Wataniya optimistic about Palestinian operations

Israeli authorities are ruining efforts to revive Palestinian economy by delaying the launch of a second mobile operator, according to Palestine's deputy communications minister.

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By  Roger Field Published  May 5, 2008

Wataniya Palestine, a subsidiary of Kuwaiti mobile operator Wataniya, could start mobile services in the West Bank by the end of 2008 if it is able to gain the spectrum it needs to run its service from Israeli authorities in the next few weeks, according to Allan Richardson, the company's CEO.

Wataniya Palestine originally signed an agreement with Palestine's Ministry of Telecommunication and Information Technology (MTIT) in March 2007 to become the second mobile operator in the Palestinian Territories, but more than a year later the company is still waiting for Israel's Communications Ministry to provide it with the required spectrum to start operations.

However, in the run up to the Palestine Investment Conference which is set to take place in Bethlehem from May 21-23, Richardson is optimistic that his company could finally gain the spectrum it needs.

"There is a lot of movement behind the scenes. We're hopeful that it is going to get resolved in the very near future," Richardson told CommsMEA. He added that with increased international attention focused on the Palestinian economy in the run up to Palestine Investment Conference, Israel might be encouraged to release the spectrum.

Suleiman Zuheiry, the Palestinian Authority's deputy minister of telecommunications and information technologies, recently accused Israel's Communications Ministry of ruining efforts to develop Palestine's telecoms sector, and its wider economy, by delaying the launch of Wataniya's operations.

"We think [the delay] is political. All the time, they're telling us that it's a military issue, and the military is using these bands in the Gaza Strip and Southern Lebanon," The Washington Times quoted Zuheiry as saying. He added that the delay also sets a bad precedent in the run-up to the Palestine Investment Conference, and could deter other potential investments in Palestine.

The delay is certainly hindering a significant investment from Wataniya Palestine. Richardson said that his company will invest some US$600 million in the Palestinian economy over three years and create up to 2,500 jobs - making it the biggest ever private investment in the Palestinian economy - once it gains the required spectrum.

He added that it will take about five months to start mobile operations on the ground from the time that the spectrum is granted, although there could be further delays attempting to move the required equipment into the West Bank.

"It could take upwards of two months just to get equipment in the West Bank. If things are changed and restrictions are lifted, of course we would welcome it," he said.

"We're going to cover the whole of the West Bank and when political circumstances allow, we will cover Gaza as well. There are some impediments to doing anything in Gaza because we have to get equipment in and that is obviously an issue," he added.

Wataniya Palestine will be compete with Palestine's national operator, Paltel, as well as several Israeli mobile operators which are believed to be operating in the West Bank illegally because they lack the required licences from the PA to operate in the territory.

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