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Palestinians Leap Into Third Generation Cellular Service…At A Cost

Technology is much cheaper in neighboring countries

A wave of disappointment swept across the Palestinian Authority (PA) when, after much fanfare, Jawwal (Palestine Cellular Communications) launched its third-generation (3G) cellular service on Monday night. Users are angered over the high price of the service, which is costlier than in any other neighboring country, including Israel.

Jawwal belongs to the Palestine Telecommunications (Paltel) group and CEO Ammar Aker said that his company had intentionally released the service ahead of schedule to enable “Palestinian protesters to broadcast events directly using the 3G service.”

Jawwal is the largest PA private-sector company, employing almost 900 people.

For its part, Watanye, Jawwal’s lone competitor, only released the new service on Wednesday due to a protest strike in the West Bank during U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s three-day visit to Israel, which followed Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital in December.

West Bank resident Tamer Abu Nejem told The Media Line that while Palestinians had waited patiently for the more advanced service, the price was putting a big damper on the excitement. “Israeli companies provide the same service for much cheaper,” he noted.

In fact, Five gigabytes of data from Jawwal costs about $30, compared to $5 in Jordan and less than $4 in Israel.

In this respect, Omar Umran, a professor of business at Birzeit University in Ramallah, explained to The Media Line that, “although Palestinian mobile companies worked so hard for so long to get Israeli permission to provide the 3G service, there is no real competition [in the West Bank] to lower the prices as there are only two mobile companies.”

Previously, PA companies were restricted to using slow 2G technology, and, consequently, many Palestinians chose to use Israeli mobile operators, which, despite being banned, are estimated to have up to forty percent of the West Bank market. Jewish communities scattered around the territory have Israeli telecom antennas installed, enabling coverage for much of the area.

In a coordinated campaign, the Palestinian mobile companies recently joined with the PA Ministry of Communications to fight this trend. “Within a short period of time Jawwal managed to convince Palestinians via various campaigns to get rid of the Israeli internet services that operate illegally in the West Bank,” Paltel CEO Aker asserted.

Shadi Atshan, CEO of Leaders, a non-profit organization that supports digital development and entrepreneurship in the West bank, is convinced that that 3G service will impact positively on Palestinian businesspeople. “It will give a great opportunity for Palestinians to develop new technologies and test them in the market,” he told The Media Line, “and it will refresh the Palestinian economy and allow people to use new technologies they couldn’t use before.”

Nevertheless, he warned that many Palestinians would still use illegal Israeli 3G services because of the cheaper prices.

Despite its elevated cost, Aker still believes that the 3G service will help “improve Palestinian citizens’ lives and develop the economy.” To this end, he confirmed that the Jawwal network is “powerful and widespread” and that in order to serve the largest number of users the company has installed 1,000 cellular towers in the West Bank.

Salman Al-Zuhairi, PA Deputy Minister of Communications, said that the 3G service will not be available in the Gaza Strip due to “Israeli restrictions.”