The giants are getting ready

  • 2000-04-06
  • By Jorgen Johansson
RIGA – The Latvian government currently holds a monopoly on telephony in Latvia, however, they have noticed that the market would be more favorable if the telecommunication market were open for free enterprise. In 2013 the legislated state control expires, but the government is trying to shorten that period by 10 years to please the WTO and EU, ending the monopoly in 2003. The state holds 51 percent of the shares in Lattelekom, which solely controls the market in Latvia today. Sonera, a co-owner of Lattelekom's partner, TILTS Communications, which owns 49 percent of Lattelekom, has engaged Latvia's government in a lawsuit over ending the monopoly.

Lurking in the background just waiting for the outcome and the year 2003 are the two Scandinavian communication giants Telia, from Sweden, and the Norwegian Alcatel.

"Telia has no other plans than the other giants. When the market is free, we will put our efforts in the international call market," said Per Bengtsson, general country manager for Telia in Latvia.

Telia's first project in the Baltics was in 1991 when they provided Latvia and Estonia with a phone switch for calling abroad.

Of course, Telia thought the cooperation with the Latvian government would continue for the Swedish company. Naturally Telia was disappointed when the state declared who would form the company receiving the monopoly.

"You have to play by the rules. It says in the law that Lattelekom has a monopoly until 2013, but we are lobbying to modernize the telecommunication law and open up the market in 2003," Bengtsson said.

After the bad news for Telia, the company decided it would still be able to make some money in the Baltics looking for other opportunities. Through acquisitions of two smaller companies, they formed Telia Latvia SIA in 1996, starting to work in the pager industry for two years before the GSM market took over everything.

"It just wasn't profitable to keep running it," said Bengtsson.

Currently Telia is working in the cable TV industry holding 49 percent of the shares in Telia Multicom in Latvia. It is, according to Bengtsson, the second biggest on the Latvian market with 40,000 clients. They are also working within the computer communication sphere where they expect the future to be.

Stig Arntsen, Alcatel's general manager and regional director in the Baltics, is also trying to get his people ready for 2003.

"The World Trade Organization (WTO) is demanding that the monopoly be repealed," Arntsen said.

Alcatel already supplies Lattelekom with various communication services and has been modernizing Latvia's communication systems since 1994.

"We have invested more than $100 million on switches and access equipment in Latvia. We already have 95 percent of the fixed line market in Latvia. It is more difficult in Estonia and Lithuania. They are smaller markets due to a lower number of inhabitants," he said.

Over the last year Alcatel has invested $17 billion in the Internet market to develop new services and they are already global leaders in broad band wires.

In March 1993 Alcatel opened a small office in Riga with a small staff. One year later they registered Alcatel Baltics which today has 80 employees.

"I believe in a development of the IT industry in the Baltics. This is the trend in the world and Latvia is no different," said Janis Dirins, sales and marketing manager for Alcatel Latvia.

Telia and Alcatel are working in two different fields within the telecommunication industry. Telia is an operator and Alcatel is a supplier of services for network operators. The two communication giants are both eagerly waiting for 2003 and the outcome of the government's decision.