Tuesday 25 August 2020

5G in Israel ... still coming soon

Israel has a highly developed economy and one of its major sectors revolves around high technology products, primarily used in the medical, biotechnology, agricultural, materials and military industries. Israel also attracts investment in its cyber-security industry and has established itself as a hub for thousands of start-up companies.

To underpin these advanced developments; Israel is developing a robust telecoms sector. It has a high household internet penetration rate, almost all of which are broadband connections and fibre-network deployment is well underway, led by the Israel Broadband Company (IBC).

When we last wrote about Israel back in 2019, we were expecting 5G to be available by now. Coverage of 4G in Israel is significant and the regulator is forging ahead with a planned auction of 5G spectrum. The regulator has offered financial incentives to encourage operators to participate. The operators have also seen a flurry of merger and acquisition activity over the last 6 or so months.

Israel has five main network operators: Cellcom, Partner (formerly Orange), Pelephone, Golan Telecom and HOT Mobile.

2G and 3G: GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G is on 2100 MHz like in most of Europe with additional 850/900 MHZ. Most of the country is covered aside from parts in the unsettled north of the desert in the south, but mostly there is full coverage of the country. 4G/LTE: LTE works in most big cities on 1800 MHz (band 3) and there are plans to add 2600 MHz (band 7) to all networks in the future.

Cellcom is one of the historical providers. Shops and reloads can be found everywhere. They still have the most customers in the country on their network. Cellcom's prepaid plan is called "TalkMan" and referred as the generic word for prepaid cards in Israel.

The Israeli Ministry of Communications have accepted Cellcom’s request that Golan Telecom will merge with Cellcom but remain a virtual carrier and an active player in the market under Cellcom's wing.

The merged company will be the largest in Israel's mobile market, with some 3.6 million subscribers, a clear lead over the number two, Partner, which was not far behind Cellcom’s 2.7 million before the merger. It was in February 2020 that Cellcom announced that it would buy Golan Telecom at a valuation of about $216.3 million at current exchange rates.

Partner, formerly known as Orange, is another historical provider. They are owned by local Partner Communications, who used the Orange brand under license until 2016, but have rebranded getting rid of the orange color.

Partner is the second-largest mobile operator, and has been reported to be paying together with HOT Mobile, 62.3 million shekels for its frequencies. Partner operates a joint radio network with HOT, a subsidiary of telecoms and cable group Altice Europe.

Pelephone is the oldest operator in Israel, founded in 1986. It was a CDMA only network from 1998 until 2009 when it became a GSM compatible 3G/4G network, that means that only GSM phones supporting 3G on 850 and 2100 MHz or 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz can use it. Today it is the only network without 2G coverage in Israel since the 2G CDMA network has been shut down in July 2017.

HOT Mobile together with Golan Telecom (another operator which is hard to use for foreigners) started a "mobile revolution" in Israel in 2012. They are 3G and 4G-only networks, but there is a national network sharing agreement with Partner, so you get full coverage including 2G fallback. You may need to enable data roaming on your phone to get stable internet connection all over Israel, without surcharges. 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz on Partner network, 3G on 900 MHz (through Partner) and on 2100 MHz (own network). 4G/LTE started recently on own 1800 MHz network.

Golan Telecom started offering own prepaid plans under the brand GolanTalk from June 2018.
Golan Telecom has now been sold to rival Cellcom. So it can be expected that Golan Telecom will be merged to the Cellcom network soon.

In their first operator-level outlook on the Israeli mobile market, Open Signal found no single dominant operator across the mobile network experience metrics. Four of the awards — Video Experience, Games Experience, Voice App Experience and Download Speed Experience — resulted in a tie between two or three operators, while the three clear wins — Upload Speed Experience, 4G Availability, 4G Coverage Experience — were achieved by three different operators.

Partner appeared to be the best-placed operator in our award table with four draws and one clear win, but Pelephone and Hot Mobile also won one metric each and drew in another two. Golan Telecom drew in Voice App Experience — the only three-way draw — while Cellcom was the only operator which did not win or draw for any of the awards.

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