom Managing Board while recommending to shareholders the re-election of two other board members whose terms expire in a few days.
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

Nokia's mobile journalism solution

qwdzbHere is a video of a rather chaotic talk with a Nokia person about Nokia's mobile journalism solution (an experiment) for Reuters. The press room situation has improved slightly, it seems you click on downloading the Boingo app but them (and no one tells unless you ask) you get offered free WiFi for the Nokia event. I have actually managed to get a LAN wire and a mooch socket (to recharge/run my MacBook) but earlier it would have been impossible. There were people sitting along the walls in this press room. The pressure is off a little.
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.

NokiaWorld-- the good news :)

There is lots of good news from Nokia World, some interesting presentations (Chris Anderson, editor of WIRED, among others) and the stunning announcement that Nokia would be giving away downloads of all of Universal Music's collection for one year with the purchase of any music-capable phone. Also Nokia internet radio sounds interesting, I could listen to Boston's WZLX anywhere on my phone. Just wonder what it would cost in terms of connection fees - data transmission charges and the like.  I hope to upload a video interview with a Nokia guy on their mobile journalism project, but the press room facilities are still crowded and barely adequate (did get the deceptive free WiFi to work after being told the non-obvious way to start it up, 

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Clusterfuck award 2007 -- the Nokia World Press Room

Sometimes going to international events, I make a bet with myself that something may happen to justify the use of the term clusterfuck. It happened at 3GSM World in Barcelona in 2006, where the Qualcomm sponsored press room went down-- no power, no internet, almost nothing. It did get fixed later.
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

Melngailis kicked -- it's semioffical

Acting Latvian economics minister (and Minister of Justice) Gaidis Berzins told journalists he saw no legal or economic reason to extend the tenure of Lattelecom CEO Nils Melngailis. Berzins qualified the statement by saying it was his personal view, but the ministry he heads (after the resignation of Minister of Economics Jurijs Strods) is the holder of the state's 51 % share in Lattelecom. This effectively torpedos the LVL 290 million management-employee buy-out that Melngailis had proposed as a way of breaking the defacto deadlock and uncertainty the company faced because of its unresolved ownership issues. TeliaSonera, which owns 49 % of Lattelecom was told that the government would not sell it the rest of the company. The Swedish group has been asking for years to get 100 % or at least a majority in both Lattelecom and Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT), where it currently indirectly (through a proportional share of Lattelecom's 23 % of LMT ) holds a majority. It appears the Latvian government, which will resign on December 5, will not do....whatever...

Report: Government effectively fires Lattelecom CEO

The Latvian daily Diena reports that Nils Melngailis, CEO of Lattelecom, has been effectively fired by the Latvian government. Minister of Justice and acting Minister of Economics Gaidis Berzins reportedly told Melngailis that the government, which owns 51 % of Lattelecom, would not extent his tenure as chairman of the management board.
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

Lattelecom CEO's fate in the balance

The owners of Lattelecom, TeliaSonera (49%) and the Latvian government (51%) were discussing on November 30 the fate of CEO Nils Melngailis and two other executives whose mandates expire December 10. A decision, based on the recommendations of the owners, will come next week (after December 3) at the earliest.
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

Alcatel-Lucent presents its WiMax solution

I just spent a day (as in get up at 5 AM, fly to Paris, watch a couple of hours of presentations, get back home just before midnight) at an Alcatel-Lucent WiMax event. It was on short notice and felt a bit improvised, but apparently the Alcatel-Lucent people wanted to make that everything was running as it should. The only thing they forgot was the "Don't try this at home" signs for the young man and woman who took turns riding around on a Segway while using a mobile WiMax terminal (a subcompact laptop with a camera).
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

Cisco's Kaan Terzioglu visits Latvia

Cisco honcho Kaan Terzioglu (vice president Central & Eastern Europe) visited Latvia and sat down for a talk with this blogger (also for my Latvian-language blog). We discussed Cisco's new program to invest in high-tech companies in the region as well as e-government solutions and the future of the internet. Here is the video:

Yes, I know he has the kid's arms coming out of his head :). Videoblogging is a learning process.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

TeliaSonera's broadband honcho speaks

While in Stockholm on Friday, November 16, I had an opportunity to interview Erik Hallberg, TeliaSonera's head of Broadband services. He has a few interesting things to say about HDTV, the rising demand for bandwidth, fiber to the home, and whether telecoms operators will become media companies. And, oh yes, some remarks about the relationship between content providers and operators increasingly selling flat-rate commodity services.

Here is the video:

TeliaSonera Mobility honcho speaks

Lars Klasson, CTO and Vice-President of TeliaSonera Mobility Services talked to this blogger in Stockholm recently about mobile broadband and other issues. Here is the video:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fuckwit packaging designers at Phillips

The reason the US troops in Iraq don't have enough armor is simple-- some kind of transparent Kevlar is now being used for packaging most small computer or electronic accessories. To open any of these things requires serious, heavy duty shears and practically cutting the stiff plastic package to ribbons. What fuckwit designed these packages? I understand we want to protect, say, that flash drive that will be obsolete in three months (when 16 GB cost what 4 GB do now) or to encase some other gadget worth under USD 100. But we are not, for fuck's sake, going to submit any of these products to re-entry from orbit or a shotgun blast. 
 I am surprised that consumer electronics stores are not selling some kind of superscissors for cutting open these packages, where it can take 20 minutes just to get at your headphones or USD 20 flash drive.
I just bought a LVL 7.99 set of headphones made by Philips, which, while it hadn't sealed them for eternity behind transparent Kevlar armor, had looped the wires around the inner cardboard packaging forcing me to rip the whole thing to shreds. Dutch ingenuity? Fuck yeah! Try to open the box and get your item out in a rational way!

Best English Bookstore in the Nordic region?

This may seem like an offtopic, but it isn't.  While reading the most recent edition of WIRED magazine, I found myself eyeing the latest Sony reading gadget. A bit expensive at USD 299, plus there is the Amazon Kindle, just announced (even more expensive at USD 399), but that probably doesn't work for downloading reading material outside the US. 
I experimented with an early electronic book some years ago, the Nuevomedia RocketBook, I think, which was a flop with little to download. Anyway, I the technofreak find that I still prefer (or have to settle for) the physical book. Or to be more precise, I buy the physical book through and, living in Latvia, rarely see a good English-language bookstore. Certainly none in Riga.
Thus I was pleasantly surprised to have a few hours to kill in downtown Stockholm, where I rediscovered Hedengren's Bookstore on Stureplan in the Sturegallerian shopping center. This is less a Swedish than a remarkable multi-lingual bookstore with a vast and often fascinatingly obscure collection of English-language books. Lots of weird popular science titles on physics and cosmology, history and military history, walls of literature and science fiction. A great way to browse, tons of books stuffing shelves, remind me of Foyle's in London, the shelves a bit crowded. Unfortunately, Swedish prices for foreign language books are a bit steep, but it is a good place to examine a title before ordering it from Amazon in the US (even with delivery in Latvia (usually via a warehouse inside the EU).
So if in Sweden and pining for a good browse of English books (yes, there are even comfortable chairs here and there, you can sit and leaf through a volume, no one says anything, there are nice books of art and photography), do try Hedengren's
Any yes, by the way, I do believe that electronic books, using thin electronic paper and an open universal method of accessing downloads (WiFi or wireless internet) have a future. I look forward to them, but for now, I am, alas, sticking to the paper kind. 

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mika Sarhimaa on HP's challenges in the Baltics

Mika Sarhimaa, the new managing director of Hewlett-Packard Oy, which also covers the three Baltic States, talks about the challenges and opportunities of working in these markets. The interview was conducted during an HP event in Riga at the Radisson SAS Daugava hotel on November 13. Here is the video:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Alex Sozonoff of HP discusses Web 2.0

Alex Sozonoff, a retired Hewlett-Packard executive and chairman of HP Finland & Baltics, sat down with this blogger to talk about Web. 2.0 and its impact on business and business IT. Here is the video:


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

No chance of a Lattelecom deal in 2007

Latvia's acting minister of Economics and Justice Minister Gaidis Berzins (Fatherland &Freedom) has said there is no chance the present (disintegrating--JK) government will approve the Lattelecom management and employee buyout (MEBO).
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

Tele2 open to Lattelecom on its network

Tele2 in Latvia is open to the idea of Lattelecom starting a virtual mobile operator on its network, Tele2 Latvia CEO Petras Kirdeika told this blogger.
Kirdeika said Tele2 would consider a commercially viable proposal from Lattelecom or any other operator wishing to lease part of Tele2's mobile network.
He said that the company would also be ready to negotiate a co-financing agreement if Lattelecom's (or another operator's) needs required the building of additional network capacity.
In reporting its third-quarter results, Tele2 said it had built a record 50 base stations across the country during the period.
Lattelecom CEO Nils Melngailis has said that if the company succeeds with its MBO, it will have to move quickly to offer mobile services in addition to fixed line telephony and internet. Bite Latvija, which has hitherto been open to virtual operators, effectively declared a moratorium on new actors on its network after being purchased by  Mid Europa Partners, a private equity company. Kenneth Campbell, CEO of the Bite Group, told this blogger (as reported in the magazine Kapitāls), that Bite's priority was to strengthen its own brand. 
He let it be understood that Lattelecom was such potentially strong brand that it could not be allowed to cannibalize Bite's potential and existing customers.

Tele2 Latvia's CEO on 3rd quarter results

Petras Kirdeika, CEO of Tele2 in Latvia, talks about third quarter results. Last year (2006), Tele2 was ranked as the most profitable company in Latvia. Here is the video:

Lattelecom MBO not on the agenda

The proposed management and staff buyout of Lattelecom is not on the agenda of the November 6 meeting of the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers and it looks like this matter will be delayed indefinitely. Despite two valuations made by Ernst & Young and the Swedish-based investment bank Carnegie, the acting Minister of Economics Gaidis Berzins says that no official valuation of Lattelecom and Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) has been made (according to lengthy official tender proceedings to find the valuator, etc. etc.).
Berzins' Fatherland & Freedom Party has expressed serious reservations bordering on outright opposition to the MBO, as has the party's Member of the European Parliament Inese Vaidere, writing several opinion pieces in the Latvian media.
The postponement of the decision on the MBO is,  I think, the beginning of the end for this attempt to privatize Lattelecom. The matter will be dragged long into 2008, debated in a fog of bizarre conspiracy theories and wacko economics, and finally muddled to death. 

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Lattelecom MBO prospects darken

With the Latvian government falling apart for reasons unrelated to the Lattelecom MBO proposal, and with the remains of the government apparently split on whether to approve the deal on November 6, I see the prospects for the deal going through darkening.
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

Lattelecom future in a muddle

First, sorry for the silence on this blog, I was in the US (Boston and Las Vegas, the IBM Information on Demand conference in the latter) and had little time to attend to this. With the uproar surrounding the Latvian government, it now looks like all options for the future ownership of Lattelecom will simply be put off and muddled away (how do you translate the wonderful Latvian expression nomuļļāts?).
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

A Swedish touch phone - iPhone challenger?

Sweden's NeoNode will be launching (in Sweden) its very small touch interface phone. I met them last week in Stockholm, but have only gotten around to editing and posting the videoblog today. Judge for yourselves whether we will have an iPhone challenger here:

Video thumbnail. Click to play
Click To Play

One more thing: If you are interested in any of the ads appearing here, please CLICK. I might make some money :)

Friday, October 05, 2007

XBox 360 Live -- A nightmare for parents and children

We bought an XBox360 for my 12-year old son' s birthday (in Sweden, Latvian prices were outrageous by comparison). We also picked up some games. The latest Halo 3 game (also bought in Sweden) came with a free 48 hour Xbox Live trial. The procedure for setting up an account in this service is one of the most time consuming, onerous, fucked-up experiences I have had with any online service -- and I go back to things like The Source in the 1980s. There are layer upon layer of data entry screens, all of which can only be operated by the Xbox360 controller, click and push  A, click and push A for endless repetitions. The code for a free trial of Xbox Live for 48 hours makes nuclear launch procedures child's play by comparison. Every possible piece of information, name, address, date of birth, credit card, gamer id, passwords, etc. has to be entered in this onerous way. Then the fucking service does not work for certain functions which should be available under the free test.
I think this is a classic example of downright customer, child and user-hostile design and policies by Microsoft

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sweden's Mondozer to launch widg... err...mondo platform

Mondozer, a 2007 Swedish startup, is going to launch its platform for creating easily accessible informational widgets (which it calls mondos) on  mobile phones (independent of the operator). Co-founder Karl Bohman talks about the company and its plans to offer the platform in the rest of the Nordic countries and, possibly, the Baltic countries.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Tele2 Latvia negotiating a club music service

Tele2 in Latvia and Dub Tools, a Swedish mobile services developer, are negotiating to offer the club music platform R.FM in Latvia in the next few months. Dub Tools CEO Peo Strömberg talks about the new service below (note: the video was edited for my Latvian blog, so there are Latvian opening and closing titles and the "Latvian spelling" of Strömberg's name, plus some small errors).

An informal iPhone demo in Stockholm

I finally got to film an informal iPhone demo in Sweden, thanks to the manager of a Macoteket Apple dealership in Stockholm. Here it is...

Friday, September 28, 2007

A few days in Sweden

I am heading to Stockholm for a mixture of business and personal reasons and will use the visit to see some mobile services companies at the Kista Mobile Showcase. There are times when this blog simply follows me around (New York, San Francisco) but I believe Sweden really falls under the outer corona (no nothing has been smoked :) ) of the coverage of this blog, because TeliaSonera and Tele2 are big players here, Nokia got named Latvia's favorite brand, and soon to be willingly orphaned (of its half mothers) Lattelecom sees Sweden as one of its markets.
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

More on the Lattelecom shopping list

I have already written about Pionit, the German-Latvian specialized IT company that I strongly suspect is at the top of Lattelecom's post-MBO shopping list. I just want to add some other educated guesses, mostly taken from a post on my Latvian-language blog.

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

Lattelecom eyeing Pionit, a stealth IT company?

Lattelecom, in the midst of an MBO, is already looking beyond that for forging closer ties with selected IT companies. The most interesting of these may be Pionit AG  in Germany, where one of the chief "assets" is Mikus Grasmanis, a Latvian software engineer and one of the key inventors of GRADE, a business process analysis toolkit developed initially by the Institute of Mathematics and Informatics at the University of Latvia in the early 1990s. Also behind Pionit is Janis Gobins, the "godfather"  of the modern Latvian IT industry (Software House Riga, which later morphed and merger into Dati and Exigen/merged with Dati/).
Pionit was founded in 2006 and is still kind of a stealth company, but apparently looking to do sophisticated projects in business process management and the "industrialization" of software development projects. Pionit is the foothold in Germany that Lattelecom's new business directions in outsourcing and IT solutions need and have been looking for.  Valdis Lokenbahs,  formerly a major honcho at Dati, also recently joined Lattelecom. One reason he was recruited may have been his experience setting up a Dati operation in Germany and his ideas about building what he called a global software factory (assembling resources in a number of countries to optimally produce a software solution).
I predict that, by the end of 2008, Pionit (which already advertises its cooperation with Lattelecom) may become one of the first acquisitions of  the newly privatized Lattelecom.  Indeed, Nils Melngailis, Lattelecom CEO, strongly hinted that Lattelecom will grow in the future by major acquisitions, even of companies of similar size as Lattelecom at present. He was speaking at an annual conference for Lattelecom business customers and partners on September 19.

Bite doubles HSDPA speed in Latvia

Bite Latvija, the Latvian unit of the mobile services operator Bite Group, will soon boost the speed of its HSDPA mobile broadband service to 7.2 Mbps from the current 3.6 Mbps (both maximum speeds under optimal conditions). Next year, Bite will most likely jump the speed of its HSDPA service to 14.4 Mbps. At these speeds, the service will be a competitor to Lattelecom's DSL services, which have a maximum speed of 10 Mbps (in the HomeDSL plus IPTV package, with TV eating up some of the bandwidth when in use). Lattelecom has installed ADSL2+ DSLAMs that can deliver 24 Mbps under ideal conditions, but my sources say this is being saved for when Lattelecom launches some kind of HD TV service (probably video on demand).
My talk with Fred Hrenchuk, the recently appointed CEO of Bite Latvija is here:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

TeliaSonera on fixed-mobile convergence

There was supposed to be an article in Kapitāls, the Latvian language monthly business magazine that I write for about fixed-mobile convergence. I was off in the US for the Hewlett-Packard event, but I did research ahead of that and was reluctantly ready to write the piece when I got back (there was a lot else to do). OOPS! Seems the editors forgot about it, so the best I did was to have a small sidebar with one one my regular columns.
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 Sweden? ) If I were to arrive with a staff of 100 and take two floors in building in Stockholm, could I run a business with, say, one very fast internet connection (maybe gigabit speed), picocells, WiFi (for the PC network) and slightly modified mobiles for all staff (flat rate, untariffed calls among colleagues, GSM/UMTS at corporate rates outside the office, or maybe VOIP over HSDPA)?? Field staff would have HSPA laptops, etc.

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.

On 28 September, and as the first mobile operator in Sweden, TeliaSonera is introducing a new solution for telephony combining features of fixed and mobile telephony, based on UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access). With Telia Home Free, the mobile phone is being integrated in residential telephony, making mobile communications easier and cheaper. The telephone functions as an ordinary wired phone in the home (through WLAN) and subscribers can keep their current fixed line number. When a person leaves home, an ongoing call is switched automatically to the mobile network. Customers can call at a lower rate at home and also use their phone as an ordinary mobile handset when they leave home. Calls to all fixed line numbers and Telia mobiles in Sweden cost SEK 0/minute when made from home. Calls to all Telia mobiles in Sweden, including the household’s IP mobiles, cost SEK 0/minute with the Telia Mobile to Friends subscription. Calls answered on the fixed line number, outside the home, cost SEK 0/minute. The very same service was launched by Telia in Denmark last year, and will be launched by the fully TeliaSonera owned Netcom in Norway in the autumn.

It should be noted that the solution TeliaSonera has adopted internally (as referred to in the question) is using the same network inside and outside the office (GSM/UMT), combined with a local radio solution to handle large number of simultaneous calls and to ensure sufficient coverage.

However, for data, we offer the Connect Pro service which switches between networks depending on availability and location. Connect Pro customers can access the Internet and their organisation’s intranet either through GSM, UMTS or WLAN (TeliaSonera’s WLAN service is called Home Run).

In Norway and Denmark we have launched a service for our business customers called the Wireless Office. It’s a solution based on mobile telephony replacing the fixed phone; subscribers have one mobile phone and one number with untariffed calls to colleagues and reduced tariffs for other calls. The Wireless Office will be introduced in Sweden shortly.

So to conclude: Yes – you could run a business the way as it is described in the question, with a fast internet connection, WiFi for the PC-network and a telephony solution based on the Wireless office. However, as of today, we do not offer VoIP over HSDPA.

Having such an offer in Sweden, how likely is it to be implemented in your Baltic subsidiaries, especially Latvia, where you will no longer have a fixed network operator when Lattelecom is sold off to management and employees?

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.

However, on a more general note, it can be said that having full ownership means that we can fully draw on the advantages of the TeliaSonera Group thereby strengthen our position as well as our offerings in a market in terms of synergies, purchasing power, faster access to new services, faster development of mobile data, and overall better prices on a lot of services needed for mobile operators. It also means that new services, like the service you describe and services like Telia Home Free and Telia Wireless Office, can be rolled-out in the market.

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. Sweden), since we truly believe in the fixed-mobile migration and we want to take lead in this migration. To roll out a product like HomeFree will always be a specific decision for every market to make, based on local circumstances.

How will wireless vs fixed "footprint overlap"develop over the next few years -- by which I mean, the basic DSL offering in Latvia is 2Mbps, while HSDPA can get you 3.6 Mbps all things being optimal. This covers most ordinary surfing needs and even videostreaming. You can also get 10 Mbps DSL (in Latvia) with a IPTV package, but apparently that can be matched by an HSDPA upgrade (the technology goes up to 14.4 Mbps). In Sweden, some places (Kista) have 100 Mbps internet, but it is said wireless could also hit those speeds (WIMAX on steroids??) So this is how the "footprints" overlap, except you can take mobile or nomadic solutions anywhere within coverage, but even fiber to the home stops at the door if you go out.

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.

Wireline will increasingly be focussed on providing the backbone infrastructure, access to radio points and also the really heavy connections to e.g. offices. As there’s a limit to what we can do in the wireless world there will always be a need for wireline/fixed access.

In general, the basic communications needs will be based on wireless access complement with wireline/fixed access when needed.

What is the degree of adoption of totally wireless solutions in Sweden (among small/medium businesses) as described in the first question? Any future trend predictions?

In the business segment (SMEs), and according to our own research, we estimate that 2% of the companies have a netbased mobile switch (i.e. a general mobile switch, and not a solution that switch between networks depending on the users location (in the office, outside the office etc).

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.

In general, we see that the basic communications needs will be based on wireless access complemented with wireline when needed. Basic services like voice telephony will no doubt be replace by wireless access regardless if it is an office environment or out in the streets etc. And to a large extent, we will see data go the same way as voice and be provided with wireless access. We already have clear examples of this development today with wireless hot spots in cafés, restaurants, hotels etc. and the development of HSDPA in the public environment. But of course, behind all those customer accesses there is cable.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Nils Melngailis (Lattelecom) on financing the MBO

Lattelecom CEO Nils Melngailis describes the financing that has been arranged hitherto for the management/staff buyout. The US based Blackstone Group (private equity) will provide LVL 90 million in equity financing (taking 51 % of Lattelecom) with a four bank consortium (Unicredit, Nordea, DnB and Parex) providing LVL 200 million as a loan (maturity -- around 7 years). Disbursement of a first packet of shares will start in Q1 2008 if all goes smoothly. More in this video:

FinnFUCKINGair (baggage losers)

I flew back to Riga with Finnair (ok, I was rerouted when my flight to New York JFK was delayed, I went Boston-London-Helsinki-Riga with Boston-London on American Airlines). The fuckers lost my baggage. Maybe this is par for the course with airlines these days -- the more IT systems, the more clueless about WTF anything is -- at the airport, they did not see my bag on their system). Fortunately, I packed all my personal electronics in my backpack, but packed all but one of my books (from Amazon, free delivery to a US address), plus DVDs , etc, clothing, in my roller bag, which I checked. This is what has now vanished. It used to be bags were delayed, but traceable.
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.

HP video, upcoming Lattelecom news

Here is some video on Hewlett-Packard's new line of workstations presented at the Your Life is the Show event in New York last week (September 5):

On Lattelecom
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

More on HP and digital entertainment, Post no. 500!

Well, post number 500 is a videoblog where Brian Burch of Hewlett-Packard talks about the digital entertainment products the company will be offering. This reflects the evolution of the blog from text to multimedia and its oocasional global reach. This was filmed covering the HP event Your Life is the Show in New York for my Latvian employer. Here is the video via YouTube. The blogger video function doesn't seem to work and apparently sucks...

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Todd Bradley of HP speaks about "consumer electronics"

I was at the Hewlett Packard Your Life is The Show event in New York (which is why I am not in Latvia) and recorded this video of Todd Bradley of the HP Personal Systems Group saying the company was not getting into consumer electronics, despite selling TVs and the upcoming Media Smart Server.

Here is the video. Blogger's video upload did not work on several attempts. It sucks.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Disappointing Apple :(

I tried to get permission to shoot a videoblog of an iPhone demo at the Apple Store in Chestnut Hill, Newton, MA, but it seems there is a nationwide policy against cameras in the stores. So there is no way we semi-pro videobloggers can show off the styuff we like. I was hoping to show this on my Latvian-language blog and to give something to TV24, the cable/internet TV operation that I work for. I even e-mailed Apple in Cupertino, their PR folks, but nothing. Thanks anyway to the nice guys at Chestnut Hill for pestering their manager until they got an answer.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Like college registration in the 1960s :)

Well, I have arrived in the Big Apple for Hewlett Packard's Your Life is The Show event and the funniest thing is that registering as a journalist in 2007 was like registering for college in the 1960s. You gave your name and some ladies went through some paper checklists and rummaged through piles of pre-printed name cards. Didn't find mind. Went for a couple of drinks and snacks and then got it :). One would think that the world's leading IT company would simply look all guests up on a laptop linked to a database and then print the name card on demand on one of its snazzy laser printers. I am sure the event will be better than this rather amusing start.
Wasted after 8 hours on the plane from Helsinki, but will try to stay up and sleep normally

Friday, August 31, 2007

Lattelecom & wireless broadband, HP in NYC

Once the management/staff buyout (MBO) is complete, one of Lattelecom's priorities will be to expand its broadband coverage. CEO Nils Melngailis has said as much. More than 100,000 of Lattelecom's more than 600 000 wireline customers already have DSL, and the aim is clearly to get almost everyone aboard. That includes customers beyond the reach of the present network in rural towns and outlying areas.
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, 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