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(photo credit: Courtesy)
The mayor of Ariel on Monday accused the Ministry of Communications of hampering Israel's technology progress after the ministry granted only a one-year extension to the trial of its "Smart City" municipal wireless-mesh network project rather than allowing it permanent status.
"The world's technology is not going to wait for the Israeli regulators," Mayor Ran Nachman told The Jerusalem Post "As a result, we will see Israel fall behind many undeveloped countries that don't have the same technological know-how as Israel, but have been able to move ahead because they have a cooperative government."
He went on to accuse the ministry of not wanting to upset the Bezeq telecommunications company or the HOT cable company by giving municipalities the spectrums they need to operate and build their own networks with providers of their choice, which could exclude Bezeq and HOT.
"Right now they can charge whatever they want for their services but if we were to be able to put up our own antennae, they would face competition and could not set prices as freely as they would like,"the mayor said.
In Ariel's "Smart City" program, which was launched together with communications company Nortel last October, Nortel has deployed wireless, mesh-access points for high-speed, wireless coverage along the city's pedestrian mall, at municipal offices, as well as on the campus of the College of Judea and Samaria. Among other features, the service gives residents, students and visitors high-speed wireless access in those areas, free of charge.
This in itself is not new in Israel, given the wireless Internet access along Jerusalem's WiFi-enabled Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, however, "wi-mesh" takes the the wireless experience a step further, extending the reach to campus-sized areas and adding to the services available to the municipality and its citizens, essentially creating a broadband wireless network that will be controlled by the municipality. The network allows the city to wirelessly monitor water-meter readings, surveillance cameras, parking and traffic inspection and provides wireless video and voice communications for municipal and college employees.
"As a result of the Communications Ministry not releasing the frequencies, we were left with two options - either pull our equipment out of Ariel and stop investing in these projects in other Israeli cities, or ask for an extension, which we were forced to do," Shlomo Agni, manager of advanced broadband solutions at Nortel Israel, told the Post.
"What we need to do is prove to the government that this system will improve the lives of Israeli citizens, and we think we will be able to demonstrate its benefits successfully, but right now it is too soon to tell," he added, noting that many mayors in cities across Israel are interested in establishing a municipal wireless-mesh network, but first need to apply to the government and be granted the spectrums needed for the systems, but are hesitating to apply on fears they will be turned down given the Ariel situation.
Sorin Lupu, president of Nortel Israel and Eastern Europe, said he was still optimistic that the Ariel trial would gain permanence.
The Ministry of Communications told the Post that regulatory hearings to determine whether or not to release frequency spectrums to municipalities have been set for two months' time, and until permanent licenses are granted, only Ariel will be allowed to operate its "wi-mesh" network, as it is not in Israel proper and, therefore, has been designated a different status than cities within the Green Line.
Meanwhile, Nachman, who also chairs the "Smart City" panel at the Israel Conference of Mayors, noted that large cities such as Taipei and Moscow already are enjoying the benefits of "wi-mesh" networks, and were it not for government bureaucracy, so too would Israeli citizens.
"Getting this new technology into Israeli cities is still a dream of mine," said the Ariel mayor, who has been pioneering the movement to make all of Israel's cities "smart" for a decade.