The IDF signed an agreement with the Palestinians on Thursday that allows their two mobile carriers to upgrade to 3G high-speed mobile Internet, in advance of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival in Israel next week.
Palestinian Deputy Minister for Telecommunications and Technology Suleiman al-Zahiri said the Palestinians have been waiting for the 3G services in their territories for the past 10 years.
The new services are expected to go into effect in mid- 2016.
The upgrade is one of the unilateral gestures that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made to improve economic and civilian life for the Palestinians.
At the fourth annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference on Thursday, Netanyahu explained, “unilateral moves in security and economy are there and we are doing them.”
He is under pressure from the United States and the international community to take steps to improve life for the Palestinians in the absence of a peace process.
The agreement for the improved cellular service was signed between the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.
Gen. Yoav Mordechai and Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs, Hussein al-Sheikh, in the morning, before Palestinian terrorists executed three attacks in which five people were killed.
Mordechai said that the decision to upgrade the services was made “after examination by the security establishment and the completion of professional staff-work with the Israeli Ministry of Communications.”
Palestinians welcomed the agreement, which they said would help them to develop their telecommunications and technological fields. It will also enable improvements in education, tourism, health and industry.
Al-Zahiri said the Palestinians were expected to import the equipment needed to operate the 3G services in the coming weeks. He said the PA still hasn’t decided which company would be given a license to offer the services.
“This is an agreement in principle that paves the way for establishing networks for 3G services after 10 years of procrastination,” he added.
“Today the world is headed toward introducing 5G services to mobile phones, while the Israelis have been reluctant to give us 3G.”
The PA official explained that Israel had refused to grant the services to the Palestinians for economic, and not security reasons.
Mashhour Abu Daqqa, the former PA Minister of Telecommunications, said that the Palestinians had no other choice but to accept the 3G services although most countries have long been using 4G.
The Chief Executive Officer of Palestine Telecommunications Company (Paltel), Ammar Aker, said that the 3G services would offer many services to mobile users in the Palestinian territories and save them much effort and time.
He said that Palestinians would be able to enjoy the services of the Internet wherever they are in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He said that the Palestinians will accept the 3G services and, at the same time, will also demand that they be granted 4G services.
Abu Daqqa said the advent of 3G, third generation wireless technology, will have a marked impact on the day-today lives of Palestinians, and may even boost the economy.
“It will increase mobile connectivity, which means businesses will work a bit differently.
They’ll evolve as a result, they’ll have more efficient work methods than the old ways.”
A 3G network lets users download data up to 80 times faster than 2G, and paves the way for using data-reliant applications on smartphones.
Smartphone usage among Palestinians grew from two percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2014, according to the World Bank, even though slow data networks prevented users from accessing many features.
Abu Daqqa estimated it would take the two major Palestinian mobile service providers, Jawwal and Wataniya, at least six months to upgrade their infrastructure and make the service available, but said it could take longer depending on how long it takes for equipment to get through Israeli customs.
Though part of the economic promise around 3G focuses on spurring the local high-tech scene, it may not have a noticeable impact. Faris Zaher, the CEO of Palestinian hotel-booking startup Yamsafer, said new 3G will hardly make a difference on his bottom line because his company largely targets foreign markets, not the local one. “I think it’s the same for every other Internet start-up here.”
Instead, the upgrade could have a palpable influence on small-to-medium local businesses.
“For companies that are targeting the local market, be that local retail or whatever it is, it makes things much easier in terms of reaching consumers, or to do simple things like navigation on-the-go and communication.
It lowers the cost of living indirectly because it provides more efficient communications,” Zaher said.
While the move will be welcome for Palestinian consumers and small businesses, the biggest winners financially will likely be the telecom companies themselves. “We estimate that removing today’s restrictions will not only remove a serious threat to the viability of this industry, but also add some US $48 million in value to the sector – equal to 0.5 percent of Palestinian 2011 GDP,” the World Bank wrote in its 2014 study.
Some have a sense that Israel approved the 3G upgrade only as even faster 4G technology came online, meaning that Palestinians mobile providers will remain at a competitive disadvantage to Israeli providers operating in the West Bank.
“The decision has to do with economic interest. My argument is that 3G is an outgoing technology. There’s no Palestinian operator that can compete without 3G when Israel is already upgrading to 4G,” said Abu Daqqa.
In the World Bank’s analysis, much of the economic benefit that 3G would bring to the Palestinian economy came from leveling the playing field with Israeli companies. With Israeli competitors now offering 4G, Palestinian operators may not get the full benefit.
In fact, Palestinians feared their mobile companies would collapse altogether if they were barred from 3G.
“The Palestinian mobile companies believe that as the number of smart phone users increases and the world moves on to 4G services, their very survival may depend upon being able to access 3G frequencies,” the World Bank study noted.