Palestinian wireless providers are gearing up to soon move beyond third-generation service and usher in 4G technology. Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al-Sheikh made the announcement in a tweet on Tuesday.
The news was part of several understandings reached during a meeting between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday.
While Israeli cellular providers upgraded to 4G in 2014, their Palestinian counterparts in the West Bank only moved to 3G in 2018 and Gaza remains with 2G.
The fifth generation of cellular networks, 5G, officially launched in Israel last year.
Palestinian cellular providers are ecstatic, saying launching their own high-speed data services in the West Bank will narrow the technological gap with Israel and even the playing field.
Ammar Aker, CEO at Palestine Telecom (Paltel) Group, says he is excited about the news. “I’m happy to see there’s positive progress on the political level because technology − 3G, 4G, 5G − has unfortunately always been a political issue in this part of the world,” he says.
The advent of the long-awaited service will have a massive impact on all aspects of Palestinian lives, he continues. “We now can move to building a digital economy with powerful telecommunication infrastructure.”
Israel has blocked these services from the Gaza Strip, and Palestinians in the impoverished coastal enclave are still running a 2G network.
“We are hoping that with the approval of 4G in both the West Bank and Gaza, we can’t leave Gaza working on 2G. The current 2G service in Gaza is basically voice with no mobile broadband,” he says.
But Aker stresses that because the Palestinian telecommunications companies are still working on older technology, it will still be some time before 4G is in the hands of the users.
“That means the transformation from 3G to 4G will take some time. Also, there are a lot of details that still need to be ironed out between the political leaders on both sides, which means it may take upward of a year before Palestinians reap the benefits of this new technology service.”
The agreement is just the beginning of a long and laborious process, and there are many technological upgrades and financial investment that needs to be implemented, Aker says.
“We are not prepared at all. We have to first find out what is the assigned frequency, and the amount of frequency we’ll be working with. That’s subject to the details of negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides.” He says building a network will take at least six to nine months.
“Based on that we’ll go out and buy the necessary equipment to build a network. Hopefully, this will include the procurement process, as shipping clearance usually takes more time because it has to get approval from Israeli authorities,” Aker says.
The move is sure to have significant consequences on the West Bank economy and open the door for Palestinian commerce to better compete in the international arena.
Thabit Abo Al Ros, a financial expert and a lecturer at Palestine Technical University in Tulkarem, in the northwestern West Bank, says there are several benefits awaiting the Palestinians from this new technology.
“There are 148,000 businesses and projects operating in the Palestinian market, and they need fast communication networks due to their connection to international trade, so the speed of the internet will automatically reduce the time needed to complete the tasks,” he says.
The two Palestinian mobile phone providers say that between them, they have close to four million customers. Analysts explain that when the 4G service arrives, it will lower prices.
“The 4G service will create new competition in the Palestinian market and there will be a fight to retain consumers, and therefore the customer will ultimately benefit from lower prices,” says Al Ros.
This should be positive news for Palestinian cellular companies which, according to an estimate in the 2016 World Bank report, lost between $436 million and $1.5 billion in potential revenue between 2013 and 2015 due to Israeli restrictions on frequencies and equipment imports, and unauthorized competition by Israeli operators.
But Al Ros says that although the presence of 4G in the Palestinian territories will help and support Palestinian telecommunications companies, the benefit will be somewhat “limited.”
Says Aker, “This will improve our competitive advantage in comparison to the Israeli operators. You know they cover the entire West Bank, most cities, villages and main roads, with better technology. We offer 3G while Israeli competitors offer faster speed service.”
Al Ros says that no matter what happens, the Palestinians will always be a step behind.
“Over the past few years, Israeli companies have strengthened their communications networks’ presence in the occupied West Bank, especially near Palestinian cities and towns.”
“They have 5G. Therefore, the citizen who lives near the Israeli settlements prefers the 5G service, which means that there is a plan for the Israeli side to continue its technological superiority, which leads to its seizure of a huge chunk of the Palestinian market at the expense of Palestinian companies,” says Al Ros.
Article written by Mohammad al-Kassim
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line