Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Waving the carrots of December

So here we are. In a few hours, as I write, number portability will become available in Latvia. There will probably be no rush to switch (mobile) operators, but there are certainly carrots to be waved.

Bite Latvija is offering a Nokia 6230i for LVL 1 for the first 1 000 "refugees" from another operator. It expects to repeat its Lithuanian experience, where more than 32 ooo of the 49 000 number porters went to Bite GSM.
Tele2 has launched its 3G service with videotelephony and, within the next couple of weeks, will also offer high speed, 3G data services (internet browsing via a phone connected to a laptop). The initial speed will be around 384 kbps, but 3G is theoretically capable of up to 2 Mbps.
Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) says around 1 million (!) holders of pre-paid cards are excluded from number portability and could only switch, keeping their numbers, by first becoming subscribers – something which may be possible for LMT O-Karte holders and the holders of Tele2's prepaids, but not virtual operator Zetcom's Amigo and Hello cards.
LMT will launch 3G data services and video calls shortly after the turn of the year, my sources say.
Meanwhile, Triatel has had its 1 Mbps (at best, 2.4 Mbps) wireless internet service available for a week and resold by Izzi, the cable TV and internet company formerly known as Telia MultiCom.
So let the party begin.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tele2 launches 3G video telephony

Tele2 announced on November 29 that it is launching 3G video telephony service and opening a mobile internet portal for other 3G services.
The company may have gotten a jump on Latvian Mobile Telephone(LMT), which had scheduled a press conference for the same day. However, some sources say that LMT will not be announcing 3G video, but something entirely different.
Video calls will initially cost LVL 0.15 per minute and will be possible only within the Tele2 network. There will be rebates for customers on certain tariff plans. Video telephony will initially be available in Riga, where there is 3G network coverage.
The portal, 3GGolive, will presumably offer entertainment services at 3G download speeds.
The move by Tele2 is a surprise, as the company has been rather reluctant to push high-end services. It now looks like Tele2 will be pushing 3G phones at its shops, as they have scheduled a demonstration of the service using available Nokia (the 6630) and Ericsson phones.
According to LMT, there were only around 1 500 3G phones on its network. Tele2 doesn't disclose such data, but there is no reason to assume that they have more 3G phones. It remains to be seen how pushing sales of certain models (presumably pre-configured for 3G services in Latvia) will contribute to expanding sales.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Doing the half-mother's work in Latvia??

Lattelekom and the Siamese sister of its half-mother TeliaSonera (that would be TeliaSonera in Finland) are working on a secretive project that could lead to a major outsourcing/nearsourcing of certain TeliaSonera business functions to Latvia.
According to one rumor, TeliaSonera is looking at what Tele2 did -- which was to start moving all billing operations for its 30 million European customers to Latvia. Billing may not be the exact process involved, but it is some back office routine that it would make sense to nearsource.
The project, which has been run as a pilot experiment, probably involving business process ourtsourcing subsidiary C1, has so far involved off-loading extra work from Finland (data entry and that kind of stuff) during peak periods to Latvia.
A final decision will be made in the early months of 2006 as to how to go further. The issue is sensitive because of union worries in Finland (where TeliaSonera is not doing well under market pressure).
Interestingly, this fits into the vision of some Lattelekom executives that much of TeliaSonera's backoffice work could be done in Latvia or the Baltics. Whatever happens to the never-ending story of TeliaSonera seranading the Latvian government to let it but Latvian Mobile Telephone and Lattelekom, in a few years we may see that TeliaSonera has operationally moved to Riga from Sweden, or at least placed some mission-critical operations here. That will be, hopefully, a pleasant surprise in 2010 for Telefonica Nordica, formerly known guess :).

Thursday, November 24, 2005

IPTV may bring faster Lattelekom DSL speeds

Although Lattelekom's planned but yet-to-be launched IPTV service will use around half (or 1 Mbps) of the 2 Mbps "open garden" speed of household DSL connections, the build-out of ADSL2+ in connection with the new service lays the groundwork for super-fast DSL in the future.
This blogger learned that the upgrade of Lattelekom's DSL network makes it possible to achieve speeds of up to 24 Mbps on parts of the network closes to the local switch (assuming the local copper loop is in good condition, etc.). This means that at some point, Lattelekom may be able to match the high speeds and value-for-money pricing of broadband in Sweden, where LVL 20 per month will get you 24 Mpbs or (probably not using DSL) up to 100 Mbps.
As for IPTV, my guess is that it will start working sometime after the New Year. There may be some testing going on now with a handful of users. That may expand somewhat in the next week or two. My personal guess is 60-40 that there will be Lattelekom IPTV by January 15, 75-25 by February 1. This year, well, remotely maybe...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dizzy Izzi launches triple play (sort of...)

Telia MultiCom turned into Izzi (a play on easy if you speak English like a Slavic villain in a James Bond movie -- it vud be izzi to kill you now, Meester Bond) and announced a triple play package of digital cable TV, wireless broadband ( 1 Mbps) and mobile telephone. The latter will be available in early 2006, as an Izzi pre-paid card and a post-paid service operatingon Bite Latvija's network (Bite, meanwhile, spent the day amusing and annoying downtown Riga with a drum corps under its banner, they even marched past the Izzi press conference).
I will admit to being blindsided. I thought that the company formerly known as Telia MultiCom would merely announce its new name (it is no longer owned by Telia, and the name has to go in early 2006) and that would be the end of it. As far as digital cable TV, it has been projecting a "we won't touch it with a ten-meter stick" image while secretly negotiating for its "interest group" program packages with content providers. They sure put me to sleep :). For LVL 4.00 a month, you get 20 channels from Izzi, including the Latvian public service and commercial ones, and for an additional LVL 1.50 per month, you can pick according to interests, Science & Sports (weird, but no World Bowling, no Discovery Civilization or whatever is the deal), the World (BBC World, Deutsche Welle, the Polish channel, etc.), Music, Film & Cartoons, Russian and Adult (XXX, for LVL 3.00).
The wireless internet service, available in the Riga area, is an out of the box cdma450 deal that will get you 1 Mbps for around LVL 29.50 per month, cheaper than the LVL 50 that Ultra DSL over a wire costs from Lattelekom, and somewhat more expensive than the LVL 23.60 you pay for Triatel's wireless internet, also launched on the same day. Guess who is reselling whom :)?
Further down the line, Izzi sees interactive digital and IPTV (to its cable internet subscribers and other broadband users who get a decoder card for their modems. Izzi thinks it will launch its IPTV service before Lattelekom's Apollo does, which is a pretty bold statement, except that it may mean that people in the business know that something is very seriously bumsen oben (that's how Google translates "fucked up" to German :) :) ). There is talk of a missed equipment delivery, I must gather the determination to call the poor guy in charge who blabbed back during the summer how all this was going to be up and running very soon. Instead, a silent one writes about it – except this blog – but everyone senses it. Unfortunately, even grim and savage stories have to be told, as the late Hunter Thompson would say.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Triatel to officially announce wireless broadband

It looks like Triatel will finally officially announce its wireless broadband offering on November 22. This blog had the news on October 10. The cdma450 based solution will offer best effort speeds of between 200 and 600 kbps, not "real" broadband., but with a maxiumum speed of up to 2.4 Mbps. That is not bad for what will be a moderately priced nomadic broadband service. The primary target will probably be small town businesses as part of a "telecoms in a box" offering with mobile handsets, fixed wireless desktop phones (with inhouse PBX features), and the wireless internet modem or laptop card.
Sign me up for next summer at my summer house! And remember where you saw this news first.

On the "rats" of Latvian telcos, with a strange backstory

Today I was contacted by a young reporter for another publication who considers me an expert on telecoms. Flattering.
She asked what would happen with the 30 or so alternative voice service providers in Latvia. That inspired me to write what I told her for this blog, but first, a strange digression.
This summer, because of a dispute with the management of my newpaper, I had reached what the hilarious Google Translate German version of my writings would call "bumsen weg" stage of relations with this institution (that is how it translated "fuck off", test the thing if you don't believe me). Anyway, I did secretly visit the newspaper across the river, as we call it, and saw the smart lady business editor, told her that I had had a row with my editor and might be interested in paddling across. The business editor said she had no openings, but was working with a couple of barely 20-somethings trying to make a semblance of a business page, etc. etc,
A few weeks later, the lady who I went to look for a job with because I had a row with my editor had a row with her editor, quit and left the paper-across-the-river and is freelancing or whatever. The 20-somethings were left "motherless" which is how the business page has looked from time to time.
I have stayed where I am, a truce has been called with my editor and that is where things stand for now.
So now I suspect I may have been called up by one of those "motherless" 20-somethings, though I could be terribly wrong.

And to the point:

I told her that I strongly suspected most of the 30-odd little operators got their revenues from IP telephony, connecting their code to a POP and a leased fat pipe. Hence the leaflets in the outlying housing projects offering calls to anywhere in the world for LVL 0.07 per minute, which is far less than Lattelekom offers, but only a little less than Triatel, one of the bigger alternative players, offers on its fixed and mobile wireless network.
When asked whether number portability would bring changes to the fixed network market, I said that the main sense I saw was to be able to move one's number to a different switch within one dialing region. All the action will be in the mobile space, and then, probably not all that much.
For customers who want cheaper foreign calls, operator pre-selection serves this purpose. There are actually very few alternative networks to move your fixed number to. Baltkom with its fiber optic network in Riga could be one. However, for local calls, anyone who makes lots of them can probably cut a deal with Lattelekom (lowest rates at certain times are LVL 0.05 per minute, only free is cheaper, so get Skype).
This brings me to my next point, which is that the future of the fixed network is DSL or some other high speed internet connection with quality voice as a low priced feature and do-it-yourself voice (or video calling or whatever) essentially "free" (included in the monthly all you can eat fee). That, in turn, means that the next battle among fixed line operators will be when local loop unbundling is implemented, and small operators want to buy lines from Lattelekom or have their own DSL equipment (DSLAMs) hosted by Lattelekom. While I have not looked into it in detail, I understand this has caused some friction between BT in Britain and its rivals. Here I could see someone like Latnet finally making good on its pre-2003 musings about offering telephony. Instead of fixed line voice, maybe they will want to buy lines and run their own DSL service instead of re-selling Lattelekom's DSL. I am merely speculating, I have not heard anyone at Latnet say this.
I also came up with a great quote for the reporter from-across-the-river : "Fixed voice is a a sinking ship, and the battle for customers is among rats on that ship. Lattelekom is seen as the the big fat nasty rat, but there is no point in winning against it as the whole ship is going down."

For my German readers - laugh your Arsch off :):)

I have been experimenting with Google Analytics and see that I have some readers of the blog in Germany. I am sure your English is excellent, but if you want to start the week with a good laugh, check out the way Google Translate translates the blog into German. See if you can find the bizarre rendition of the American expression "fuck up" . Well, machine translation has a way to go.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Students to hold OpenOffice Latvian adaptation marathon

Students at the University of Latvia are holding a marathon adaptation session on November 19 to make the open-source application suite OpenOffice fully functional in the Latvian language. Programmers are expected to sit up to six hours at a stretch translating and tweaking the programs to work with Latvian fonts and with fully Latvian menus.
This is reported by Latvian-language blogger Kristaps Kaupe, an IT specialist who blogs on IT and, sometimes, political themes at
I don't know whether the whizkids will produce a Mac version of OpenOffice, but if they do, it would be interesting to try it.

Bite starts postpaid, WhiteHat «speaks»

Bite Latvija has launched its postpaid service, Bite Private, with an interesting feature, Bite Family, which allows up to four SIM cards/phones per one subscriber (a physical person). It allows free calls between these phones and, obviously, is aimed mainly at families or small networks of friends and relatives. However, it can also be used for small business purposes and is probably a forerunner of closed-group services for business customers which will offer free or very low cost calling among members of the group.
Bite also opened 10 points of sale of its services, subsidized and retail price phones, accessories and the like. A Bite boutique opened in Riga, and there will be Bite stands at several electronics stores in Riga and Daugavpils.
Meanwhile, WhiteHat of the Riga airport hacking scandal writes that the announcement by the airport admitting its network could be compromised was more open and honest than he had expected. WhiteHat expresses satisfaction that the problems are being solved but at the same time emphasizes that corporate data security in Latvia is poor.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Vlog weirdness

I made a second and third attempt at a Vlog after finally getting the right (we shall soon see) software for it. My second attempt was in English to begin, but in attempting to edit it in Quicktime Pro, I, well, fucked it up. I then recorded a Latvian version. I will attempt either to place it here, or on as Here didn't work :(. So search for it.
To be honest, I think a Vlog only makes sense if you have good "real"video, like an interview, edited, etc. For example, if I had taken my digital camera to today's opening of the Bite mobile store and customer center in Riga, there might have been some things to show.
I am off to bed before I commit more insanity...

Monday, November 14, 2005

100 000 fixed line switchers after December 1??

At least 100 000 fixed-line users would leave Lattelekom and switch, mainly, to Baltkom's voice services, so says a very high Baltkom official speaking off-the-cuff to this blogger.
Baltkom and the Latvian Telecommunications Association (LTA) held a press conference today, November 14, to deplore Lattelekom's alleged foot-dragging on number portability. Lattelekom has been instrumental in setting up an alternative number data base to the one run by the state agency the Electronic Communications Office. It has also circulated a proposed set of rules for porting the numbers of its customers. This would cost the recipient company LVL 7.20 for re-registering the number plus LVL 4.07 a month for upholding the portability service thereafter.
The alternative operators say this amounts to charging a second subscription fee on top of what they would charge their customers for use of their lines and network (fixed line number portability only works when there is an alternative network, otherwise it is operator pre-selection and you pay the subscription fee to Lattelekom but get the bill for all services automatically from the alternative operator.) Baltkom, the Latvian Railways, Latvenergo and some smaller operators have their own networks and/or numbering ranges.
Lattelekom says it has signed an agreement on its own terms with Telenet, with the alternative operator also entitled to get LVL 7.20 and LVL 4.07 per month for any of its customers who jump to Lattelekom.
The claim that Lattelekom would loose 100 000 subscribers is impressive at first, but some questions must be answered. If these people are looking for "bottom santim" costs, then they will bring little revenue to anyone to whom they are ported to. Lattelekom would only say good riddance to its low revenue customers and perhaps even be happy that Baltkom and Peteris Smidre was now stuck with them.
The migration of these customers only makes business sense if you are attracting medium to high level spenders who jump to Baltkom's triple-play services, buying voice (with prepaid free minutes), internet and digital cable for one two-digit price per month (which is about three or four times more than they would generate in revenues as a mere line subscriber), Baltkom probably has a couple of thousand of these bigger spenders already, but I doubt that it will extract any more value from its approximately 180 000 cable subscribers by getting them signed on for telecoms as well.
The real battle of the near future is when it becomes clear that broadband is the default fixed network service and when one or more of the alternative providers ask to set up their own DSLAMs at Lattelekom switch locations and to buy/lease the local loop to carry the signal to end-users along copper.
This may not be of great interest to Baltkom, which is developing its own Ethernet and fiberoptic based solutions for its cable customers and also on some new housing projects, where it is going in with a complete multimedia platform solution. But there may be a business case for other operators to sell cheaper and, above all, faster DSL lines (Lattelekom will get you 128 kps for LVL 6.99, but LVL 25 in Sweden will get you from 24 to 100 Mbps)
and cut a deal for buying capacity in bulk from the incumbent.

More on the airport...

My posts on the apparent security weaknesses of Riga International Airport's webserver have generated a freewheeling discussion, alas, in Latvian, which I can sum up as follows:

Anonymous (a frequent visitor representing different identities :) ) says that I am not knowledgeable about IT security issues and didn't know that what was done to the server was cross-scripting, something done by script kiddies and harmless. Although this technique could be used "to steal authentication information and small files" (?!), it would only affect portals with many visitors and not an informative site like, where it could, at worst, be used to deface the site. Your blogger is, to rephrase anonymous, called an IT-ignorant running dog of the yellow press (ROFLMAO).

I reply that according to Wikipedia, cross-scripting is not a trivial problem.

Anon comes back and suggests I look for faults with the website of the Bureau for Protection of the Constitution (a kind of Latvian counterintelligence service).

BH comes in and supports this position, noting that the airport spokesman said a compromise of the intranet was possible, and BH also says that cross-scripting could be used to erase files. on the server.

Anon then wonders whether BH is a white hat hacker (my WhiteHat), which he is not.

So much for that so far...

Riga Airport admits hack, denies safety threat

Riga International Airport officials admitted the homepage of the airport could be hacked, but denied that this posed a threat to air traffic safety. Air traffic control was based on a seperate computer network which could not be reached through the homepage
It was the first official confirmation by airport officials (speaking to the news agency LETA) that vulnerabilities reported on this blog and the press existed.
This blog and the report in my day-job newspaper never suggested that flight operations (air traffic control) was threatened, merely that access to the airport's intranet and mail systems could expose confidential information about anti-terrorist measures and contingency plans. I don't know what speculation was reported in other media.
The source who demonstrated an apparent ability to control the airport's server said that the intranet and mailserver were vulnerable, but deliberately avoided attempting this. The source (whom I called WhiteHat) is connected to a reputable IT-related company and said that making an attempt to penetrate the airport's corporate intranet would be going one step too far without the consent of airport authorities.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

An interesting quote from British Telecom

Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of British Telecom (BT) in an interview published in the International Herald Tribute ( – the content is free, I recommend it, but read it too rarely :( ):
"I firmly believe this is an industry that has to reinvent its reason for existing. Companies will have to change what they need to sell, change how they sell, and therefore change their culture."

Note that Nils Melngailis, the CEO of Lattelekom, is a fan of BT, and he seems to be doing some reinventing of his own : business process outsourcing, IPTV, letting go of voice in favor of a long-range plan to have DSL as the basic platform with multiple services (many on a revenue sharing basis for content) and voice simply as one feature of broadband.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

LMT running a focus group for mobile TV

Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) is running some kind of focus-group experiment to determine what gets watched on its mobile TV service and how to package and price it. Mobile TV, available since the summer via GPRS and EDGE (not clear if it works at 3G speed in Riga, where most of the city now has UMTS coverage), cost LVL 0.05 per minute. That means you can burn the price of a feature movie (about LVL 3.00 at the Forum Cinemas in Riga) watching an hour of TV on your marvelous little Nokia 2.5 inch screen.
The focus group people (who may be a hundred or more) are allowed unlimited viewing to see what interests them. The next step will be to tailor the content appropriately. It certainly looks like LMT and the content providers are interested in finding the right mix and pricing before someone like Bite beats them to it. There were representatives from LMT and Latvian commercial TV operators TV3 and LNT at the recent Nordic Mobile Media conference in Vilnius, where some really impressive technologies and systems were shown. Vilnius, needless to say, is Bite's home turf.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Equipment delivery glitch delays Latvian IPTV

An equipment delivery glitch is behind the delay of the anticipated mid-October launch of Lattelekom's IPTV service. my sources tell me.
The service was supposed to be made available free of cost until at least year-end to all DSL internet susbcribers.
It now appears that IPTV will be launched by the end of November, although no one is making any promises until all the boxes are screwed into place.

Riga Airport: we're skeptical but working on it

The head of IT at Riga's International Airport said he didn't believe that my source (let's call him WhiteHat) had actually gained even partial control of the airport's webserver. A preliminary inspection of logs didn't show any intrusions, leading the airport IT honcho (let's call him RIXSysadmin) to assert that the whole thing was either a) faked or b) very sophisticated, leaving no obvious traces. All I can say is that WhiteHat didn't strike me as, to use a charming expression from British English - a nutter. RIXSysadmin also appears to be taking the whole incident (see the earlier post) quite seriously and says that when a complete check is finished, there will be an official statement from the airport through its Press Secretary. That sounds good so far.
RIXSysdamin was also a bit peeved at the story being published in a certain paper and, perhaps, here as well. I pointed out that the real Merry Pranksters already probably know about any fun to be had on the airport's systems, as there are hacker sites, etc., where new, fun places are posted every day. I doubt that the typical reader of my newspaper or even of this blog will run off to crack the airport's intranet and print its fire drill scheme.
Meanwhile, WhiteHat wrote saying that he had e-mailed someone in RIXSysadmin's position about a year ago, warning of the vulnerability. Nothing happened. He says he may ask for permission to do some more probing and show that he can get pretty far into the airport network if he wanted to.
The story goes on...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Riga Airport easy to hack?

A source e-mailed me, then met me at a cafe with wireless internet and proceeded to demonstrate how easy it was to take control of the webserver of Riga International Airport. My source, an IT specialist employed by a respectable company, said it would probably be easy to get into the airport's intranet or internal web, as well as its mailserver. Sensitive information with regard to security, anti-terrorist precautions, etc., could probably be found on both. One reason for this could be that the webserver, at least, was running Windows NT4, as installed in 2000 and that there seemed to be no apparent security precautions.
What was demonstrated to me was how to command the server to access an image from another website, an indication that other commands given by non-authorized parties could be executed or inserted remotely, including malicious code and malware. This will be in my day job newspaper on November 10.
Above is a screenshot of the "experiment". The person in the image has nothing to do with any of this, it was randomly lifted from, a social networking site.

So much for Vlogging...

Putting video on the platform, which is the basis for this blog, is not as easy as some other websites claim. One says that you can host video content on, which you join after joining something called the internet archive. Having done that, I simply get an unrecognized login or password. At some point I will go through all that freebie how-to-do-it shit again, but maybe one should wait until Apollo TV gets off the ground here in Latvia. Which reminds me, WTF is it? Next investigation...
Launch of this TV service via Lattelekom's Apollo internet was scheduled – so I was told – for October 15, so we are three weeks off schedule and already losing any meaning for the "free until year end" promised for the service. Four weeks of free internet TV may not be enough to give anyone much of a taste for a) the free to air Latvian channels you can see on regular TV and b) a bunch of Russian satellite channels that Latvia's typical cable-TV viewer, a Russian granny, watches. I don't think the grannies/babushkas are going to get their grandchildren to stop playing Doom III on the 17 inch computer monitor so they can watch their vintage Russian/Soviet-era films.

A bizarro experiment

Well, I am going to try to see whether it is possible to do a Vlog. Next time, I will work on lights, sound, shaving, and not looking like I have been on a three day bender* (it's past midnight and it is "the camera and lighting).
*bender = plosts or bujāns for my Latvian fans

I have retried this, my recording didn't upload. Blogger doesn't take video, but I have linked to some, probably bullshit site with another experiment. It looks like there will be a great deal of fucking around before this works... (And checking, it is pretty bad, ratty sound. The only reason I did this was the inevitable effects of a Double Coffee cappuccino at lunch. Your mind doesn not stop until now. What time is it? Don't ask. A shot of whiskey and to bed...)

So here is the video.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Be aware of Norwegians with silly names

If you want to set up your own global broadcasting network (using broadband TV) or if you want to aggregate digital video content, that is, one, two, three, many "Me TV" projects, just look to Norway's Rubber Duck Media Lab. For about 750 Euro a month, you can rent a TV platform and broadcast you own or your aggregated content to broadband TV and mobile TV viewers anywhere.
What this effectively means is that companies will appear, re-selling space on the Rubber Duck platform, allowing anyone to have their own TV channel or media stream -- music, images, whatever, for a trivial sum. Classic broadcast television is dead and internet-based streaming video, user-generated content, sometimes intermediated by trusted platforms (v-loggers, vlog editors, even cutting edged "real" media such as Norway's VG) is the wave of the future.
Silly as its name may be, Rubber Duck was another interesting Norwegian company that I met at the recent Mobile Media Conference in Vilnius. They run their sales out of London, but host such programming as US-based Fox Television on servers in Norway. Anyone wanting Fox content on certain US mobile operators gets it from the land of fjords, fish and oil.
The interesting thing is that Norway, with such cutting edge, globally disruptive technology, is only twice as big as Latvia in population (around 4.5 million) and, aside from its offshore oil, geographically disadvantaged compared to Latvia (it is much bigger and Oslo, the capital, may be closer to North Africa than it is to some towns above the Polar Circle). Plus you have mountains and wilderness, wilderness and mountains, more wilderness, several fjords, yet more mountains, wilderness yet again.. you get the picture.
It would seem there is no reason Latvia can't produce companies like Rubber Duck that are on the cutting edge of the 21st century infosphere. We are not talking about building a USD 2 billion, 500 meter high offshore platform (if you are looking for "classic" industrial technology, assembled --where else are you going to do it :) - in Norway, build in various places), but about powerful knowledge economy technologies that run on equipment worth, probably, less than LVL 100 000.
It's not like Latvia hasn't tried. There are some streaming video sites available. When I read that fellow blogger (the link is in Latvian) Kristaps Kaupe had appeared on a talk show discussing gay marriage (his nationalist party is vehemently opposed, I am a libertarian in this regard), I wanted to get the streamed version (I missed the show), I got a Windows Media Player (for Mac) window on my iMac G5 (running Safari) and then .... nothing. This does not look good. It is not the first dead link I have seen, not only on, but on other Latvian sites, too.

The mobile personal infosphere

I was just at a very interesting conference on Mobile Media in Vilnius, where one of the most fascinating presentations was by Torry Pedersen of what used to be the Norwegian newspaper VG (Verdens Gang) but is now a kind of electronic, interactive, reader and citizen-driven infosphere. The used-to-be-just a newspaper has developed an information management platform that lets readers and tipsters send in photos and video clips, and, by the same token, is accessible on mobiles and the internet. VG beat major domestic media on a ship capsizing by having people overlooking the accident take digital photos, literally, out their window and e-mail them. It and other "wired" Scandinavian newspapers had phone-camera images of the tsunami even before the international news agencies, CNN, etc. had any idea of what was going on. Truly, the age of global news event coverage by the organization with the most camera teams and helicopters is over, what counts is being the first to have someone with a cameraphone tip you off.
Global news events don't happen that often, and "all news is local news", so the main function of this reader tip-network is to be the first to cover events such as traffic jams, accidents, fires, unexpected appearances by politicians and celebrities in Norway and the like. It is also possible for readers to "remote control" VG reporters, who then can ask their interview subjects questions from "Bjarne Andersen", an ordinary guy in an Oslo suburb concerned about taxes or some issue at the schools, and the answer (on video, in print, on mobiles) is then flashed out into the VG infosphere, giving our ficitious Bjarne his 15 minutes of fame and encouraging others to do the same.
During a conference lunch I sat with a person from a big Latvian daily and it was pretty clear from our conversation that the Latvian press is still in the dark ages as far as this kind of interactivity and state-of-the-art information management platform goes. Neither a certain paper I know very well, nor the paper represented by my conversation partner, nor, for that matter, Neatkariga Rita Avize (which claims to have launched a blogging site) are even close to anything like this.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Parent games about to start?

There is speculation in Sweden's Dagens Nyheter (DN) that a major reshuffle of the Nordic telecoms market, involving Tele2, the parent of Latvia's Tele2 operations, and, according to other sources, TeliaSonera, the half-mother of Lattelekom and the sort-of-parent of Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT).
Tele2 may be ready to sell some of its Nordic (mobile phone operator Comviq) assets and eventually pull out of the region altogether, according to Urban Ekelund, an analyst with Redeye, quoted by DN. This would mean selling Tele2's fixed network assets in the Nordic countries, and. although DN doesn't say it, in the Baltics as well, where Tele2 recently stopped investment.
One reason for Tele2's future weakness on the Nordic market is that it has failed to get a broadband company in Sweden, having lost Song to TDC, the parent of Latvian/Lithuanian Bite. TDC in turn is being courted by private equity funds, who know that the company won't need too much fixing. As one insider told this blogger, TDC has had two US -based former owners (Ameritech and SBC) who have put its act together.
The other possible move for Tele2 is to try to buy one of the remaining independent cable-TV or pure broadband companies, such as ComHem (which Telia sold as a condition of merging with Sonera) or Glocalnet. That would put them back in the fight with more weight.
If Tele2 abandons the Nordic region, it may make a bigger effort in Eastern Europe and Russia, probably investing more heavily into mobile in this region. So that doesn't exclude the Tele2 fixed operation from being sold – but to who? For customer base acquisition, perhaps Triatel might be interested in getting people to switch from fixed to wireless? Lattelekom would face political difficulties and would gain little from buying another few thousand. customers.
Meanwhile, the idea of TeliaSonera being sold has resurfaced again, though not in the DN article. Analysts, reportedly at Dresdner Bank, are listing it and Swisscom as possible take-over targets. TeliaSonera has an attractive amount of cash, which, as one high executive at a competitor puts it, is a signal that "TeliaSonera has more money than brains", a reference to its failed attempts to buy Turkcell and some apparent lack of acquisition strategy (Orange in Denmark and Chess in Norway are not the biggest players in their respective mobile space, but TeliaSonera bought both recently). Telenor is also out shopping, it got Vodafone's operations in Sweden (an indirect challenge to Telia's mobile operations?).
Again, from the perspective of the global telecoms giants, perhaps one can let these two hardy, mid-sized Nordic dogs fight it out to see what their respective strengths are before putting them in the same German/French, yes, even Spanish kennel.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Digital cable TV taking off??

Baltkom TV, the cable-TV, telecoms and ISP, reports nine month earnings jumped 87 % to LVL 1.5 million as sales rose 36 % to LVL 4.5 million. The reason for this, the company says, is a rise in the number of digital cable subscribers to almost 15 000 (up from some 10 000 in the summer, now comprising around 10 % of all subscribers). These figures make the jump in earnings unsurprising, because each digital cable subscriber generates LVL 10.50 or more per month (some, who want all 102 channels, can pay over LVL 12). This compares to an average LVL 3.00 that the Latvian cable TV association, now called the Latvian electronic communications somethingor other :) , says that the ordinary cable viewer, a pensioner whose preferred language is Russian, generally pays.
Those 100+ channels, however, include lots of narrow interest programming, such as the Wine Channel (in German?) and various Russian language programming aimed at sports fans, women, etc. There is also a channel in Korean, along with the standard selection, CNN, BBC, Discovery (language is switchable on digital cable)in all its incarnations, National Geographic, the Reality Channel, etc. Oh yes, the erotic stuff is mostly in English along the lines of oh God oh God f••k me harder... :) which comes across (no pun intended) without subtitles.
It looks like pay per view will be available soon, with recent release films, etc.
Baltkom also says that the number of triple play internet, digital cable and telephony customers is rising. The company is also competing to provide complete solutions to a number of new housing projects, claiming 100 Mbps optical internet to the home. Where do I sign up? I'll move to some former pasture in Marupe (a suburb south of Riga) for this.