Tuesday, February 27, 2007

IZZI gets the jump on HDTV

IZZI, the multi-services provider (internet, cable TV, wireless internet and mobile) has indicated it will make an announcement about High Definition TV (HDTV) on March 1. This means that the (not by so much) underdog has gotten the jump on market leader Baltcom TV and Lattelecom, which has yet to launch its IPTV for ordinary TV receivers service.
Two questions come to mind. First, what technology will be used to deliver the HDTV signal and in what parts of the IZZI network. Second, what HDTV channels will be available? I may be wrong here, but there aren't too many HDTV channels in Europe. There is one that is more or less a demo channel showing fluffy animals (count the hairs on their fur) and tropical fish (check out the facets of their scales).
To deliver HDTV apparently requires quite a few megabits, possibly the maximum that IZZI can deliver over cable. Here, Baltcom with its optical network in parts of Riga is perhaps better positioned. We shall see what IZZI has to say on March 1 and wait for Baltcom's countermove. Maybe that will be to do nothing until there is substantially more than fuzzybears and fish to show. That would be a step away from quantity (100 + digital channels) in favor of packaged quality (an HDTV offering with a few good channels, not the Poodle Channel and 99 others).
Anyway, IPTV (HD or otherwise) is hot, witness the bidding war for Tandberg Television between Ericsson and Arris Group of the US.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lattelecom profits surge 12.6 %

Lattelecom's profits rose 12.6 % to LVL 39 million in 2006 while revenues rose 7.7 % to LVL 143.7 million. The results are a good sign that the company is maintaining and increasing profitability, apparently by expanding into new, non-voice areas such as internet, information technology, business process outsourcing and media (IP TV to begin with). Revenues from internet services were up 30 % while revenues from new services, like outsourcing, IT and call centers, rose 84 %.
As this blog reported, starting probably in April, Lattelecom will offer triple play (DSL internet, voice and IPTV) as its basic services package. Voice calls within Latvia to other Lattelecom numbers will merely be a "free" feature included in the variable flat fee (depending on internet speed and number of IPTV channels).
This, however, is not the most radical change Lattelecom will undergo. Look for the company to become, for households, a media and home-management platform. This means that by 2010, the average middle class Latvian will get up and "awaken" an always-on high definition flat screen and request a color print of what was once called the morning newspaper. The person will then open a window to check any videovoicemails left by friends, and perhaps play a TV program missed the night before (if there is still any TV broadcasting on a fixed schedule). The user will open a screen to see whether a small child is still sleeping and under the covers, and also link to a remote camera at a summer house 60 km away, where a frail grandmother is living. The Lattelecom customer will then query his/her car on WiFi and see that it needs to tank up on biofuel, do a price check on the internet, and print a discount offer coupon (or send it to a mobile phone) to get a few santims off each liter. With his/her favorite London internet radio station playing in the background over the 100 Mbps internet connection, the Latvian of 2010 will finish morning coffee, switch the radio stream to a mobile device or the car's HSDPA link, and continue listening on the drive to the biofuel station and work.

Maarten van Engeland leaving Bite

Maarten van Engeland, CEO of the Lithuanian-Latvian Bite Group, has resigned his post at the mobile operator effective March 2. He cites personal reasons, which rings (and is) very true, since Bite, especially in Latvia, has been doing very well. (We all know that it is often better PR for all concerned to have the CEO of a sick company go on "personal reasons" rumored to be a sick aunt, but this is definitely not the case here). Bite, with 197 000 users in Latvia, including the customers of several virtual operators using the Bite network, is doing quite well for a third operator. It was among the first to launch HSDPA in Riga and several cities outside Riga (LMT beat them by a couple of weeks in terms of just turning on the service). Bite is credited with increasing competition in the Latvian mobile market and creating a base for a variety of boutique virtual services (such as 5 +, catering to middle-aged Russian-speakers). It is also presenting a broad offering on the mobile television and music side.
So, to Maarten, good luck as you step off a tight ship sailing on a steady course!
Maarten will be replaced by James Jackson, a man with a background in East European telecoms until a permanent CEO is found.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Russians interested in the half-mother?

Hopefully this has nothing to do with the earlier item about gangster threats :).
The Russian-language Latvian newspaperTelegraf reports that some kind of deal may be afoot between a Russian telecons-linked company and TeliaSonera. I don't read Russian, but I can give some quotes from the Babelfish version of the story :):):):

"In Lattelecom and LMT can arrive the Russians It is possible that Russian of "alphas-group" will fall into Latvia through Swedeņ."

"Recently into the Russian press filtered the information, from which it is possible to assume that this investor, probably, is the Russian company Altimo, which controls the telecommunication active memberships of alphas-group. Altimo - owner of the shareholdings in the number of the telecommunication companies, coowner of which is also Scandinavian TeliaSonera, and by it, in turn, belong to action in Lattelecom and LMT."'

"According to the information of one of them, the sides discuss the transaction, as a result of which Altimo would sell to Scandinavians entire or large part of its telecommunication active memberships in exchange for the portion in TeliaSonera, and it is already close to the agreement."

And so on, ending with the Russian investors indirectly owning interests in Lattelecom and LMT, although, the deflater line comes late in the Babelfished Russian story (it must sound more normal, though not as amusing, in the original Russian):

"In company Altimo their possible interest in any Latvian active memberships frankly they do not demonstrate."

Well, we shall see if these revelations are true. One more revelation -- looks like Babelfish hired Yoda when the Star Wars movies stopped :).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Triple play to be Lattelecom's basic service

A triple-play package of voice, internet and 25 IP TV channels will be Lattelecom's basic offering to all new private customers in the near future, according to Lattelecom's director of content business Gints Kirsteins (this is a short title, you see why I simply call these people honchos?).
Existing customers will be able to upgrade their ordinary phone or HomeDSL packages to the new service, which will involve installing new DSL modems and delivering an IPTV decoder for ordinary TV sets.
The service will have a video-on-demand option offering all films with original soundtracks and a choice of subtitles (plus local language soundtracks for children's films. This will be an extra-pay service, as will be subscription to an additional 18 channels of IPTV. The services will be identical to digital cable, with soundtrack options, etc.
The new triple-play option will be tentatively offered in April, pending final testing.
Also rumored is a softphone option for both business and home users that would link a Lattelecom number to an internet address and allow local calls (free for Home package users) to the user anywhere in the world, as well as low-cost or free calls to all Lattelecom numbers regardless of whether the customer is in Riga or Riyadh.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Various good things coming in April?

It looks like April will be the launch date for Lattelecom's IPTV service for viewers with ordinary TV sets (Lattelecom's TV offerings, both free and paid, can be currently beviewed on PCs) with decoders. It appears some 40 channels will be offered. April will also likely see an upgrade of more of the HomeDSL network to 10 Mbps (currently, the maximum speed of the Mājas komplekts/Home package is 5 Mbps and 10 Mbps broadband is available only in some areas of Riga). Lattelecom's IPTV service will be like digital cable TV, with soundtrack language choice and some kind of video-on-demand, including the option to record and view programs later using centralized servers.
The Lattelecom website in both Latvian and English contains a cryptic reference to "the autumn", which apparently was last autumn when the launch of IPTV was delayed. One reason: the HomeDSL offering with free national calling created such a rush of orders that there would have been no technical capacity for delivering and installing IPTV decoders.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Russian gangsters threaten the half-mother's honchos?

Swedish media are reporting that top managers of Lattelecom's half-mother TeliaSonera are being guarded by armed bodyguards because of unnamed threats to their lives. According to Swedish TV8, these threats may be coming from Russia.
It seems rather a bizarre scenario that Russian goons/hitmen would be sent to Sweden to harm TeliaSonera honchos, but the company does have interests in the Russian mobile market and has been up against Russian bidders for a mobile operator in Turkey. Still, it is far fetched that the Russian mafia would go after anyone other than, at worst, the local TeliaSonera affiliate management in Russia.
Perhaps the Russians don't know about the Swedish James Bond, Carl Hamilton, who would get sent after their sorry asses if they so much as harmed a hair on any Swedish executive's head.

ADDED FEB 16: Just want to credit reader Bleveland for tipping me off to this story. I had to find an English language version so that most readers could understand it.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Alcatel-Lucent honcho speaks

Baltic journalists were given a chance to interview Hubert de Pesqiudoux, the head of Alcatel-Lucent's Enteprise unit. Here is part of the interview as I recorded it (the entire 15 minutes would not fit on YouTube).

My 11-year old insists on being credited for the use of his video camera, a Sony HDD recorded (hard drive, not high-def, easy to use with a Mac despite what has been written)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pat Russo of Alcatel Lucent speaks in Paris

This is an excerpt of a presentation by Alcatel Lucent CEO Patricia Russo at the Alcatel Lucent forum in Paris. No particular Latvian/Baltic interest, but shows where the IT/teleco market is going generally.

Added February 15: The start and end titles for this clip are in Latvian as it was originally posted to my Latvian blog at LETA (www.nozare.lv). This is the blog I get paid for :)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Pirates of Place de Maillot

Made it to Paris. Charles de Gaulle is a "fantastic" airport, a 1970s or 1980s hallucination of what the future, that is now (2007) was supposed to be like, with no one walking, everyone riding on people conveyors. Trouble is, the froggers actually built the thing (OK, no snide remark about the French meant, the US has Epcot Center) The monitors are there to say that one's baggage will be delivered at this Spaceport 2000 (vintage 1978) like 40 minutes after the plane lands.
Arrived at the Hotel Concorde de Lafayette, rode the elevator to my floor, which opened on a scene out of what upscale whorehouses look like in the movies -- winered wall-to-wall carpeting and mirrored wall panels. The room is nice, 25 + TV channels, many of them bizarre Arabic TV shops and Japanese channels with elderly people doing strange things and huge captions in Japanese characters, apparently so the elderly watching can read what is going on.
The cathouse hallways were a premonition of what this place charges for wireless internet. EUR 30 for 24 hours (people do sleep and attend events, so figure it out). Fortunately, the press center set up by Alcatel Lucent has free wireless. Considering that the newly merged company went several hundreds of millions into the bag in Q4 2006, I would not have been surprised had they charged for it :). This promises to be interesting, as everyone is probably waiting to hear how the company will get it together over the next few years. It is a supplier of switches to Lattelecom (wrote that earlier).
I am yet again glad that most Baltic hotels have free WiFi by default (or for the price of a cup of coffee if you walk into one of the Revals in Riga off the street). EUR 30 is more than I pay for a month of 5 Mbps Lattelecom DSL, FFS*!!!! (for f**k's sake, if you didn't guess)

Off to Paris and Alcatel Lucent

I am off to Paris for an Alcatel Lucent event. It will be interesting to see how things go for a company that is in pretty serious trouble -- major losses, higher job cuts planned. Alcatel was a major initial supplier of switches to Lattelecom, though I suspect they are leaning toward Ericsson for their network upgrade, not the least because Ericsson, I believe, supplies their DSL equipment.
Otherwise fairly quiet on the Latvian front. Must ask someone soon how things are going with the half-mother (TeliaSonera).
I am also considering trashing the new Firefox 2.0 on my Macbook (Intel Core 2 Duo) as it seems to work at 1980s dial-up speed. Writing this on Camino, which shows all of the blogger.com system's options like bold, italic, the link thingy, which all vanish on Safari.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Shoveling the grave of pay-per-minute mobile

Bite announced it will be possible to call Skype addresses from any Bite mobile phone by sending an SMS and getting the call connected (as a kind of call back). The connection will cost LVL 0.06 and the call LVL 0.40 for 10 minutes. However, once more mobile phones are WiFi or internet capable, and someone figures out how to put Skype on these (Symbian) phones, the era of no-charge calling on a fixed fee mobile broadband connection will start.

Its been a busy day, so I am letting Darius Montvila, a Bite deputy honcho, tell the story:

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Odyssey of Number Portability

In the Greek myths, people went on long strange trips, overcame weird obstacles, fought battles, etc. Changing mobile operators (or attempting to do so over the last almost three months) has been similar to this. It started when my old job, which paid a Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) subscription, gave me a power-of-attorney to take that account private so I could shift it and my number to Tele2, the preferred operator of my new employer. The old subscription would terminate on December 5. It indeed did so, making it impossible to do anything with my SIM card. So I got a temporary O-Karte from LMT to tide me over and gave the power-of-attorney to my new employer. The new company put someone who is well meaning but apparently not a whiz kid on this matter. Meanwhile, I used the O-Karte prepaid, but found that it was impossible to forward calls to my old number to the temporary one. Finally I was told that I had to go and get myself a temporary private LMT subscription with my old number. I did this just before going to the states so I would have a number I could use and be reached on.
I got back around January 21 and some days later went to the nearest Tele2 shop just under my new office. I also needed to get a new charger for my Nokia N 80, the kind with a smaller connector to the phone, so no one else's can be used. I saw a charger on a shelf, but when I asked one of the girls in the shop, she said they had no chargers. So I led her to the shelf and convinced her (to her pleasant surprise) that, yes, they did have chargers in a mobile phone and accessories shop. The lady did not seem like the brightest LED in the display, so it was no surprise when she said the data system wasn't working and the application to transfer couldn't be done.
My trip to Cannes intervened, and finally, Saturday, I went to the main Tele2 place in Riga, dutifully waited for my number to come up, and then got a very kind and helpful employee who filled out the forms, but, alas, got my e-mail address wrong. She did say that I should have gone to the corporate services unit, no numbers, no waiting, but for that I needed a power-of-attorney or some thing from the company, presumably from less-than-whiz kid. So now I actually have Tele2 SIM card that should come to life on February 15 or thereabouts, and I should then be able to go yet again to Tele2 with another document and have the account transferred to the company. Simply and fast, isn't it. All just to keep good old 292XXXXX...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Bite may announce Skype functionality

Bite has called a press conference for Tuesday, February 6 and it looks like they may announce a new Skype-linked function. In other words, Bite users will be able to make Skype calls to computers and phones (? not sure of this) by indirectly using a SkypeOut type of function. The feature will be apparently triggered by SMS (sending the Skype address) and then talking for something close to the SkypeOut rate for that country. So far, the geeks at Skype have yet to come up with Skype for Symbian, which they said they would have "soon" a year ago at 3GSM World in Barselona. We're still waiting. Maybe the pickpockets and thieving lowlife for which that city is notorious stole the code in progress?
Anyway, the great thing about this feature is that it drops the cost of calling home to a Skyper in Latvia and, perhaps, for calling from anywhere to a Skyper anywhere else. But we shall see...

Cisco going for " holopresence" next?

Cisco, which touted its relatively new Telepresence service (you sit across from ultra-high definition huge video screens, the others in Singapore look you in the eye, the sound moves around, etc., though I didn't see a demo) is working on some kind of holographic (or 3D, walkaround image)next generation Telepresence solution. This was disclosed in an offhand remark by a major honcho who I won't name because I am not sure it won't trigger some sort of SEC violation, whatever...
Anyway, Star-Trek style (but without the shimmery bad focus) communication is on its way, assuming you have a one-terabit dedicated connection and the right compression algorithms and a Godpower processor to deal with this. One of the most tantilizing things I heard down in Cannes, though not relevant to Latvian telecoms in particular.

On the trip back I removed the volume limit settings on my iPod so I could drown out the conversation of the bljedniki just behind me on the plane. They were some young Russian-speaking folks who were merry with drink and punctuated whatever they said in Russian (which I don't understand) with the Russian word for whore - bljed. So I was (I am guessing the content -- Ī was bljed in some Warsaw bar bljed when some bljed Polish guy comes up and asks bljed about the Latvian hockey team bljed so we bljed had a beer together bljed--all this being sort of bellowed over the rather loud engines of the Embraer 175 that LOT operates between Warsaw and Riga).

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Baltics Cisco Honcho Speaks

Down here in Cannes, I did a video interview with Piotr Pluta, the Cisco country manager for the Baltics: