Thursday, August 31, 2006

LMT makes the first move on HSDPA

Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) launched HSDPA with up to 3.6 Mbps of download speed on its 3G network in Riga and the Riga area on August 30, beating Bite Latvija to the starting gate.
Bite had said last spring it would start both 3G and HSDPA services simultaneously in September.
The LMT HDSPA service will initially be free of charge, with the price set once user behavior is observed during a test period. The main beneficiaries are expected to be users of the LMT iBirojs package (a HSDPA card, a data connection via SIM card, and a laptop for a single price) and laptop owners who either get the card or a USB plug-in HSDPA modem (also needs a SIM card). Both pieces of equipment are supplied by China's HuaWei.
The demo of the service at LMT headquarters looked pretty good, with data download peaks at around 2.4 Mbps and full screen video off the internet at 900 kbps.
The launch, even as a "test" leaves Bite in the lurch. If it goes commercial with a flat rate HSDPA service (as it seems to have done in Lithuania) it will tempt LMT to undercut that rate just enough (and counting on its nearly 900 000 subscriber base) to make Bite look like no so great a choice. It could also go into a "free" test period and engage in a staring contest with LMT as to who prices first. And we know who the 400 kilo gorilla is in this staring contest.

On the other hand-- did the gorilla move because it was stung by a bee (bite in Latvian)?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

YouTube - F**KED?

I was going to do another videoblog and had some nice material off the Nokia N-80 of Eriks Eglitis, the IT honcho of the Latvian Postal Service talking (in English) about the new e-signature. One mistake I made was to shoot the video with the phone upright with the result that the image is sideways. I found a way in Quicktime Pro to to rotate it, saved it and tried an upload to YouTube (where I usually put the video components of this blog). On the first attempt, it looked like despite the rotation and save, the image was still sideways. So I deleted and have been trying several times to upload it again (now from a fast link here at work). But YouTube is totally unresponsive, the activity monitor on my Powerbook G4 shows no upload even though the website says it is uploading. I wonder if this is affecting any other Latvian bloggers or bloggers using YouTube as their video repository generally. I notice that the rather strange and colorful crowd on, the site being developed by Latvian IT specialist Kristaps Kaupe, sometimes use links to YouTube.

If I am using the f-word too much, well, it is a coincidence. First some fraudsters seem to have f**ked with my creditcard, now YouTube is f**ked (as far as I am concerned). It is, as Clint Eastwood said in the movie Heartbreak Ridge - a clusterfuck.

Friday, August 25, 2006

BT Click and Buy – fuck yeah!!!

This is to warn that the allegedly secure payment site BT Click and Buy is being used by fraudsters. I am now in the process of cancelling a Visa Gold card that has been used to make purchases for an amount close to LVL 200, most of it for amounts of 40 GBP each. I have used this card, in person, to make exactly one purchase in Britain in March or April, either coming or going to the US. Other than that, I have made few purchases with this card, aside from tanking up my Skype account for EUR 10 or so. And Visa Gold is supposed to be a "safe" card??? It will be interesting to know how this happened, maybe one of those card data base leaks?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Back to the abacus (and hide you iPod) in Ventspils?

Some weird news from the port city of Ventspils. It seems that the Economic Police and the Business Software Alliance staged a raid on iLink, a company that says it hosts mission critical applications for some cargo-handling and transit companies in the port.
Reports conflict - the police say they found both evidence of illegal software and music and ringtones for which no licences were immediatly available. The company says that it had no illegal software and that the police overreacted to the music, which iLink employees may have copied from legal CDs. Howver, the authorities apparently interpreted the law, which allows making a backup copy, as being limited to a copy on the same medium(a CD), not an Mp3 file.
Whatever happened, iLink officials, some of whom were dragged off to the Ventspils police headquarters and detained, said the police hauled off most of the company's servers and other equipment, crippling the ability of several major transit companies to run their IT systems. In other words, these enterprises will have to revert to using abacuses, as they did during the Soviet era (although iLink dates back to some kind of Soviet agency started in 1979).
According to other reports, there were no signs as yet of scores of Soviet-time abacuses being recovered from attics and taken down to the docks by the managers responsible for recording incoming and outgoing cargos.
Some sources say that the BSA and police raid is part of a continuing conflict between different factions behind most of the Ventspils transit companies, with Ventpils mayor Aivars Lembergs on one side of the rift and other shareholders opposing him. In other words, Lembergs' people allegedly incited or influenced the raid on iLink.
The worrisome thing is whether the police did seize what may have been legitimate ripped Mp3 music along with the servers in Ventspils and will now have a precedent for snatching iPods and the like. As someone once said: "Does anyone seriously believe a person will buy a USD 300 iPod in order to put USD 15 000 of songs (the 15 000 songs at iTunes USD 0.99 apiece)?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Strange attempts to grab GRADE

Someone is making a move on GRADE, the business process analysis and simulation tool first invented by Latvian IT people at the Institute of Mathematics and Informatics in the early 1990s. The claim has been made to the Latvian Prosecutor's Office that GRADE was, at one point, financed by Software House Riga (SWH, a kind of predecessor to Dati, SWH Technologies, Exigen Latvia and now Dati/Exigen) using around USD 1.5 million of a USD 3 million so-called G-24 loan granted way back when. The theory is that since the G-24 loan was never repaid (part of it went down with the infamous Banka Baltija in 1995), a claim can be made on the rights to GRADE and to what is considered a derivative toolset used by Exigen.
Here are the facts as I understand them: GRADE was developed in cooperation with a German company, Infologistik, owned by Latvian-American Janis Gobins, the "godfather" of Latvian IT. GRADE is wholly owned by Infologistik and has been licenced to a number of users, including, at one point, Siemens and now Exigen.
Exigen, in turn, used some of the same Latvian specialists that invented GRADE to design its business process optimization tools. In other words, these tools had the same "intellectual parents" as GRADE and, very probably, used similar conceptual frameworks. But they are legally distinct intellectual properties and tools (the Exigen tools, besides analyzing business processes, can also be used to reprogram them, that is, cut out useless steps in electronic workflows etc, and implement these changes).
So, according to the version I have heard (from the Godfather), this attempt to get at GRADE or any of Exigen's tools is bound to fail. However, knowing the loonie-factor of various Latvian authorities, including the Prosecutor's Office, I don't exclude that Exigen may have to fight some kind of nuisance action against it.
In any case, it is a reminder coming back to haunt us of the total clusterfuck that was made of much of the so-called G-24 loans (provided by 24 sucker countries mostly to a bunch of post-Soviet con artists and with as much oversight of spending as you would get with a group of drunken sailors in honky-tonk opium den/brothel in Shanghai in the 1930s).

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A baby Latvian blog is born :)

Some guys have launched a Latvian language blog, I am most flattered that they have linked a feed of this blog to theirs. The idea is excellent, just all you Latvian readers...whoa, what was I about to say...? Yeah, go ahead and rush right over and check this blog out. Just come back, for fuck's sake :), OK? Looks like I gotta watch these guys and they watch me. All that means there will be more info, more voices and thoughts about our favorite subject, telecoms & IT in Latvia.
It also brings to mind that a certain newspaper has sorta blown the chance to, hehe, adopt and Latvianize the blog of one of its journalists. Well, we shall see how far the theory of first mover advantage goes. Actually, I hope to share information and opinions with these guys. Good luck! Right on!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Need some consulting/freelance work?

Hi everyone out there.
I have just learned that some background consulting work I was doing has stopped. If anyone out there needs some advice, writing, translating or other freelance work about telecoms in Latvia or or conditions here in general, please let me know (give your e-mail or other contact details in a comment or to I need to replace around EUR 250 a month in income.
I don't ask for help often, just keep reading me.. :)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The promised videoblog

Well, here is the videoblog, a bit raw. YouTube is getting slow and jerky on streaming, though the turnaround is very fast. Google video sucks very very badly in this regard. If I had used Google, this would be Monday next week. BTW: check out the open source video player and aggregator Democracy. Very good. I download my evening's viewing on the laptop at work.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Whipping the DSL dogs and giving away voice

Lattelecom popped two new household connection packages, both of which include free calls throughout the network in Latvia providing you sign up for a DSL line for 18 months or renegotiate your old subscription on the new terms.
About three years ago, I told Lena Suhonen, then CEO of Lattelekom as it was then called, that this would happen. I wasn't blogging then, so take it on trust.
One package, which includes internet up to 2 Mbps, costs LVL 13.90, and another, with internet speeds of up to 5 Mbps, costs LVL 16.90 per month. Both include unlimited calling in Latvia.
My only confusion is about the internet speed. A Lattelcom service operator said both speeds applied to the internal network, that is, Lattelecom supported or hosted sites, such as Apollo and . That means that little or nothing has changed. 2Mbps is what I get on the internal network on my HomeDSL which I have jacked up to 1 Mbps by paying and extra fee. Now, if it is 2 Mbps and 5Mbps to the "real world", you have me hooked, although I wish the fuck Lattelecom would speed up my Riga Centrs district DSL service to 10 Mbps like they have for folks living in the burbs (Swampvillage, New Village, etc, this is a joke for my Latvian readers).
Anyway, the reason all this is happening, and why Lattelecom is whipping them DSL dogs in the race, is --yes, it is a race. I think we will see fixed wireless HSDPA popping up -- Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) is already offering an "unwired" home phone, so why not add an HSDPA card to it? Bite will be first, look for some nice HSDPA & laptop packages that will offer more speed than the deals presently offered by Tele2 (GPRS in the sticks plus a laptop for LVL 35 a month? OK, 3G in most of Riga) and LMT (3G downtown, EDGE on the edge of the sticks, perhaps elsewhere, and GPRS in the middle of nowhere).
And speaking of the burbs, I may have said early that every Tom, Dick and Ivan who can tack up ethernet cable is offering 100 Mbps for LVL 4.95 per month (that is 100 Mbps to the porno movies and warez on the server in the basement, anything else is pure luck). Some serious operators had 10 Mbps before Lattelecom thought of it, and Baltcom is zapping up the speeds on its network. Can the wired part of IZZI be far behind?
With Skype and SIP services appearing everywhere, voice is a lost cause and the money will be made in whatever one can chisel out of the content zapping along the broadband connection. Now that domestic calls are free as in "paid all inclusive" I wouldn't be surprised to see Lattelecom launch a very low-cost, VOIP type international service, cutting tariffs almost to nil to, say, Sweden where it has a POP and a high speed data cable of its own.
Also look for some nice business service packages that will include pay by use business software and outsourced services on the net, plus, of course, leasing and installing the hardware. On the DSL side, rumors are moving closer to truth on a jump to 24 Mbps on some parts of the network, plus pure DSL connections (no voice phone line needed, but voice services may be included since with a NGN, you can configure the service quality to each user's needs) coming along in the next set of home packages.
Finally, the non-quote of the week about my recent post (since nobody said it) was with regard to my post on Lattelecom negotiating to buy Bite. It was wishing that I wouldn't blog about rumors that are true. Source unattributable.
I may videoblog some of this later. Wanted to do so today, but had to rush to the summer place to a) connect my kid's laptop, which buggered off (for my British readers :)) the wireless network (ethernet cable to the WiFi router solved it). Note: Packard Bell = no online manuals. b) I had to finish mowing the grass while it was still light out. After the drought and the short torrential rains over the last few days, the grass has freaked out and is growing visibly to make up for like 10 weeks of lying their lookin' like it was fixin' to die (some did).

That's all, folks!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Lattelecom + Bite true??

Lattelecom is talking to the owners of Bite (formally, TDC of Denmark, in reality, a private equity consortium that owns around 88 % of TDC) about a deal that would see Lattelecom buying the whole Bite Group (Latvia and Lithuania). The purpose -- to give Lattelecom the much needed mobile component once it loses its half-mother TeliaSonera and its snobbish cousin Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT), like the robot child in Steven Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence, will get a real 100 % mother.
With Bite, Lattelecom will have a strong pan-Baltic mobile presence and room, in Latvia, to experiment with wireless internet (both fixed and mobile) using HSDPA that Bite will be launching soon. Its Vodafone roaming deals are attractive for business users. Both companies will be able to merge their internet/mobile TV offerings (Bite says it will have 22 channels of TV over HSDPA).
Certainly, mobile will be an uphill fight in Latvia for Bite, but with cross-selling of Bite and Lattelecom products (maybe a hybrid wireline/less broadband concept) there should be some synergies.
As for LMT, it may find that it has a tough love mother in TeliaSonera that will push it to get off its Scrooge McDuck bags of past and recent earnings and do some strategic future planning and genuine fast movement on the market before those huge profits become the lunch of faster competitors and disruptive technologies.
By the way, this information isn't from Lattelecom nor the half-mother. It has been earlier mentioned in passing as a pipedream on Dzirnavu Street, but purely hypothetical. But do make some calls, Elisabete :) :).

Thursday, August 10, 2006

LMT to test the HSDPA "snake" & some secret history

Why the weird title and why has HSDPA become a "snake"? No, Latvian readers who notice the hemp plants (kaņepes) of this summer standing tall, that is not the reason.
HSDPA becomes a snake in any mobile operator's garden for the simple reason that once you have HSDPA and Skype and other HSDPA or WiFi enabled laptops and phones on the network, voice calls with simply by-pass the GSM/UMTS pay per minute networks.
This, of course, can be technologically hampered, but that is the sort of thing that will simply anger customers and propagate various hacks of whatever it is that HSDPA connections do to prevent VOIP from working.
Clearly, it is every customer's dream and every operator's nightmare that using HSDPA or a Wi-Fi enabled phone, people will be able to Skype from mobile to mobile "free" just the way they do using Skype and other VOIP technologies through broadband providers who don't go apeshit over VOIP or haven't realized that they should.
So Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT), apparently getting the jump on Bite (which is launching HSDPA in September) has just announced it is "testing HSDPA" and that HSDPA cards will be available with its iBirojs (iOffice) laptop plus mobile internet package.
Well, good morning axehandle, as the Swedes would say (god morgon yxskaft). Now let's see whether Tele2 will also try to preempt any first mover advantage that Bite would have had going fully commercial with HSDPA in few weeks.
But my warning to all, if you do that, the snake is loose...

Old history
The neverending tale of whether anyone is out to get the remarkable Mr. Nils Melngailis (no allusion to the Remarkable Mr. Ripley is intended) continues. It now seems that the half-mother TeliaSonera was angered by Nils insisting that MicroLink (now Lattelecom technology) be divided among all the children and half-children. The half-mother, well aware long ago that monkeys would dance on the rings of Saturn before the Latvian government allowed it to buy both Lattelecom and LMT, wanted Elion, its more that 50 % owned Estonian telco, to buy all of Microlink. That would have left Lattelecom with almost jack shit in terms of IT implementation and consulting resources (Verdi having quietly gone to an obscure grave).
OK, as it turned out, according to some versions of what happened, Lattelecom did nearly end up with jack shit anyway after many MicroLink folks saw their trans-Baltic teams and other good stuff torn apart into three pieces. But now TietoEnator Latvia honcho Maris Ozolins has come aboard to put Humpty-Lattelecom-technology-Dumpty back together again, or at least mend some of the bigger cracks (since I don't think the big egg was totally shattered).
But aside from that, Melngailis was actually acting as a my-corporation-first manager, no matter what the shareholders said, since they would get the best value from a strong Lattelecom, both in terms of dividends and, when the time came for the half-mother to give it up, a high barter value for the rest of LMT.
Also, as I have written earlier, Melngailis has the vision of moving Lattelecom far beyond just a fixed voice operator, a description better written on a tombstone of f**ked companies rather than as a modern telco mission statement.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Wackaloonie summer stories...

My paper, for those of you who don't read Latvian, is front paging a rumor that Ingrida Bluma, CEO of Hansabanka, a big and prestigious Swedish-owned bank in Latvia, may be leaving her job to take up a post at Lattelecom.
The rumor is qualified by a) Bluma saying that it ain't true, but then again, she doesn't plan to die at Hansabanka (she's a young and healthy lady, mid-forties) b) a high Lattelecom source (but not the Man) saying that the apparent reason for the rumor is a recent Hansabanka customer party where there was drinking as if the devil may care (the Latvian is uz velna paraušanu) so you can expect rumors and shit to spread after that.
Even the Minister of Economics, Aigars Stokenbergs, who oversees the Privatization Agency which holds the state's 51 % of Lattelecom says he knows nothing of this. Also Erkki Raakuste (a man's name, not Finno-Ugric for "bird flu" --men running through the streets shouting erkki raakuste! and blasting free-roaming poultry with flamethrowers ain't gonna happen) the main honcho of the Hansabank group denies it and says Ingrida laughed at the rumor.
Meanwhile, the source who told my colleague of this say he was not at the party and not drinking. Go figure.
Oh yes, and the The Man (Nils Melngailis) also no comments the rumors.
In fact, none of this makes any sense. One claim is that TeliaSonera wants Melngailis out because he is acting too independently and competing against the soon-not-to be half mother. And therein lies the the problem. Like it or not, Lattelecom is the currency (49 %) that TeliaSonera will be paying for the government's share of Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT). With both parties just barely agreed on an assessor to valuate both companies – LMT and Lattelecom – somebody would have to be a fuckwit to diss the CEO of Lattelecom and devalue one's own currency. Sorta like holding US hundred USD bills and writing graffiti on them, dark glasses and weird horns and noses on General Grant's face. Them bills is not going to be accepted as payment...
Where there is a certain capacity for wacko, byzantine and fuckwit schemes is, of course, the Latvian government and whatever loonie interests seem to have the upper hand behind it, EXCEPT that Stokenbergs and his crew, to my mind, pass the Alfred E Neuman test, that is Not Insane!. So they are not doing it and have many reasons to keep Melngailis as The Man.
In short, the whole rumor is one of those wackazoonie summer stories newspapers print in the boredom of mid-August (what the Swedes call, stories of the rotting month rötmånadshistorier). I just hope that we haven't burned any bridges to the Hansabanka leadership with this, but hey--whatever...

Music listened to while writing this: Rush Spirit of Radio, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Combination of the Two, The Byrds, I Wasn't Born to Follow, The Doors, LA Woman, The Eagles, Take it Easy.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Summer breeze

This is what the short Latvian summer is all about, a summer breeze, blue sky and warm sun. It will be over soon. Brought to you with the magic of telecommunications: a Nokia N80, Bluetooth, wireless internet by Triatel, video image storage by YouTube. Filmed in Carnikava, Latvia, Sunday, August 6, 2006.

Hope you enjoyed it. But some of you lucky folks live in semitropical climates?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Bite Honcho speaks

Bite presented its half-year figures, which were on the mark (LVL 1.9 millon EBITDA loss), 108000 users, 87 % of the population and 50% of the territory of Latvia covered. Not bad for nine months work and some LVL 15 million invested.

Here is what Bite honcho Maarten van Engeland had to say:

And now for what I think will happen. As I have mentioned earlier, I think that Bite will enter the household broadband market with a fixed wireless HSDPA offering. To get 3.6 Mbps for about the same price as Triatel (1 Mbps) and to jump to as high as 14.4 Mbps (more likely around 8 Mbps) is not a bad deal at all. If Bite can keep reasonable quality on this service and pump, say, full-screen TV (22 channels to ordinary TV sets), it will be one hell of a disruptive offering for everyone.
Like Triatel, a home HSDPA gadget is out of the box, no waiting. Speeds will match wireline. Bite's best TV shows may match that which people actually watch out of Baltcom's 100+ channels and on IZZI's digital cable. HSDPA TV may be a bit pricey, but we shall see. Finally, I hope Bite doesn't fiddle with the bitstream and allows Skype to run over the HSDPA connection. On the other hand, doing that sort of hands customers the shovel with which to dig the pay-per-minute operators' grave.

The website did not cost LVL 808 000. Fuck no! Caught that error BEFORE it got into the paper, but blogged it :(. Don't believe everything you read. It cost more like 80 000 something. So just one Hummer(?). Sorry Ina.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Latvia portal opens, blogsite develops

A new portal, partly funded by European Union regional development funds, was officially opened on August 3. The site consists mainly of links to Latvian ministries, municipalities and other sites containing a wide range of information about Latvia, Latvian history, society, media, regions, tourism, etc. etc. The site, sponsored by, let's call it the e-government Ministry (it has some god-awful tongue -twisting name both in Latvian and official English) and put together with the help of the Latvian Institute, will continue to add links as time goes on. The whole thing cost LVL 808 000 so far (unless I am mixing up figures) and will cost an additional LVL 57 000 to upgrade so that people can log in with their e-signature cards. The first ones have been produced and given to all members of the Cabinet of Ministers. Ordinary citizens will be able to order their e-signature smart cards after the signature becomes legally binding on September 1. Each user will also be able to personalize a "workspace" with links to just the e-government services he or she may need.
The e-signature card, by the way, has a happy version of some South Park character, see above.
While at the portal presentation, a lady noted to me that her portal also contained lots of information, was commercially financed and apparently didn't cost as much as half a dozen Hummers. While she asserted that it always popped up on Google, vietas isn't what comes to mind when you are looking for Latvia, especially as a foreigner planning one's first trip to the Balkans now that the wars are over :) :).

Meanwhile, my other blogsite, the Latvian language is turning into (your name or nick) (which means "for blogs".lv). The site is energetically run and maintained by a young Latvian IT specialist, Kristaps Kaupe. His IT skills are good (though he could borrow some simplified linking and quoting icons instead of presuming everyone speaks HTML :) ) and he writes some geeky stuff in Latvian. Kristaps political views, however, are , in my opinion, pretty much loonazoid, a word I made up to suggest, well, pretty strange. The thing is that if you read Latvian and check out the blogs, they seem to have attracted both his geeky and loonazoid friends and acquaintances. So there are folks discussing arcane IT stuff as well as simply utterly weird stuff called BUNGLE GUZZLE ZUNGLE or something like that, where the dude never writes more than two enigmatic sentences. But, according to Kristap's counter, this one is often in the top five....ZIGGLE BUGGLE NOOGLE....
Anyway, I think of myself as a hipster who kept a lot of 60s attitude, but maybe I am missing some wavelengths here, or the drugs have moved on to new spaces and places.. 8/.
The serious point being, we are seeing a blossoming of all kinds of subcultures in what is a real Latvian blogosphere, not only, but other sites, and there is a significant shift of attention (of which we can only give around 16 hours per day) to these new user generated content sites and communities.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mobile pesterware campaign starts for 8 digits

My operator, Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT), and, presumably, all the others, have started a pesterware campaign ahead of the November 1 final and irrevocable switch to eight digit numbering for all mobile numbers. Basically, it means put a 2 in front of any existing mobile number.
What is pesterware? It is now a recording that sounds if you do not dial with a 2 in front, or an SMS for sending a SMS without the 2.
Actually, it is not a bad idea, because anyone who wakes up and can't dial his favorite contacts on November 1 can be told ...we told you so.. again, once more, yet again, one more time, just so you remember, repeating for you to write down....
Download of the month by mid-October -- the female voice talking about the 2, then she gets strangled and makes horrible gargling and gagging noises, followed by 900 000 cheering LMT customers. Yours to download for LVL 0.35.