4G, 5G Finally on the Way for Palestinians
However, advanced wireless networks are on hold until Israel forms a government
Palestinian wireless providers have been trying for several years to move beyond third-generation service and have objected to Israel’s control of frequencies and telecom infrastructure.
The World Radiocommunication Conference 2019, which concluded its work in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on November 22, unanimously adopted Resolution No. 12 stipulating the right of the Palestinian Authority to operate fourth- and fifth-generation services and requiring Israel to “fulfill its obligation” to allow the Palestinian people to use these frequencies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Additionally, the resolution by the United Nations-affiliated conclave obligates Israel to allow entry to the Palestinian territories of the equipment needed to build and operate these advanced communication networks within a reasonable timeframe and to ensure international supervision of implementation.
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. “The [Palestinian telecom] committee is meeting with the Israeli side on December 24.”
In September, Seder visited the International Telecommunication Union headquarters in Geneva and briefed its Secretary-General Houlin Zhao on the Palestinians telecommunications sector in general and the obstacles to implementing 4G and 5G services, as well as what he called the stalling tactics being employed by Israel to prevent the Palestinian people from exercising their right to use the advanced technology.
Seder highlighted to Zhao 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.
“After our meeting with Secretary-General Zhao, the Israeli side finally responded to our repeated calls and messages asking to meet and discuss the matter of 4G and 5G networks, [and agreed to meet] on October 24, which was only four days before the WRC [World Radiocommunication Conference] 2019,” Samer Ali, the foreign relations director at the Palestinian Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministry, told The Media Line.
Ali said that at the 2018 International Telecommunication Union Plenipotentiary Conference in Dubai, then-Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara promised to work on getting the Palestinians 4G services but that subsequently, Israel had ignored all calls and invitations from the Palestinians until Seder met with Zhao in Geneva.
“Not only that, but they [the Israelis have] also released technical equipment that had been locked up in Israeli ports for months, and some of it for years. We demanded in the [October 24] meeting to exercise our right to use 4G services, and we expressed our objection to Israel’s offer in August to Israeli companies of implementing 5G service without even taking us into consideration,” he added.
However, Ali said the Israelis told the Palestinian committee they would have to wait until Israel formed a government to decide on the 4G and 5G frequencies for Palestinians. “Their justification is that they need to know what’s theirs and what’s ours [in terms of frequencies], and that will happen when a new government is formed.”
Ali said there were intensive discussions with the American and Israeli representatives at the WRC conference, and some modifications were made to the draft resolution, after which the states participating in the conference adopted it unanimously.
“At the final session of the conference, Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, who had a great role in obtaining this consensus for the benefit of the Palestinian people, pledged his personal commitment, as well as the union’s full commitment, to implement this decision and follow it up until the services are available in Palestine,” Ali said.
He added that the Palestinian committee would meet again with the Israeli side on December 24 to discuss ways of implementing the resolution.
While Israel prepares to implement 5G, the West Bank only moved to 3G last year and Gaza remains with 2G. Meanwhile, Palestinian officials are demand more frequencies to allow a third telecom operator to join Jawwal and Wataniya.
Andre Hawit, a Palestinian businessman based between the Middle East and the US, told The Media Line that instead of improving speeds three to 10 times by moving from 3G to 4G, Palestinians could achieve 300x to 500x speed improvement by skipping a generation and moving directly to 5G.
“An investment has to be made either way; we might as well make the right investment, even though 5G requires a greater investment,” Hawit said.
He pointed out that 5G would drive gains in productivity and efficiency, which would have major positive effects on the Palestinian economy and open the door for existing and future solutions. “The advantage of having a small country like Palestine makes this implementation more feasible,” Hawit said.
The draft resolution was presented as a joint Arab document at the conference, which is held every four years. All countries and many companies participate, given its importance in distributing frequency bandwidth, including now for 5G services.
Hani Alami, a Palestinian tycoon and chief executive officer of CoolNet, an internet service provider, told The Media Line that mobile connectivity was an essential tool nowadays for businesses and consumers as well, and that mobile broadband had become a necessity worldwide.
“In Palestine even more so, as ICT [information and communications technology] can bypass the occupation’s barriers and siege on Palestinians, giving hope for Palestinian entrepreneurs to export their capabilities worldwide and offering outsourcing services generating new income for their families,” Alami said.
He said that Israel over the years prohibited these services and prevented Palestinians from having them so that today Gaza was still running a 2G network, as “the Israeli occupation isn’t allowing the Palestinian operators to build their 3G, 4G or 5G network [in the Strip].”
Alami said Palestine was ready for the 5G network and the Palestinian companies were capable of building and running this technology to meet the huge demand for the service.
“However, what is needed is the approval by the occupier to allow access to the equipment shipped to Palestine. The only reason for the Israeli prevention of this network’s establishment is to add another layer to the occupation called economic occupation,” Alami continued. “They [the Israelis] are pushing Palestinians to buy [internet] services from Israeli companies that generate hundreds of millions of illegal revenue.”
Shadi Atshan, co-founder of the Leaders Organization and the FastForward startup accelerator in Ramallah, told The Media Line that 4G-5G applications could have great impact in terms of upgrading established businesses in the West Bank, thus pushing the Palestinians to the level of international economies.
“However, given the political restrictions on Palestinians, applicability of 5G solutions would be limited. For instance, Israel would never easily facilitate or approve self-driving cars, drones and other such things in the Palestinian territories,” Atshan said.
He added that the World Radiocommunication Conference resolution was a very positive step that would improve the lives of Palestinians and pave the way toward building talent and for curricula at universities that would build the capacity of graduates in fields where demand for employees was high worldwide.