Saturday, December 27, 2008

What may happen in 2009

Any of my Latvian-speaking readers may recognize this as a slight re-hash of what I wrote on my Latvian-language blog. However, having woken up at an early jet-lagged (or jet-pushed, as I am "ahead" and waking at 0530 after going to bed around 2230) hour here in the US, I will share some thoughts on what may be ahead in Latvian telecoms in 2009.
The government (or whatever government is in charge) will continue to endlessly drag its feet on the privatization of Lattelecom and mobile operator LMT. With the financial markets globally in a shambles and share prices down to rock-bottom, it is unlikely that anyone will pay or get a good price for either Latvian operator. The offer made by TeliaSonera to pay over 500 million LVL for the remaining state stakes in both companies would have been the deal of the decade. The Latvian government simply blew it. On this issue, there is no direction home (as Bob Dylan put it).
Lattelecom, meanwhile, will be very busy. It has to start its DSL to FTTH conversion (offering 100 Mbps to internet subscribers, instead of the present 10 Mbps) that will replace copper with fiber over the next three years for most Lattelecom internet users. The other project it will have to start immediately is setting up a digital terrestrial television network across the country. It won a tender for this project to convert the national television broadcast system to digital by 2011(?). The company has experience putting together a program package for its IP television service (which does not have a spectacular number of users, though it is growing), but terrestrial broadcast could be something new for it.
Meanwhile, cable operator IZZI will be boosting its internet services network to deliver 100 Mbps as well. What will Baltcom do?
The mobile operators, after a winter of advertising how easy it is to have "heartfelt conversations" with you darling kitten or beary-poo (the latest marketing campaigns by Bite and LMT have this kind of stuff), may get back to some real competition. One area for re-slicing the market could be government and local government, where Tele2 has been repeatedly claiming it can cut phone costs for such organizations by up to 30%. Now that we are starting a year (0r several) of santims-pinching, it may be worth a try to check out whether Tele2 can come up with the goods.
Triatel, the CDMA and EVDO wireless internet operator, will still be looking for a buyer (this has been a low-key story for some months) but will face the same market conditions as everyone. Not a good idea to sell itself on the cheap. Oh, and I think the CDMA voice business is no big deal, it is the rural wireless internet coverage that may make this company attractive.
On wireless/mobile internet, look for everyone in the Latvian mobile space to jump to 14.4 Mbps by the end of the year, perhaps to the HSDPA on steroids of 21 Mbps (Tele2 is doing it in Sweden).  2010 or 2011 may see some attempts at LTE on the Latvian market, or what will be left after the economic ravages many people are expecting.
At last, the light is sweating (Latvian- gaismiņa svīst) here in Newton, MA, so I may get back to this topic later.  Now  a shower and some breakfast. 

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays to all

I want to wish Happy Holidays (be it Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza or Winter Solstice) to all my readers. I will be in the US from December 26 to January 11. To the extent possible, I will post anything of interest on this blog.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Swedish touchscreen phone bites the dust

Neonode, a Swedish designer of touchscreen phones (they were built in Asia, of course) has gone bankrupt. Just over a year ago, I was in Sweden and did a videoblog post about them. Too bad, it looked like a good idea, especially coming ahead of the wave of touchscreens that were launched by major manufacturers, such as Samsung and LG and, of late, even Nokia. It came just a few months after the first version of the iPhone. But lacking the market weight of either Apple or the Koreans and, given the finance markets crisis, Nenode went under. A good try...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Blackberry Bold comes to Latvia

The Bite Group has introduced the Blackberry Bold to Latvia and Lithuania. The Riga presentation was held at a wine bar/wine shop, which explains the background in the video. Somewhat surprising was the candid admission by Bite honcho Fred Hrenchuk that there were only 700 Blackberry service users on the Bite network in Latvia. Perhaps this is because there are now a number of mobile e-mail platforms and services available -- various Nokia phones, the iPhone and other smart phones. The Blackberry has to compete with these, unlike North America, where Crackberry addiction spread like wildfire under different pre-conditions. However, I met one businessman who already had a Bold (from the US side of his business) and would gladly buy another 10 (for his Latvian staff?) if Bite could meet a few specific conditions. So there is potential for growth.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Moving back on topic

OK, enough ranting about what is happening in this little bananaless republic. I will stick to telecoms related topics and direct everyone who is interested in the ongoing free speech controversy in Latvia to this new blog of mine, Free Speech Emergency in Latvia. So please go there. Free speech is the reason we are able to write about anything we want to (but not anymore in Latvia). I will continue to write what I think about IT and telecoms here, and what I think of the f**kwits running the Security Police on that new blog.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Latvia threatens to prosecute Security Police critics

The Latvian Security Police, according to a newspaper report, have threatened to prosecute anyone publicly commenting that the Security Police, who arrested a university lecturer for remarks about the financial crisis, are moving the country toward totalitarianism and repressing freedom of speech.
According to the newspaper Diena's portal, the Security Police "do not exclude starting criminal proceedings" against anyone commenting on the internet and expressing agreement with the views of the detained (since released and put under a travel ban) lecturer Dmitrijs Smirnovs or asserting that the Latvian Security Police were returning the country to totalitarianism by repressing freedom of speech. 
Sorry about yet another off-topic, but I think we are heading for a free speech emergency in Latvia. 

Latvia detains, restricts travel of academic for economy comments

Another offtopic about the outrageous behavior of this little authoritarian no-banana republic:

The Latvian Security Police (Drošibas policija) detained for two days and then banned a college lecturer from leaving the country for remarks about the economy in a panel discussion that were later published in a newspaper.
Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a lecturer in accounting and finance at Ventspils University College has been ordered not to leave the country after his release from two days of interrogation by the Security Police about his remarks that Latvians should not keep their money in banks and in Latvian lats.
Smirnovs argued that excessive credit, mainly by Swedish-owned banks, had created a precarious situation and also blamed the Bank of Latvia, the nation's central bank, for failing to regulate and restrict excessive and imprudent lending.
Also questioned by the Security Police was Valters Fridenbergs, a young musician, who joked about withdrawing money from two Latvian banks during a break in a concert.

After these events, it is fair to say that the functions of the former Soviet and Soviet Latvian KGB -- the persecution and intimidation of dissent and free speech -- are being revived by the Latvian Security Police. Latvia has taken a significant step toward becoming an authoritarian state.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Migrating to GMail, screw Yahoo!

Yahoo! mail for me is in some kind of systemic failure, inaccessible due to errors 999 or 5 or 14 or whatever now for nearly a week. This is regardless of where I have been accessing it from: a Verizon DSL connection in Newton, MA or a Comcast cable internet connection in Wayland, MA in the US, a Lattelecom DSL connection in Riga, and now, an ultrafast corporate Lattelecom (?) connection at my workplace. Yahoo (which reminded me, recently, to pay USD 19.95 for its premium service) sucks totally and I have started a rather cumbersome, but necessary migration to Gmail. Perhaps I should also open a back-up Hotmail account. Those with a need-to-know will be informed of my new (old, actually, just haven't used Gmail that much) address. It is juriskaza(thingy)gmail(Dot)com (so f**k you e-mail scanning spam bots).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Yahoo! degrades to garbage level service

If I had not been in the US, then back in Latvia experiencing the same problems, I wouldn't write this so harshly. My primary e-mail for general purpose communications, Yahoo!, has been regularly down for a variety of error codes, 5, 15, and of late, 999.
In the US, I attempted to access my e-mail through Verizon DSL (at my mother's house), then through Comcast at my brother's house and now through Lattelecom DSL in Riga. Yet again, I see code 999. Complaining repeatedly to Yahoo doesn't help. I use a brand new aluminum Macbook, and Macs have little or no malware or viruses. Also, to register a complain requires one to decipher extremely twisted and obscure combinations of letters and numerals, designed not so much as to deter automated use of the site as to simply prevent ordinary users from bothering them.
I am just curious whether anyone else is experiencing this, what appears to, global deterioration of Yahoo service. I have been paying some USD 19.95 annual fee for a higher level of service. I also wonder if anyone has a migration strategy for moving all of one's Yahoo contacts and automatically forwarding Yahoo mail to a site that isn't f**ked half the time, like Gmail.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Some sad personal news

I have been busy at my day job and hoped to put in some more video from IBM Information on Demand, but I have sadly received word that my father, 91, passed away after a longer illness November 6 in a nursing home near Boston. I got to see him shortly before IOD, stopping for a few days in the Boston area. So I am heading over again for the funeral and will be back on station after November 17.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Steve Mills (IBM) on cloud computing, recession

Steve Mills, Senior VP of the IBM Software Group, talked about cloud computing for SMEs and the effects of the recession on the IT industry and its customers during a roundtable discussion at Information on Demand 2008. Here are my video excerpts.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The IOD 2008 opening show

IBM put on a rather impressive opening show at Information on Demand 2008 in Las Vegas (Vegas, after all). I shot some video of it -- the psychedelic performance and a nice sexy singer with a very libertarian song (my politics, sort of :) ).
I'm heading back to Riga today via Chicago and Frankfurt, a day on planes. There will be more to post -- video mainly-- from the conference when I get back.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

IBM honchos speak at IOD 2008

I have put together some video highlights of  the first day of IBM's Information on Demand 2008 conference. where the emphasis is on information processing and analysis as a tool for improving business outcomes.

Monday, October 27, 2008

At IBM Information on Demand

I am at IBM Information on Demand in Las Vegas. Not much time to blog, but it looks like we will here something about industry specific solutions (not just middleware to keep the data accurate and deliver it, generically, where it is wanted. They should also touch on cloud computing and delivery platforms
I have shot some video and will post it in the next couple of days (I head back to Latvia on October 29). Great stuff with Jeff Jonas, a genius on stitching unrelated data,  also some Steve Mills (head honcho of IBM's Software Division). Hope to edit it and get it out on my Latvian blog and here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Alcatel Lucent offers green telecoms in the Baltics

Alcatel Lucent's business development manager for Nordic & Baltics, Johan Ragmo, was in Riga recently and talked about the company's energy-saving or so-called greener telecommunications solutions. These are based on, among other technologies, smart systems that draw down their electricity consumption when idle, and devices that combine several functions previously handled by different boxes into a one-box solution.
All of this sounds fine, since if thousands of companies in a country like Latvia were to cut their energy demand (and save on costs in the bargain), it would proportionately reduce the generation of ungreen energy (Latvia has lots of hydropower supplemented by some combined cycle coal and gas fueled power stations). However, the issue of the environmental impact of manufacturing processes and materials used in telco equipment remains. Why reduce energy consumption 50 % for the user if making the gadget leaves a Godzilla-sized carbon footprint. To this Johan said, off camera, that Alcatel Lucent manufactures in accordance with good industry practices. His main message was about the energy savings for business and organizational users.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Epson opens Baltic regional office, honcho speaks

Epson, the Japanese maker of imaging and printing equipment (as well as projectors) has opened a regional office in the Baltic States, citing rapid market growth and potential in the region. I talked to Eiji Ide, CEO of Epson Europe about the reasons for setting up a regional office and the printer market in general. Toward the end of the interview, Ide reveals a secret about his necktie :).
The video has titles both in Latvian and English, as it is edited for dual use here and on my Latvian language blog.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Is there a future for fixed telecoms in Latvia?

Janiene Bayliss, an independent consultant specializing in telecommunications branding, was one of the speakers at Lattelecom's annual customer conference. I asked her to comment on the assertion that fixed networks may be a sunset industry, since most of the population of any Western European country (and Latvia) seems to primarily use mobile phones for voice and, increasingly, for data communications.
Also at the conference, Lattelecom CEO Juris Gulbis said that the company planned to start replacing its DSL internet service (max. 10 Mbps) with high speed (up to 100 Mbps) fiber to the home connections over the next three years. One reason for the upgrade was to make it possible to provide HD television broadcasts as part of Lattelecom's internet television offering. Gulbis said that at present, Latvia had the fourth fastest consumer internet services in the world, behind Japan, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Alcatel-Lucent's Baltic focus is on fixed networks

Before going to the US on September 19, I had an opportunity to interview Lars Boilesen, the head of Alcatel-Lucent Nordic & Baltics. Boilesen believes that the company's focus in the region will continue to be fixed network operators, even as Alcatel-Lucent has strong positions in the mobile market elsewhere. In Latvia, the focus on fixed networks goes back to a long-term relationship with Lattelecom.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Off to the States, and screw KLM!!

I am off to the US for 10 days again, so will be blogging here even more sporadically, although I do have a video interview with an Alcatel-Lucent honcho that I will try to get up.
I am writing this when I should actually already be well on my way to the US, with the ever-so convenient (though a bit extreme) 0555 AM Riga to Amsterdam to Boston connection with f**king KLM. The reason I am not is that KLM simply cancelled the flight and rebooked me and my wife on what appeared to be separate flights to Copenhagen and Stockholm respectively (OK, we don't have the same last name and used different credit cards for her business purposes). Since we booked via Expedia (who brings no small amount of business to KLM) and we saw  no visible onward connections to the US  from Scandinavia on the new information (we found them, via Newark, by investigating ourselves) KLM said it was our and Expedia's problem, not theirs. The flight cancellation was at KLM's initiative, it caused us serious concern and problems, yet KLM stubbornly and repeated (except for one person on the US reservations line, which I called via Skype and who got us reservations on Lufthansa, but not tickets) refused to resolve our problem and said it was up to Expedia, who were also pretty hopeless and helpless at it. So finally a lady at Lufthansa in Riga solved it, and we are flying over with them. I will repeat what I wrote in my Latvian language blog -- KLM are swine. Swine! Passanger hostile swine!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Swedish online video editing company looks East

Jaycut, a Swedish online video editing company, thinks Eastern Europe is an interesting potential market for its services. So far, the Stockholm-based company, founded in 2007, has a major customer in IKEA, the Swedish/global do-it-yourself furniture and home furnishings company. It has set up a website for customers to show off their home decoration solutions using IKEA's stuff, upload any raw video and edit it down to a presentable video spot.
While in Stockholm recently, I talked to Jonas Hombert, co-founder of Jaycut:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Swedish Momail spreads mobile e-mail to Latvia

I was in Stockholm briefly and met with Lars Aase, marketing director for Momail, a Swedish mobile e-mail aggregation service. Recently, they have started a beta version in Latvia (in English, Latvian to come upon official launch). Momail is a free service, but the business model apparently is to sell the plaform to mobile operators who will then offer it as "their"service.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Latvia's IZZI promises 100 Mbps internet in 2009

IZZI, the Latvian cable television, internet and voice services provider, will be able to offer 100 Mbps internet speeds to its cable customers during 2009, according to Helmut Kohl, a representative of Contaq Latvian Cable, the company's new owner (a consortium of four investment funds).
Kohl said the planned upgrade of IZZI's cable network means it will decisively beat Lattelecom's DSL offering, which presently tops at 10 Mbps. Short of a major and expensive replacement of the entire copper-based infrastructure, coaxial cable linked to IZZI's fiber optic network in certain urban areas will be the fastest internet service in Latvia, he said. Such speeds can only be exceeded by upgrading to fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), which is being implemented on a very small scale in Latvia by Latvenergo and Lattelecom.
Kohl also said that IZZI was planning to participate in a forthcoming tender to provide digital terrestrial TV broadcast services to reach some 400 000 viewers in areas outside Latvia's larger cities where broadcast TV is the only service presently available.
Kohl said that if IZZI were awarded the deal, it had the money, know-how and other resources to start digital broadcasting within one year of the award. The digital TV tender is expected in November. The Contaq executive said that around 80 % of the necessary hardware and software resources needed for digital terrestrial broadcasting already existed to serve IZZI's digital cable TV network.
Kohl also said that IZZI hoped to expand its high-definition offerings on digital cable (currently limited to VOOM, an English language HD channel and an HD channel in Russian) next year and offer HD terrestrial broadcasts if given the chance. He cautioned, however, that there were no local HD offerings and those available in Europe in major languages were in English or German.
Commenting on possible competition between cable and IPTV, Kohl noted that some of the investors in the consortium behind the recent buy-out of IZZI (from Latvian stakeholders) were invested in IPTV.
Kohl sees IPTV as an outlet for specialized content and narrow audiences, citing a golf channel as an example, while more mainstream programming would be supplied on cable. The Contaq spokesman said he was not concerned that Lattelecom was offering timeshifted programming, since this was mainly locally produced, whereas timeshifting content such as feature films using the operator's platform was "a gray legal area" that could not be compared to recording shows on hard disk or tape while absent from home.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

More on the iPhone tizzy in Latvia

Finally Fred Hrenchuk, CEO of Bite Latvija, has written, apparently from vacation in Canada, that Bite is testing iPhones with selected customers and will start selling the gadgets once these tests are done.
So it now looks like sometime in the next few weeks, there will be two operators offering iPhone 3G packages on the Latvian market. LMT, which has remained largely silent and missed the August 22 launch date (only the Estonians have started selling iPhones).
If there are any Lithuanians reading this, what is the take on Bite selling iPhones in your country? Will Vodafone (through its "fatting calf") get the jump on TeliaSonera in the two other Baltic countries?
As for me, my employer has me chained to Tele2, which currently has no iPhone plans. Anything from big momma Tele2 in Sweden (not that I know of)? However, one of the senior people at LETA has been seen fingering* an earlier model iPhone and speaking very well of it. As for me, I might be interested in an unbundled iPhone if the price is not outrageous...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bite to sell iPhone in Latvia = TRUE!

Bite will sell the iPhone (presumably 3G) to business customers in Latvia, a Bite representative told a journalist at the Latvian news agency LETA (my workplace, different department). This confirms the rumor that I reported on August 29. No prices or tariff plans have been published, but one commentator to my Latvian-language blog claims a price of LVL 399 for a subsidized phone. Pretty pricey, but within the 400 -700 LVL range that the rumor included.
Meanwhile Bite Latvia CEO Fred Hrenchuk, who is slightly out of the loop visiting his native Canada, e-mailed me:

Hey Juris, sorry for the late reply but I am in Canada visiting my mom. We are not selling iPhones at this time.

Have a good week.

Sent via Bite’s Blackberry Service

Which is not really a denial given that Fred is a little out of the loop and that nobody is running out of Bite boutiques waving around their iPhones yet.
LMT continues to say it will say something about the iPhone "soon". Meanwhile, it seems that the Latvian daily Diena reported on May 28, quoting Fred, that Bite could sell the iPhone in Latvia through its connection with Vodafone.
This again confirms my suspicions that Bite is parked with its present owners to be fattened for acquisition by Vodafone when the time is right.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Weird rumor-- Bite to sell iPhone in Latvia?!

I just heard the weirdest rumor for someone who is not a crackpot and has some contacts in the business, namely:

Starting Monday, September 1, Bite Latvia (of the Lithuania-based Bite Group) will start selling the iPhone3G in Latvia at various tariff plans and prices ranging from 400 to up to 600 LVL (both very pricey).

Theories: Vodafone, which has close ties with Bite, has influenced TeliaSonera (in charge of the iPhone business in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries) to let another operator distribute the innovative gadget. This also explains why LMT, the biggest mobile operator effectively controlled by the Swedes failed to launch the iPhone 3G on August 22, as was expected.

This, of course, could all be just Friday afternoon craziness...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Getting f-worded by E-fwording-Bay (eBay)

My youngest son turns 13 in a couple of weeks and my wife and I were thinking of getting him a Playstation 3 (PAL version). These are expensive in Latvia and Sweden, so I decided to look around at some of the professional sellers on eBay. It seems that I set up an eBay account in 2003, but if I remember correctly, the mo-fos  didn't allow folks based in Latvia to trade nor did they recognize international credit cards held here. So I thought, OK, f--k 'em. Now I tried to start a new account and was informed that my login name already existed, which is when I remembered that I had set up an account. I didn't remember my password, so I went through the whole song and dance to get a new one,  plus updated my credit card,  etc. only to be told that my account was locked down, so I had to place a call to my own mobile, which, as it turns out, didn't work, so I tried to change my number, but was told I could not change that information as I was locked out. All of this led to a series of attempts to get unlocked through an increasingly confusing sequence of menus.  So what do I do now? Set up a new account from scratch? 
I think it would be easier to get security clearance for the f--king CIA than to simply start buying stuff on f--king useless paranoid mo-fo eBay!

Lattelecom (?!) to sell iPhone for LVL695???

A strange Latvian language ad has appeared through Google Adsense on this blog that seems to indicate that Lattelecom will be selling the iPhone 3G (presumably unlocked) for LVL 695.
The ad (in Latvian) says

Esi stilīgs iegādājies jauno ābolu! Cenas sākot no 695Ls

Or the essence, in translation:
Be stylish, get a new Apple. Prices starting at LVL 695.

So what does this mean? A leak through the Google Adsense software? A misunderstanding? The only thing whose price "starts at" around LVL 695 is the 20 inch iMac, prices for Macs in general start at LVL 369 for a Mac Mini.
The mystery may resolve itself over the next few weeks. Unlikely (or not) that Lattelecom is jumping the gun on its seemingly estranged sister (under the common half-mother) LMT, which as this blog concluded, is not launching a bundled/locked iPhone 3G on August 22.

Taiwan subnotebook maker launches in Baltics

Mystar Computer (MSI) in cooperation with the Latvian-based IT product wholesaler Elko Group is launching its line of subnotebook and gaming oriented standard-sized notebook computers in the Baltic States. My first reaction to their Wind subnotebook (or netbook?) was "honey, I shrank the MacBook". What these need to be bigger sellers are large hard disks (not just 80GB) and HSDPA mobile internet access, which is the default service for the Latvian mobile operators. However, MSI representatives said that models with hard disks of up to 160 GB would be available later in the year, as well as 3G or HSDPA built in.

Here's my video, with a Latvian voice intro (my first loyalty is to my full-time employer, LETA).

Monday, August 18, 2008

No "iPhone 3g Friday"in Latvia

Despite an earlier announcement by Apple officials that the second wave of iPhone 3G launches would start in around 20 countries on August 22, only Estonia's Estonian Mobile Telephone (EMT), a subsidiary of TeliaSonera, has announced that iPhone sales would start on that date.
It looks like Latvia's LMT and Lithuania's Omnitel will launch the newest iPhone at a later date. Apple (together with TeliaSonera) is calling the shots on this and may see tiny, mobile & IT savvy Estonia as the best place to get its feet wet in the Baltics.
The blogs and portals have been full of news about iPhone glitches, and this may be another reason for caution.
In Latvia, LMT might be considering launching an iPhone business package for small businesses using its own Tiešpasts (direct mail) push email platform and wants everything to work right. Perhaps it will equip some key LMT staffers with iPhones as a proof of concept -- if it works for 10 -20 of their guys and gals, it will work for my little company. But that is mere guesswork. The only date one hears for the iPhone 3G in Latvia is the rather subjective "soon", which means different timescales for different folks and situations.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The significance of nothing?

Just met a former Lattelecom person on the street who wondered why I have written nothing on the blog for some time. First, I was in the US for more than two weeks. Second, nothing is happening.
On the other hand, that may be significant in and of itself. The most important area of nothing is with regard to a final ownership arrangement for Lattelecom and LMT, the mobile operator. Other than the government asking the Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA) to get an advisor/consultant (the guy who takes your watch and tells you what time it is) on this matter, nothing is, indeed, happening in the scheme to nationalize Lattelecom (then, maybe, resell 49 % to The Blackstone Group) and let Sweden's TeliaSonera take all 100 % of LMT.
My feeling is that getting an advisor is, in effect, another delaying tactic (though maybe not a conscious choice by the government). The advisor must, after all, study your watch, find the hands or digits and figure out how to hold it so as to tell you the correct time. I don't think this deal will get done by the end of the year. The Swedish side of it is in the summer doldrums, too. Only when schools start in mid-to-late August do things get rolling in the land of endless vacations and crayfish parties.
Once we are in 2009, we are in election territory. There will be bellweather municipal elections next year, followed by national elections in 2010. Surprisingly, there are signs of paranoia among the 100-strong monkey troop that forms the national parliament or Saeima after the failed referendum where around 97 % of those who did vote were in favor of an amendment making it easier for the electorate to dismiss the Saeima. They and the already unpopular government may not be ready to make any controversial decisions, especially about selling "national treasures" etc.
So I don't see the final ownership arrangements for the big players in Latvian telecoms being approved this year and probably not even in 2009 or 2010. Unlikely, at the least. But one must be ready for many surprises in Latvia and, rarely, one of them may even be pleasant.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Taking kind of a break

I am in the US for a couple of weeks, the main reason being that my father (91) is wheelchair bound from a back condition (degenerative disc disease or the like) and my second-oldest son (21) and I want to spend some time visiting my parents. Little or nothing is happening in Latvian telecoms, anyway.
Interesting to see how my son naturally uses Skype (my brother's house, where we are staying, has high speed Comcast) to videochat with his girlfriend in Sweden and with his half-brother (12) in Carnikava, Latvia (where we have a 10 Mbps Lattelecom connection). Plus he managed to transfer his entire music collection from his Macintosh (always on) at his apartment in Stockholm to his new, US-bought iPod Touch,
Will be back in Latvia on August 12, still the middle of the summer doldrums. 

Friday, July 18, 2008

Triatel: Why give it to the fish?

Triatel, the CDMA mobile and EVDO wireless internet operator, has launched a clever summer product -- maritime mobile internet. The company's engineers determined that signals from Triatel's EVDO base stations were reaching as far as 40 kilometers over the sea. The entire Gulf of Riga has coverage, it is claimed. So they are now launching internet for boaters.
The business logic is simple. Most inland base stations cover a 360 degree zone where there are potential customers everywhere. But base stations near Latvia's seashore beam a good part of their coverage out over the water, where there is no one but the fish and the occasional recreational boater. Owning a powerboat or yacht in Latvia sort of puts you in an upper income bracket, so paying around LVL 23 a month to have internet on board is not a huge expense and kinda cool.
I am waiting for the headline: Luxury cruiser hits sand bar, helmsman was surfing*

*the Latvian social network with 2 million users, sort of like Facebook or Friendster.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Gefundenes Fressen" for the bee (Bite Latvia)

Bite Latvia, the third Latvian mobile operator, has offered to take on all the customers of TG Mobile, a virtual operator running on the Bite network. The announcement comes after Telekomunikāciju grupa (TG), a Latvian alternative telco service provider, said it was leaving the mobile business for undisclosed reasons.
TG Mobile's revenues rose 37 % to LVL 7.32 million in 2007. The withdrawal of TG from its MVNO business appears, on the surface, to be "Gefundenes Fressen" for Bite as the Germans would say (meaning a meal found lying around). However, time will tell. TG Mobile emphasized cheap voice services, while Bite has been moving to expand and deepen its mobile internet coverage and quality of service. In fact, the virtual operator (at least so a quick look at its home page shows) offered no data services. So the problem is -- will the folks who choose to stay with Bite (where they always have been -- TG Mobile started in January 2007) upgrade to Bite's mobile internet (which I have tested, and which, with a few strange glitches, works rather well). In any case, it is a big "Fressen" for Bite, which had revenues of LVL 11.8 million in 2007. If most or all of TG Mobile's customers stay with Bite, it will be a substantial boost to revenues on top of a doubling in 2007 and a 39 % rise in the first quarter of 2008.

Testing RSS

I have made an RSS feed link to . This is a test post to see if it works.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lattelecom Technology to upgrade SAP applications

Lattelecom Technology, the IT integrator and IT service company owned by Lattelecom, is about to start a major project helping upgrade SAP's current suite of application to the next generation of the SAP platform.
The work will be the first project undertaken by Lattelecom Technology's so-called software factory using (when fully operational) up to 200 programmers and IT specialists in Latvia to write software according to a rigorously defined process and schedule.
The software factory idea is something that Valdis Lokenbahs, the current CEO of Lattelecom Technology (and formerly an executive with Dati Exigen) has been talking about for several years. Now he has organized teams at academic institutions in Jelgava and Rezekne and inside the company to work on the SAP applications upgrade.
Contracts to start doing the work are said to be ready for signing this month.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

FTTx possible in Latvia?

Jay Hoge, an American businessmen and optical networks engineer living in Latvia, voices some views on the potential for developing fiber to the home/office/building (hence FTTx in the title). Jay's customers are almost entirely outside of Latvia, but he lives here for personal reasons and has some overview of the local market. I talked to Jay at an outdoor location (just after an outdoor cafe lunch where he could enjoy his cigar :) ), so there are some moderate problems with the sound. Sorry about that. This will also go on my Latvian language blog, hence the dual-language opening titles.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The half-mother stays single for now

France Telecom has withdrawn its bid for TeliaSonera, a mixed offering of shares and cash valued at EUR 33 billion. That leaves the half-mother of Lattelecom and holder of just over 60 % in mobile operator LMT "still single". The Swedish side initially rejected the offer and subsequent negotiations between the companies were apparently fruitless.
TeliaSonera was probably right to shrug off the bid, where the share portion could prove to be rather volatile in value, especially if it were to have taken the merged company a couple of years to get its act together.
As for Latvia, this should (theoretically only) remove a reason for the endless footdragging by the Latvian government that would finalize a deal allowing it to divest its last remaining holdings in LMT, and to at least temporarily nationalize Lattelecom in the hope of reselling at least the 49 % held by the half-mother to someone else.
In other words, no one can say : "What if we are soon owned by the French, then what?"and wait to see what it is that "the French"may want. Maybe they aren't (and, indeed, turned out not to be) interested in the Nordic-Baltic region?
My view: just because an excuse for delaying is gone, doesn't mean that there won't be any delays. The economy is in rapid decline, inflation will top 20 % with 25 % not an impossibility, so the value of almost any Latvian asset is being undermined. Who will make 100 LVL of Lattelecom worth 125 LVL next year just to stay a small distance ahead of inflation? It may even be prudent for the government to wait, although this will be mitigated (or rather, vitiated, worsened) by other factors such as stagnation on the Latvian telco market, the inability (without the participation of the by now totally frustrated and apathetic half-mother) to move boldly ahead. etc.
Whatever happens, we will be lucky to see a resolution of the privatisation or other disposition of Lattelecom and LMT sometime in 2009. But don't hold your breath.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

air Baltic: bad e-commerce Latvian style

This is how I understand e-commerce: I am my own salesperson, cashier and give away some important personal details to boot, and I generally get stuff or services I need cheaper. The e-retailer gets free sales labor (me), a free cashier (me, doing the payments online) and a free market survey interviewer (me, my address, what I bought all in the data base).
air Baltic, Latvia's national carrier, is breaking with this model and charging an outrageous LVL 6 (around USD 13.30) per person in any single transaction for buying e-tickets on the internet. That is, if there are three people flying to Paris on a single ticket purchase (say, mom, dad and the kid, and mom pays with her credit card) that single transaction is charged an additional LVL 18. The credit card payment is entirely electronic, at infinitesimal cost, so there is absolutely no cost justification for this fee. air Baltic charges a practically infinite markup on any single online transaction for which it incurs no cost whatsoever and has already been saved the expense of a ticket agent, printing tickets, etc.
This has been going on for some while, but in the summer doldrums (and after looking at some options for flying to the US via Stockholm), I think it is necessary to mention how this airline simply fucks with its customers on the internet. No other words for it. At least they could have called it a fuel surcharge.
Look for pay toilets on air Baltic next, seriously....
I am not singling out air Baltic. Ryanair is the master of endless pesterware that keeps asking whether I want to buy travel insurance, as if saying a) their aircraft are unsafe (not true) or b) the intra-European treaties on health services don't work or c) their destinations are either crime ridden, pestilent, or both, so get insured!
In the US, an American Airlines flight attendant threw a nervous and autistic toddler off a plane. No need to protect airlines from terrorists when they already have them on staff...
Which brings me back to air Baltic which also hassled my wife and child when she showed her Swedish passport (not her Latvian one that has the kid in it) and the kid his Latvian one. They demanded all kinds of documentation that the fuckwit Latvian authorities require (Schengen, what Schengen??), so fortunately my son had his American passport and then they let him fly. Don't tread on me. Hoo-yah!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The half-mother TeliaSonera selling itself too cheaply?

TeliaSonera, the half-mother of Latvia's Lattelecom and indirect 60 % holder of mobile operator Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) has been berated by Sweden's National Audit Office for being unprepared to sell itself for the best price. See this report in the English-language portal TheLocal. This is especially embarrassing as TeliaSonera is still being courted by France Telecom after rejecting an initial take-over offer. Next in the wings could be Norway's Telenor, also said to be interested in a pan-Nordic merger.
In Latvia, meanwhile, Jack Shit is happening (other than some marketing activity by all the mobile operators pushing mobile internet, the Amigo pre-paid service, a subsidiary of LMT, offering post-paid services). Nothing new on the Lattelecom privatization/nationalization, and nothing should be expected over the summer as new valuations are done.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Lecturers on telecoms competition in Riga

Martin Cave of the University of Warwick in Britain and Mats Bergman of Uppsala University in Sweden lectured on different aspects of telecoms regulation and competition at a seminar in Riga on June 4 at the Riga School of Economics, partly sponsored by the TeliaSonera Institute.. I got short video interviews with both presenters. Note: the start titles are partly in Latvian for use on another blog.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Seminar in Riga on telco competition

Anders Alexanderson, vice-president for public affairs at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, has asked that this invitation be posted as a reminder of an upcoming seminar on telecommunications competition. Anders has done quite a few favors in setting up some contacts in the telco field for me, so I will return one and put this on the blog:

The Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (SSE Riga), the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies (BICEPS), and the TeliaSonera Institute at SSE Riga invite you to a conference on June 4, 2008 on the Concepts of Competition in Telecoms Markets: Can Competition be Successfully ‘Engineered’? As speakers we have attracted two of Europe’s leading experts in the field of telecoms and competition, Martin Cave, University of Warwick and Mats Bergman, Uppsala University. For more information, please see the attached programme.
The TeliaSonera Institute at SSE Riga aims to promote applied economic research in areas such as entrepreneurship, regulation, and other aspects of market economics. This conference follows the two workshops that the TeliaSonera Institute organized on the new regulatory framework in 2005 and 2007, respectively.
Registration for the seminar should be sent to SSE Riga by June 2,, phone +371 701 5800. The Conference will take place at SSE Riga, Strelnieku iela 4a, Riga.

The seminar starts at 12:00 and I will be covering it, as well as moderating a discussion in the course of the afternoon. I know lots of English-reading people in Latvia look at this blog, so please come if you can. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An offtopic on free speech and hate speech in Latvia

I won't mix my personal libertarian views with the discussion of telecoms issues here, but I do think people should know what is going on, socially and politically, in Latvia, which is not only a telecoms market. So here, with the next Riga Pride (for me, a strictly free speech issue) coming on Saturday, May 31, are some thoughts and reflections on another, little-used blog of mine.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sweden plans 1 Gbps internet in apartments

I have been in Stockholm for a couple of days and I got to see Anders Johansson, the IT and internet honcho at the Swedish Municipal Housing Companies Association (SABO -- I think this is the third or fourth English version of what they call themselves). Anyway, the municipal housing authorities will be installing infrastructure (fiber to the home) in some 800 000 apartments across Sweden over the next few years that will provide up to 1 gigabit per second internet speeds. Here is my talk with Anders:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Twitter-like application for images

I am visting Sweden for a few days and saw Peter Sandberg, a fellow blogger (in Swedish, however) and an entrepreneur who started Moyume, a company making an application for instant image sharing (photos and videos). Here is my talk with him:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The half-mothers agree to move ahead

The Latvian government and TeliaSonera have agreed, as co-owners of Lattelecom, to study ways in which the fixed-line operator could implement functional separation. Agreement to functional separation of Lattelecom into wholesale and retail operations is a precondition for doing the swap of the Swedes 49 % share for the remaining state stake in LMT, the mobile operator and the real prize for TeliaSonera in this long dragged out process. Kenneth Karlberg talks about what was achieved:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tele2 starts a music download store in Latvia

Mobile operator Tele2 on May 20 launched a music download store for its customers in Latvia, offering around 4 million songs. Later, the content will be available on the web.
This blogger had a chance to talk to Bonnie De Souza, Tele2's (Sweden) recently appointed product manager for music. Here is the video:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Catching up ahead of May 21

On May 21, Sisyphus (Kenneth Karlberg) and others from the half-mother TeliaSonera will be coming for negotiations (rolling the rock again) with the Latvian government on the proposed privatization deal concerning Lattelecom. Under the proposed deal, TeliaSonera will swap its shares for Lattelecom for the state's remaining holdings in Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) and probably pay a cash premium on top of the 49 % stake in the fixed operator.
Sisyphus (why do I call Kenneth that? Remember the Greek/?/ dude who was condemned to roll a stone up a hill only to have it roll back again and then roll a stone up a hill only...) should not get his hopes up. 
Still, I think that the half-mother should quietly forget about the idea of having the government sign off on a functional division into wholesale and retail operations of Lattelecom. TeliaSonera wants this to ensure that LMT will have open and fair/fairly priced access to Lattelecom's network. The Latvian government says it won't do this, but by 2010, it will have to do this because of upcoming European Union rules. As I see it, by the time the deal goes down (and we will be f**king lucky if it goes down by 2010), the functional division of Lattelecom will be an unavoidable reality.
So my recommendation: put your Lattelecom stake on the table with a nice pile of cash (let us say, an eye-opening amount). If you are lucky, the dude with the beard will say " Point one -- yes, point two -- we can sign on..." (this is a satire for my Latvian readers). If things go as usual, nothing will happen, so what else is new... As we all know, Sisyphus is head of TeliaSonera Mobility, a field where anything can happen, the future is unpredictable, technological change is mind-boggling, and nothing, nothing will be certain for Kenneth except that with Latvia, he will still be rolling that stone even if he retires, still shuttling to Riga,  as head of France Telecom Nordique Telepathy.
I have been remiss in updating the blog for a while.  Juris Gulbis, the new CEO of Lattelecom, has given a couple of interviews where he has said he will continue with the same strategy of developing broadband and related services that Lattelecom was following before Nils Melngailis was unseated. He also said that it was very important to settle the ownership question soon, so that management could get on with running the company, moving into mobile service and becoming a regional player. These points make sense, almost. If the against all previous experience, something actually moves ahead,  Gulbis could face answering to Ainars (Slesers, the Minister of Transport) and the Wackbats (the rest of the government) instead of the Swedes and the Wackbats. 

Who is smoking what?
While this may sound way off-topic, it has recently been discovered that a plant called Salvia can legally be smoked in Latvia with apparently entertaining results. It seems that someone at Deloitte in Latvia was smoking something when they signed off on a report saying that Latvia was one of the best places in the world for private equity investment.  

Hello! Hello! Are we on the same page? Or planet?
One of the world's largest private equity investors, The Blackstone Group, took part in a management buy-out bid  for Lattelecom which was given the BIG FINGER (with no rational argument) by the present government. I got the impression that the Latvian government was saying between the lines  that big, respectable private equity capital was about as welcome as a pig at a synagogue. 

I may be able to get a meeting with Sisyphus on the 21st and put up some video of it. 

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Finance director named top honcho at Lattelecom

Juris Gulbis, currently chief financial officer and acting CEO of Lattelecom, has been appointed permanent CEO by the company's owners, the Latvian government and Sweden's TeliaSonera. Gulbis had been acting CEO since the April 1 resignation of Nils Melngailis.
Gulbis, born in 1969, received an engineering degree in Latvia and qualified as an accountant in Britain. He worked in banking, finance and accounting positions and was employed by Coopers & Lybrand, the predecessor of Coopers PriceWaterhouse in Latvia at a time when Melngailis was running the audit firm's Riga office.
The new Lattelecom CEO worked for Ave Lat Group, a food and beverages conglomerate owned at the time by the controversial Latvian politician Andris Skele. Later, Gulbis worked for and became director-general of the alcoholic beverages maker Latvijas balzams. For a time, he worked for the alcoholic beverages distributer SPI in Cyprus, a company linked to a controversial Russian oligarch. Gulbis has worked at Lattelecom since early 2007.
Latvian media have been speculating that Gulbis retains loyalties to Skele and may be part of an elaborate and byzantine scheme to sell Lattelecom to Russian interests, perhaps using a tangle of offshore companies that would make the "investor" appear to be a little known West European private equity company. The large US private equity group, The Blackstone Group, now represented by Melngailis in the Baltic region, is still interested in taking a stake in Lattelecom.
Others point out that Gulbis is a professional with loyalties to the owners that employ him and was chosed CFO of Lattelecom partly because Melngailis knew and trusted him because of their time together at the audit company.
Valdis Vancovics, the director of network services at Lattelecom, was appointed deputy CEO. He had been a candidate for the top post.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Latvia's LMT digging the grave for tariffed mobile voice?

Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) has announced a flat rate, unlimited useage mobile internet plan for LVL 19 a month. The iBirojs Open (iOffice Open) plan was made public May 7, a day before Triatel, a wireless internet and CDMA mobile services provider was to hold a press conference on having finished what it says was 95 % coverage of Latvia.
That, however, is not the point with the LMT plan (well, maybe one of them) nor the fact that LVL 19 undercuts the LVL 23 (?) price for Triatel (the speeds of both networks match at "up to 3.6 Mbps, with LMT saying it will jump to 14.4 Mbps "soon".). Even though iBirojs is a package for use with laptops and only for mobile data transmission, it effectively opens the way for "free"voice using Skype or other IP telephony services anywhere on the LMT network. While the iBirojs SIM card apparently comes installed in a HuaWei dongle modem, it can, theoretically, be removed and put in an HSDPA capable business class phone. Then you are ready and probably able to make free Skype calls to any other mobile phone on the internet (whether via HSDPA or WiFi). Once the phone is on a 14.4 Mbps link (or even one that is far slower), the way is open even for video calls from a mobile over the internet. It is a matter of time before white-hat Latvian hackers turn the iBirojs into a flat-raid based platform for mobile voice and video.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Lattelecom - staying the course on autopilot

Ran into some unnameable sources today and they said that Lattelecom, despite the long delay in selecting a new CEO and the endless talks on privatization, is more or less staying the course. A few people with close loyalty to departed CEO Nils Melngailis have left, but there has been no general bleed-off of staff or middle management. "The board is still there, watching how the company is run" said one of my informants. They also said that there were no noticable issues about strategy and "the goal of any owner will be to have the company make money."
Finance director Juris Gulbis is acting CEO until a replacement for Melngailis is selected.

Latvian telco privatization --writing off yet another year?

Latvia and Sweden are similar in that both countries stop for a while after the Midsummer holiday. This is more pronounced in Sweden, but Latvia's parliament also goes on vacation after June 22, if not earlier.
With the next round of talks on the proposed Lattelecom for LMT swap set for May 21, it is unlikely that anything will be resolved before Midsummer. That essentially kicks the next "round" of the never-ending story into September, which, even if the both parties to the talks decide to go ahead, do valuations, etc., means that nothing will happen before the end of the year. So look to 2009, maybe, as the next possible time when this matter may finally be resolved. But don't count on it. 
Meanwhile, Lattelecom remains leaderless, a few more important mid-managers may leave and the value of the company will continue to drift downwards.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Springtime for Nyberg

The suitors are lining up for TeliaSonera under CEO Lars Nyberg (whence the title). Norway's Telenor, an old flame of Telia (1999) who was left at the altar (or stormed away, forgot which) is back, according to press reports. France Telecom is mulling how to bid for the Swedish telco with enough cash in the offer to attract finicky TeliaSonera shareholders. A merger with Telenor would create a real Nordic giant, though still mid-sized by global standards.
This may leave the half-mother of Lattelecom with less time and energy to deal with the wackbat* Latvian government, so she may just take any deal on offer. In other words, do the share swap using the Latvian State Radio and Television Center, get its 100 % of mobile operator LMT (the most profitable of all of TeliaSonera's subsidiaries, I believe) and forget about any covenants in the deal to functionally seperate Lattelecom into wholesale and retail units. By the time the Latvians get around to doing it -- late 2009 is for the real Pollyanna optimists, to my mind-- the European Union will decree functional separation in any case. So it doesn't matter. What matters is to get the f**k out of bed with the government, get LMT and start turning it into a full service telco (including wireline, DSL, LTE wireless internet, etc. in the next couple of years).
*an amalgam of wacko and batshit. I like it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Much time, no honcho

The owners of Lattelecom (the Latvian government 51%, TeliaSonera 49%) failed yet again on April 25 (?) to agree on a candidate for managing director of the company to replace Nils Melngailis, who resigned and left his post on April 1.
The stakeholders want more information on the candidates -- the current finance director and acting managing director Juris Gulbis,  network services director Valdis Vancovics and Gatis Kokins, a former executive of Parex Bank, currently in his own business. 
Whoever gets the job will still face the uncertainty of who will finally control Lattelecom  and what strategy the fixed-line operator will follow. This may be a reason why international executives have not been swarming to apply for this position. If Lattelecom is sold to a third party, say, Blackstone, the new owners may want to see their own man or woman in the CEO position. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Riga trains lawyers for when the m--f-- falls from the sky

This is a bit of a weird post until you think about it. It seems that the Riga Graduate School of Law (RGSL) held a European finalist moot court competition on, of all things, space law (a complicated case involving the collision of two satellites, one a vital communications link for some dirt-poor African country). Chris de Cooker of the European Space Agency (ESA) was one of the moot court judges and he and the rector of the RGSL, Dr. Lesley Jane Smith talked to me about what all this means, as well as what joining the ESA could eventually mean for Latvia.
Satellites are still an important part of global telecoms (nobody is going to run optical cable through 700 km of snake-infested desert to Upper Squalidania compared to the cost of a satellite up/down link that can be airlifted in).
It also reminds me of a premonition I had at a Motorola Iridium (remember that?) facility in Arizona in 1999. A small group of journalists was standing under a full-sized (the size of a compact car) model of one of the satellites hanging from the ceiling and I said in a too-loud whisper -- "I wouldn't want this m***f*** coming down in my back yard." Well, the RGSL is training the lawyers you will need when the m-f does come down in your back yard.

Here's the video:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Une demi-mere francaise?

Word is now out that the half-mother of Lattelecom (and indirect 60 % stakeholder in mobile operator LMT), TeliaSonera, is being courted by France Telecom.
This confirms soemthing I have written earlier -- the half-mother is just a mid-sized fish. If you want to see the really big killer whales in this business, wait until the European and international telco giants get frisky. Well, now they are.
The deal is far from certain, as the Swedish and international press have been writing. The French will have to considerably sweeten any share-swap with cash, and that won't please the creditors of France Telecom, who are still owed billion for (if I am not mistaken) a deal done a couple of years back to buy/expand the mobile operator Orange.
The French are interested, most likely, in the Nordic market and the half-mother's partial motherhood in mobile operations in Turkey, Russia and some of the 'stans. Latvia is below the event horizon on this one. Lattelecom's annual revenues are about what France Telecom takes in over a 36 hour period.
So what might interest the French? LMT is one of the most profitable units in the TeliaSonera family, so it could make a good addition to Orange, even be Orange Latvia if we fantasize further into the future. Or Orange Baltics, since it appears to be in the cards that Vodafone will buy the calf -- the Bite Group -- being fattened by MidEuropa Partners. So a pan-Baltic response would make sense from France Telecom's side.
Would the French step up, roll up their sleeves and plunge their hands into the Latvian telecoms tarbaby? Probably -- first, to get LMT, but also for the fixed network operated by Lattelecom in order to expand its internet TV footprint, where France Telecom is said to be number one in Europe. So there may be a pan-Baltic IPTV project, as well.
This is far fetched to be sure, but the big telco raptors are stirring and something is bound to happen. Who knows, maybe Sysiphus (TeliaSonera honcho Kenneth Karlberg) will get to take a rest while some Kerman Karlbourg struggles for another five years with the indecisive and wavering Latvian government,

Monday, April 14, 2008

More headaches for the half-mother

The Latvian government appears to have decided to privatize Lattelecom by swapping its shares in mobile operator LMT for the 49 % of Lattelecom held by TeliaSonera (the half-mother). The Swedish stake will then be sold to a new investor, most likely The Blackstone Group, a US private equity company.
The decision was announced over the objections of a coalition partner, the Fatherland & Freedom party, whose Minister of Economics Kaspars Gerhards would prefer to have 100 % of Lattelecom put up for auction by both current stakeholders.
The government has also indicated that it does not want to divide Lattelecom into wholesale and retail units, a condition TeliaSonera insists upon. The European Union is expected to mandate such a functional seperation for telco operators soon, and TeliaSonera, British Telecom and Telecom Italia have already done so voluntarily.
My guess -- the shakily backed government plan will fall apart either because of political dissension or the non-acceptance of terms by TeliaSonera. According to some sources, Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis is ready to let everything go back to "square one"where things stay as they have been, that is, TeliaSonera remains a minority stakeholder in Lattelecom and an indirect holder of more than 60 % in LMT. In other words, the Swedes will remain reluctant and restricted owners of companies they want to either buy 100 % or divest 100 %, but these options will be blocked by the government.
Another stumbling block for the deal is that Blackstone will surely demand an airtight management agreement in order to take less than a controlling stake in Lattelecom. That means that all strategic and management decisions will be made by managers appointed by Blackstone, with the government kept at arm's length. The government is unlikely to accept this, so the deal may collapse on that note.
And on we go...

Friday, April 11, 2008

IBM Impact 2008, some random highlights

I tossed together some video from IBM's conference on Smart SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) Impact 2008. The start and end titles have some phrases in Latvian, as this is a dual use video.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

IBM brainiac talks about widgets, mashups, SMEs

I got a chance to talk to Jason McGee, one of the chief developers of the IBM Mashup Center and the scripting language Websphere sMash about how small and medium businesses could use mashups for various purposes. This was recorded at the IBM Impact 2008 conference in Las Vegas. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

IBM honcho on SOA for small and medium business

I got a hold of Steve Mills, the Senior VP at the IBM Software Group (not an Executive VP, as I have mislabeled him on the video) for a talk about service-oriented architecture for IT systems as it applies to small and medium-sized businesses. I will be cross-posting this on my Latvian-language blog. This was recorded at the IBM Impact 2008 conference in Las Vegas, where I have been for several days. I will be back in Latvia on April 12 to write, probably, about the latest lunacies surrounding Lattelecom.

Monday, April 07, 2008

On the ground in Vegas for Impact 2008


I am on the ground in Las Vegas at IBM's Impact 2008 conference (about SOA and other rocket-sciency stuff). I was in the Boston area seeing family and getting away from the ongoing zoo in Latvia (about Lattelecom, but other stuff as well). Even Vegas seems normal by comparison. One strange thing I saw at McCarren Airport in Las Vegas was this iPod dispenser. Crazy. If it were iPhones, it wouldn't be there anymore.
I finally uploaded  a picture I took of the iPod dispenser (you have to use a credit card to buy one), yesterday, the picture upload function popped up once and didn't  working :(.  Also on the not-working list -- the WiFi network (for my MacBook) in the IBM press room here at the MGM hotel. Found an Ethernet connection.  But already a number of things seriously suck. 

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The muddlers decide - we pick a new half mother

The Latvian government more or less decided on a scheme for finding a new half-mother for Lattelecom. It is an amalgam of ex-Lattelecom CEO Nils Melngailis and The Blackstone Group's  plan B -- to buy 49 % of Lattelecom and Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers plan to swap 23 % of mobile operator LMT for TeliaSonera's stake in Lattelecom.
How it will work is that the 49 % held by the Swedes will be parked with the Latvian State Radio and Television Center (LSRTC) until it is bought by, most likely, Blackstone. Blackstone will most likely demand an ironclad management contract so that the government doesn't use its remaining 51 % majority to mess with strategy and operations.
TeliaSonera will then do a deal to get the rest of the shares in LMT held by Lattelecom and the state (they will already have the 23 % from the LSRTC and already directly hold 49 %). At the end of the whole Chinese fire-drill, the Swedes will have 100 % of LMT, the Latvian state and Blackstone --100 % of Lattelecom, plus covenants binding them to split Lattelecom into wholesale and retail units, as some other European operators, including Telia, the Swedish unit of TeliaSonera, have already done. 
I am a bit late writing this because I didn't want it to look like an April Fool's joke. Also, I am leaving for the US this morning and won't be writing until I get over there (Boston, then an IBM event in Las Vegas).
The whole thing could still crack up if 1) the Fatherland and Freedom party decides to swamp the coalition boat -- it wanted some kind of auction of 100 % of Lattelecom (they would have a potential ally in Slesers, who wanted  100 % for the state) 2) if the management agreement is unacceptable to the government, or the government's desire to modify such an agreement pushes Blackstone to walk away. 
Then there is the Baltkom/Peteris Smidre proposal.
So there is still a way to go and nothing is certain.
Yet another interesting question -- will Melngailis, who was closely linked to Blackstone's plan B, somehow return to running Lattelecom?  He is rumored to have been offered a position with Blackstone representing the private equity firm's interests in the Baltic, although there is at least one Baltic country that, until April 1, was giving Blackstone the finger. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Swedish expert on the future of wireless broadband

Jens Zander, a professor of radio communications at the Royal Institute of Technology and head of the research institute wireless@kth, recently talked to me about the future of wireless broadband technologies.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Baltkom honcho proposes merger with Lattelecom

Peteris Smidre, the founder and top honcho at Baltkom, Latvia's largest cable TV company which also provides internet, fixed and mobile telephony, has said he and an international investor could participate in an auction of TeliaSonera's 49 % of Lattelecom, after which Baltkom and Lattelecom could merge to form a single group.
Smidre said such a merger would dilute the Latvian government's holding in the merged company to less than 51 %. It would also open up synergies in content distribution -- Baltkom has some 180 000 cable subscribers -- and give Lattelecom access to Baltkom's virtual mobile operator, which runs on the Bite network. With all frequencies allocated, Lattelecom has no chance to start its own GSM/UMTS operator should it leave the TeliaSonera sphere one way or another.
Smidre would not comment to this blogger on which investors he had contacted, but they are rumored to be Citigroup and The Blackstone Group.
The Latvian cable and telecoms entrepreneur (he started Baltcom GSM, then sold it to Tele2) didn't deny that one reason for his proposal was to offer an alternative to the nationalization of Lattelecom proposed by Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers.
Slesers wants TeliaSonera to swap its 49 % of Lattelecom for 23 % of mobile operator LMT held by the Latvian State Radio and Television Center (LSRTC). TeliaSonera would then buy any outstanding LMT shares held by the Latvian state for cash. Lattelecom would then be 100 % owned by the state and the state-owned LSRTC.
This is a plan that passes the Alfred E Newman test*, sorta. The possible insanity is in believing that the Latvian government will decide anything at its very appropriately scheduled April Fool's Day meeting.
* not insane

Friday, March 28, 2008

More indecision, as usual...

The Latvian government, having called an extraordinary meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers (that is, of itself) in order to make a decision about how and/or whether to privatize Lattelecom, has come to no decision and will try to decide again at its regular meeting on April 1.  April Fool' s Day, how appropriate.
My thoughts (writing from Stockholm where I did an interview) is that Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, scheduled to visit Sweden on Monday, March 31, avoided a possible split in the coalition between his (and the Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers) party and the Minister of Economics Kaspars Gerhards of the nationalist Fatherland & Freedom, who have vehemently opposed Slesers' plans to  nationalize Lattelecom (see earlier posts).
Having a Latvian government come apart on April Fool's Day would be more than appropriate. We shall see...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The half-mother says yes, the government --???

TeliaSonera, the long-suffering half-mother of Lattelecom (49%) has officially agreed to a proposal by Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers to a deal that would essentially nationalize Lattelecom but leave TeliaSonera with 100 % ownership of mobile operator Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT).
This is an exhumed version of what Minister of Economics at the time, Aigars Stokenbergs proposed in 2006, when he said that TeliaSonera would not be allowed to buy both Latvian telecoms operators. TeliaSonera and the government did valuations of both companies for a share swap and cash payment deal very similar to what Slesers wants to see done. The earlier deal was muddled about and never done.
For TeliaSonera, this would mean that after several years of muddling around the issue, it would at last be settled, even if as Plan B (the Swedes get only LMT). For Sisyphus (Kenneth Karlberg, head of Mobility at Telia Sonera), it means that he gets the stone to the top of at least hill B.
If that happens, LMT will be developed as a company capable of anything that Lattelecom currently offers, at least in terms of telecoms and internet. Lattelecom will be split, as was the Telia branded operation in Sweden, into wholesale and retail units. LMT will probably start a limited fixed line business, while Lattelecom will have very few options for offering mobile services.
TeliaSonera must know that the chances of Lattelecom being ridden into the ground have increased signficantly with the resignation of Nils Melngailis and if the company is nationalized and held 49% by the Latvian State Radio and Television Center (LVRTC), which has little global telecoms experience.
But wait, the Latvian government, like a finicky old maid (this is how Dienas bizness described it), is split on the issue of how or whether Lattelecom should be privatized at all. The Ministry of Economics claims there are legal obstacles to Slesers' proposed deal. The Ministry of Transport gleefully announced that the Swedes had agreed and there were no problems.
On March 28, there will be an extraordinary cabinet meeting to decide this. One side or the other will or could win, but the issue could also strain the government coalition. It would not surprise me that if someone, say, the Fatherland and Freedom party economics minister, mustered enough votes to tilt against Slesers, Slesers would pull his religious-right wing Latvian First Party out of the coalition (including the PM, Ivars Godmanis). If that doesn't happen. there is still the question of, having rejected Slesers plan and given the finger, yet again for the Nth time to Sisyphus, WTF do we do now?
I don't think the wackbat* government has a clue...
* this was defined in an earlier post, I have offered it the the urban slang dictionary online :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Extra government meeting may decide on Lattelecom

The on-again, out-again, in-again Finnegan* of the never-ending Lattelecom privatization/nationalization/let's donate it to the Martians -- the Latvian government, is holding an extraordinary meeting on Friday, March 28 to discuss this issue. To decide? DFHYB**.
Anyway, the PM, Ivars Godmanis, is heading to Stockholm March 31, probably to tell TeliaSonera about whatever new wackbat*** alternative the government has cooked up this week. But hey, by March 31, it will be a) a new week b) the eve of April Fool's day.
The un(?)fortunate thing is, I will be in Stockholm March 28, but heading back to Riga on March 29. I could try buying a one-way Ryanair and staying the weekend for Godmanis' press conference scheduled for the Latvian Embassy on March 31, but then I would have to fly back on April 1, only to fly on to the US at an ungodly hour on April 2 (going to an IBM event in Las Vegas via Boston). So that will not work :(.

*from some doggerel about James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.
** Don't Fuckin' Hold Your Breath
*** combining wacko and batshit, two words for something deranged :)