Palestine Telecom Group (PalTel) is the largest employer in the Palestinian Authority after the government. Jawwal, PalTel's mobile operator subsidiary, officially launched 3G services in the West Bank in January 2018, but not yet in Gaza. Speaking to Telecom Review, PalTel chief executive officer, Ammar Aker, said it is the company's "obligation and right" to demand 4G capabilities having "requested the frequencies for 4G for the past three years" from Israel.
What can you tell us about the telecommunications landscape in Palestine?
The telecommunications sector has had a significant influence on the development of Palestine's infrastructure, quality of life, quality of education, recognition of its rich, innovative culture and a foundation for Palestinian startups. The ICT sector in Palestine consists of the following attributions:
- 100% digital telecommunication infrastructure that is entirely developed by the Palestinian private sector.
- Palestine hosts more than 250 companies specialized in the field of information and communication technology.
- IT sector contributes to 5.5% of the total Palestinian GDP.
- 600 million dollars is the net contribution of the ICT sector in the Palestinian market.
- The market has over 4.7 million mobile phone subscribers (including the illegal Israeli mobile subscribers - as four Israeli mobile providers operate in Palestine without a license), over 400 thousand fixed-line subscribers, in addition to 100 radio stations and local television stations, and 17 companies operating in the field of telecommunications and internet.
- 40% of Palestinian technology companies are engaged in outsourcing projects for multinational companies.
- 13 Palestinian universities teach ICT related courses.
Palestinian ICT sector strengths:
- Rich human capital
- Young and well-educated population
- Blockade in Gaza has resulted in innovative youth
- Geographical proximity
- Presence of multinational companies in the area
Can you share with us an overview of PalTel Group and what the Group encompasses?
Palestine Telecom Group, the largest employer in Palestine (after the government), is the pioneer in the telecommunication sector in Palestine and leads the provision of the latest services and technologies in accordance with international standards and specifications representing 25% of the Palestinian stock market as a public shareholding company.
Paltel Group started its operations in Palestine in 1997 by providing state-of-the-art services to the Palestinian end user. Its variety of services includes local and international fixed telephony services, internet, data communications, mobile services and next generation services. The Group has been able to achieve the highest standard in telecommunication services by wisely investing in modern technologies, telecom infrastructure and human resource development.
The Group consists of four companies: Palestine Telecommunications (Paltel), Palestine Cellular Communications Ltd. (Jawwal), Hadara Company (internet provider) and Reach (contact center).
Paltel Group significantly contributes to the Palestinian GDP; in addition, Paltel stock represents almost 24.3% of the total market CAP of the Palestine Exchange (PEX). The Group's net earnings grew rapidly during the past years, which provided it with financial stability to further invest in technology and development across the ICT industry. Furthermore, Paltel Group is the biggest employer in Palestinian private sector with more than 3,000 employees.
Paltel Group Foundation for Social Development is an independent, non-profit organization established by Palestine Telecom Group in 2008 as a direct response to the growing needs of the Palestinian society. The Foundation is the first of its kind in Palestine: an indigenous, self- financed, corporate-supported foundation. It focuses on various forms of youth empowerment by providing equal opportunities to all segments of society in education by promoting a knowledge-based society through encouraging entrepreneurship and identifying role models to inspire future generations of Palestinians.
Paltel Group has shown great determination in its efforts to deliver high quality telecommunications services, as each company provides high quality of telecommunications services within Palestine through the adaptation of international technologies to improve the Palestinian quality of life and increase community livelihood.
Can you tell us about PalTel's journey to launching 3G services?
For the past several years, Palestine Telecom Group worked endlessly and tirelessly for Israel to lift their ban on Palestinian mobile companies and grant them with necessary frequencies and third generation services. It took the Palestinian operators eight years for Israel to even consider introducing 3G services in the West Bank, and of course the range of the 3G frequencies is very much limited: 5 MHz is dedicated, and five others shared, indicating that we are only allowed to use that specific frequency within the West Bank, while Israeli operators can use theirs in Israel requiring us to coordinate on broader areas.
In November 2015, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed a "Principles Agreement" to enable deployment of a 3G mobile network in the West Bank; however, it took an additional two years to see vital results from the Israeli government to fully implement the agreement.
The negotiations were moving at an extremely slow pace, with a wave of challenges and self-motivated interests, as back and forth negotiations were not producing results. After years of wrangling with the Israeli authorities, Jawwal, Palestine Telecom's mobile operator, finally launched 3G services in the West Bank in January 2018.
It has been a decade of ongoing work for Israel to approve 3G and lift its ban; however, until this date, 3G services are only available in the West Bank, as it was not granted to be available in Gaza.
Despite these challenges, the launch of 3G is a strategic step that Palestine Telecom Group has been waiting for more than 10 years. We hope it has a positive effect on the national communications infrastructure and the Palestinian economy as a whole. Additionally, as the telecommunications leader in Palestine, it is our obligation and right to continue to demand 4G capabilities in Palestine, as most of the world already has 4G technology and 5G will be available in the coming year. We cannot afford to delay this matter any further.
What are the main challenges ahead of introducing 4G in Palestine?
Due to Israeli restrictions, we will not be able to launch 4G in Palestine, as it will take a few years. We have already requested the frequencies for 4G for the past three years now and we and friends from the international community will keep pressuring Israel to release 4G for Palestine and 3G for Gaza in the short run.
Can you share some of PalTel's plans for the future?
Our priority now is to get the needed frequencies from the Israeli authority to launch 3G service in Gaza. After that, we will start working on requiring the release of 4G frequencies from the Israeli authorities. FTTH and fixed broadband remain also a priority. The average speed for fixed broadband in Palestine is among the highest in the region. We used the absence of mobile broadband to increase the availability and speed of the fixed broadband, and we currently have a well-structured network and infrastructure.