The Israel Electric Company is offering fiber optic Internet connections to Israeli homes and businesses. Beginning next month, the Unlimited network is set to offer speeds up to 1 gbps (1 gigabit, or 1000 megabits, per second) via “retail” communications companies, which are to be responsible for customer connection and service.
According to Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, the announcement represents a revolution in how Israelis use data online. “The fiber optic network is a national project that will be the the key to reducing inequality and bring peripheral areas in the north and the south into the center of the country.” Erdan was speaking at a Tel Aviv press conference Tuesday discussing the details of the new network.
Fiber optic networks are currently the fastest commercial method of moving data. Fiber cables, usually made of glass or plastic, have a wider bandwidth than the copper wires they are meant to replace, and also have the ability to conduct signals at much higher speeds and deliver data signals without fading. That makes them ideal for the video content that entertainment providers would like to stream over the Internet. The higher bandwidths allow for smoother video streaming, ensuring that there are none of the “bumps” or “pauses” that generally occur at lower connection speeds.
The IEC was granted a license to set up a communications network in 2011 as part of the government’s commitment to increase competition in the communications sphere, Moshe Kahlon, then communications minister, said in a 2011 press conference announcing the network. After several delays, including one caused by lack of interest from infrastructure builders, the project was executed and is being built by a consortium of companies, led by Swedish communications infrastructure company Viaeuropa and the IEC.
According to the IEC, the network will cover about 70 percent of the country by the end of the decade, but fiber optic connections (FTTH, or “fiber-to-the-home”) will be available in many parts of the Tel Aviv area next year, competing with phone company Bezeq and cable TV company HOT, both of which supply Internet infrastructure throughout Israel. Those companies’ networks use a combination of standard copper wiring and fiber connections, and both networks top out at about 100 mbps (megabits per second), making the IEC’s proposed fiber connections ten times faster than the best Bezeq or HOT can do. Last week, HOT announced that it was making connections of 200 mbps, although Erdan, speaking at the event, said that he “highly doubted” that subscribers would get connections of that speed. In any event, he said, it was only because of anticipated competition from the Unlimited network that HOT and Bezeq had recently been talking about upgrading their service.
The “revolution” fiber optics brings is not just in speed, but in service, said Erdan. “It will take about three seconds to sign up for Unlimited service on the Internet. No more will consumers have to wait on the phone and deal with endless customer service calls to get anything done. The success of this project will break the infrastructure duopoly of Bezeq and HOT, allowing new players to get involved in the market.” Among those players are some of the “new” cellphone service providers, like Golan Telecom and YESPhone, who, along with eight other companies, will be offering connections via the network. One of those companies is Coolnet, a Ramallah-based communications company owned by Palestinian businessman Hani Alami.
With the inauguration of a national gbps-speed fiber-optic network, Israel joins a select group of countries and cities where such service is available, including Tokyo, Singapore, much of South Korea and several cities in the US where Google has set up super-fast networks (such as Chattanooga, Tennessee). Prices will range from NIS 100-190 per month for speeds of 200 mbps to NIS 328-799 per month for 1 gbps connections, making it significantly more expensive than in most of the Far East, where prices for the fast hookup are in the NIS 150 range.
Erdan said that prices were high initially because of the rollout expenses, but that he expected competition between the ten service providers to bring costs down within a short time. He added that the increased competition from Unlimited will prompt Bezeq and HOT to invest in their own fast infrastructure in order to remain competitive. That, too, should press prices lower. It’s “ironic,” said Erdan, that it was the IEC, itself a monopoly, that would be the trigger for lower communication infrastructure prices. “But that’s the way it is — you have to work with what you have, and the new Unlimited infrastructure will make fast connections available to everyone around the country at a reasonable price.”