Israel okays equipment to boost Palestinian cell coverage in West Bank

Military accepts request by Paltel telecom to import specialized circuit boards to improve phone service, speed up internet

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A Palestinian woman speaks on a cell phone in Ramallah on October 28, 2014.  (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
A Palestinian woman speaks on a cell phone in Ramallah on October 28, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Israeli military this week allowed a Palestinian telecommunications firm to import electronic equipment that is expected to significantly improve cellular service for Palestinians in the West Bank.

On Sunday, the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration approved a request by Palestinian communications company Paltel to purchase a number of circuit boards in order to expand the firm’s network coverage and speed up cellular internet service, the Civil Administration said.

The circuit boards fall into the category of “dual use” goods, which can be used for either civilian or military purposes and thus require approval from the military’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) liaison unit before they can be legally imported by a Palestinian company.

The process of clearing the circuit boards and other pieces of infrastructure took several months.

Palestinian men ride a horse pulled cart past the closed gate of the headquarters of Wataniya Mobile company office in Gaza City on March 17, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Following the Civil Administration’s final approval on Sunday, Paltel was expected to install the circuit boards this week and improve its cellular coverage almost immediately.

“The cellular communications sector in Judea and Samaria is undergoing a quantum leap thanks to coordination and the willingness of the parties to work together to find creative solutions to security and technical challenges. The impact of this development is expected to be felt in broad economic circles and not just in the area of user experience,” said Col. Sharon Biton, head of COGAT’s Civil Department.

Earlier this year, Palestinians in the West Bank gained 3G mobile telecommunications services, after years of negotiations with Israel.

However, the service remained weak for some Palestinians in light of Paltel’s limited infrastructure. The new circuit boards are designed to address this issue.

Paltel maintains a near total monopoly over the Palestinian telecommunications market, with some 1.5 million customers. The new equipment will only affect the firm’s network, not those of other companies in the West Bank, so Israeli settlers will not experience improved coverage as a result.

“We are continuing to work to advance the field of communications and cellular for the welfare of all residents. The upgrade of the network presents a significant improvement of the internet, something that will be felt quickly by customers,” said Dudu Cohen, the head of the Civil Administration’s communications department.

In January, the Paltel and Wataniya firms began offering 3G service to their customers, with Palestinians seeing the option appear on their phones for the first time.

Israel had previously blocked Palestinian mobile companies’ access to the necessary frequencies.

Third generation services were originally launched in the early 2000s, and much of the world already has 4G technology, while 5G is expected in the next year.

Ammar Aker, chief executive of the Paltel communications company which owns Jawwal, told AFP it had taken a decade of work to get Israel to agree to 3G.

AFP contributed to this report.

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