Thursday, March 26, 2009

Former PM Kalvitis seen as Lattelecom board chairman

Latvian television and the news agency BNS report that former Prime Minister Aigars Kalvītis, who announced his retirement from politics, may be named as chairman of Lattelecom, the fixed network operator owned 51 % by the Latvian government and 49 % by Sweden's TeliaSonera.
Kalvitis would replace Gundars Strautmanis, whose mandate as chairman ends this year. The former Prime Minister and People's Party politician has not been associated with telecommunications in the past. Born in 1966, he has academic training (including study in Ireland and the US) in agriculture and the food industry and practical experience as a dairy farmer before he entered politics. From my personal experience, Kalvitis speaks very good English.
If the former politician is named to the Lattelecom post (which pays, judging from what Strautmanis salary is) more than 100 000 LVL per year, there could be considerable controvery. Kalvitis is widely blamed for what is seen as reckless economic policies and declarations that Latvia was enjoying "fat years" when, in fact, it was riding a credit-fueled real-estate boom and wage-price spiral.
In some of the more strident criticisms of Kalvitis, who is of a portly build, the former PM has been depicted as an evil hog. Television cameras have caught him dozing during sessions of the Latvian parliament, the Saeima.
Recently, an investigative television program claimed that Kalvitis' wife was trying to privatize some state-owned fish hatcheries. The privatization attempt was rejected after the TV show aired.
Less emotional critics of the ex-politician, whose party enjoys popularity ratings below 2 %, will be concerned by his lack of experience or education in managing a telecommunications operator that faces a number of challenges.
The issue of privatizing Lattelecom, whether by a sale to TeliaSonera or some other solution, has been put on the back burner because of the economic crisis and depressed international financial markets. This effectively prevents the company from going into mobile telecommunications in direct competition with its "sister" company LMT, although the two have never been close nor have they reached a functioning cross-selling arrangement. The uncertainty over ownership also restricts Lattelecom's freedom to compete on regional and international markets.
This year, Lattelecom will be replacing its DSL internet infrastructure with fiber-to-the-home that will offer 100 Mbps speeds to start with, 500 Mbps by the end of the year, and a mind-boggling 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) to end users, apparently for those willing to pay. The company is also entering the new business of building out a terrestrial digital television broadcast network.
Although most of this, on a day-to-day basis, will be dealt with by CEO Juris Gulbis and his management, Kalvitis will have to oversee these projects at the board level. Whether his dairy-farmer education and experience, coupled with many years in politics, will suffice remains to be seen. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

IZZI to launch 100 Mbps internet in April

IZZI, the Latvian cable TV, internet and telephony services provider will start offering its customers 100 Mbps internet speeds in early April, according to Helmut Kohl of IZZI's owner Contaq Latvian Cable.
The company will use DOCSIS 3.0 technology to deliver this speed over existing cables as well as some direct optical connections. The internet access will be independent of and unaffected by watching cable TV or digital cable TV over the same connection.
Kohl hinted that once the high speed network was running successfully for a while, it would be possible to offer what amounts to a service level agreement (SLA) for private customers and small businesses. SLAs often specify that data throughput speeds will not fall below a certain level and IZZI is hoping to make such guarantees at a future date.
IZZI business development director Sandra Kraujiņa said in a Latvian-language video interview that IZZI will expand its own subscriber bas to 126 000 by the end of 2009 and aggressively look for acquisitions on the Latvian cable TV market (it has already bought six smaller operators last year). She said the purpose was to take the largest market share in Latvia, unseating Baltkom TV, which claims the leading spot today.
IZZI officials said the company had a "double digit millions of LVL" war chest for this purpose, but did not disclose the precise sum. This money will be spend in addition to extensive investment in upgrading and consolidating its network. In a Latvian-language video interview, Kraujiņa invited small and regional operators who wanted to sell their business to come to IZZI.
The company also announced that it was implementing a two-year long program of discounts for triple-play services (telephony, internet and cable TV service) for pensioners, the unemployed, students and the parents of newborns. While pensioners are unlikely to change their status, Kohl said that he was counting on other groups (persons finding employment, students completing their studies and going to work) to apply their discounts on a "fair use"basis.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Apple event in Riga (videoblog)

Apple distributor AVAD arranged a small conference and product presentation in Riga on March 11. I attended briefly (for me, any Apple event preaches to the converted) and was able to talk to Jonas Jonušas, a small and medium business manager for AVAD. Here is the video:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Microsoft honcho talks about Windows 7

I have to catch up with some videoblogging (already posted on my Latvian-language blog with some Latvian titles). We will start with this talk I had at the end of February with Michael Hartman of Microsoft, who is responsible for partners in the smaller East European countries and has an extensive background in the Windows division. Naturally, he talks about Windows 7.  I was busy pumping out some articles for Kapitāls, the Latvian business magazine owned by my employer LETA, and this blog was somewhat neglected. I am now killing some time in Stockholm (heading back to Latvia on Sunday evening).

Monday, March 02, 2009

Vodafone sharing toys with its fattening calf in Latvia

Vodafone will share its high-speed HSDPA+MIMO technology with Bite, the Latvian mobile operator. Tests show that this (for all practical purposes) 3.5 G technology can achieve data rates of up to 20 megabits per second (Mbps). Fred Hrenchuk, who heads Bite Latvia told the LETA news agency the technology could be tested in Latvia later this year or in early 2010.
If the high speed link (to be deployed in urban areas with intensive business use) is implemented, it will be the fastest mobile internet technology in the Baltics. Tele2, another regional and pan-European player, has offered 21 Mbps HSDPA in Sweden.
A new technology also stirs up the market competition, which has, of late, drifted into competing quasi flat-rate low pricing schemes with similar marketing ("call your bunny rabbit, talk all you want to your honeybunch) and that sort of thing.
For me, the most significant thing about this is that it is yet another signal that Bite (the Bite Group including Lithuania) is probably being fattened for a takeover by Vodafone at some point. Why else would the global mobile services player be sharing its best toys with the rapidly maturing kid on the Baltic block? Sort of like the Latvian folk song about waiting for the girl across the river to grow up, so she can be married. Did I get that right? Or something to that effect...

Nothing special :)

The switch from February to March left the "front page" of this blog strangely and surprisingly blank 8/! So I am writing just to put some content in so people don't think the whole thing has died.
It is, however, a pretty dead time in Latvian telecoms. The mobile operators are trying to outdo each other on quasi-flat rate deals (I am going to Paris with Tele2 next week, they may have something interesting to say). Tommorrow (March 3) I am going to Paris for Alcatel Lucent and will do the usual video blog reports, etc. New leadership, Pat Russo & Co. are gone. It will be interesting.