Sunday 20 February 2022

How long must Palestine wait for 4G?


The World Bank recently has called on Israel to allow Palestinians to upgrade their mobile network, saying the potential of the digital economy in the occupied Palestinian territories is not being fully realized.

According to the global ICT Development Index, the West Bank and Gaza are placed below the developing country average in broadband penetration rate. The World Bank report calls on Israeli authorities to allocate the spectrum needed for Palestinian 4G and 5G deployments before 5G deployments are completed in Israel.

Israel is currently upgrading its telecommunications system from a 4G to a 5G network, and are ensuring their illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank are also being upgraded. While Palestinians in Gaza use mostly a 2G system and a 3G one in the West Bank. Israeli restrictions are “among the key impediments to development of the digital economy in the West Bank and Gaza,” says the report.

It highlights a two-tiered system in which Israel is preparing to upgrade its telecommunications system from a 4G to 5G network, while Palestinians in Gaza use mostly a 2G system and a 3G one in the West Bank. The latter was made available to Palestinians only in 2018.

According to the World Bank Israel has “decision-making power over the frequency spectrum, and so far has refused to allocate the necessary spectrum to Palestinian telecom operators to deploy 4G frequencies.

It also has restricted the import of telecommunications equipment and access to infrastructure and transmission sites. Bandwidth is set and sold by Israel, the report noted, adding that Palestinian telecommunication companies are charged a higher price than their Israeli competitors.

The report concludes the Palestinian telecommunication companies can not be competitive with their Israeli counterparts, the adding that these companies are forced to offer more limited services at higher prices.

Those Palestinians who live within range of Israeli 4G systems are more likely to purchase plans through those Israeli companies rather than their now national ones. However  Palestinians who live in rural areas and who rely solely on their cellphones for internet access suffer the most from the limited web capacity.

As a result of all these restrictions, the report said, the “West Bank and Gaza is placed below the developing country average in broadband penetration rate” according to the global Information and Communications Technology Development Index.

The two Palestinian mobile phone providers Ooredoo and Jawwal say that between them, they have close to four million customers. Analysts explain that when the 4G service arrives, it will lower prices.

Ishaq Seder, the Palestinian Authority’s telecommunications and information technology minister, told The Media Line that providing the Palestinian people with 4G and 5G networks was extremely important and top of the ministry’s priority list.

“It is important for developing work in the fields of information technology, electronic commerce and a variety of other fields, as these networks are tied to several issues related to digital development,” Seder said. He added that the ministry’s goal was to establish multiple services in landline and digital communications.

He confirmed that there was no specific timetable for implementation but said huge efforts were being made to achieve it as soon as possible. 

Seder highlighted the equipment intended for Palestinians that is being held in Israeli ports, and how Israeli telecommunication companies were exploiting their monopoly on 4G service to attract Palestinian consumers. An estimated 400,000 Israeli SIM cards are being used by Palestinians in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials are demand more frequencies to allow a third telecom operator to join Jawwal and Wataniya.

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