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Wataniya Palestine to launch “early next year”

Second mobile player finally gains green light for operations after spectrum is released.

Palestinians should have a second local mobile operator to choose from by the end of the year, after Wataniya Palestine was granted the spectrum that it needs to launch its mobile service.

Kuwait-based Wataniya Telecom, which is owned 51% by Qatar Telecom, confirmed recently that the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technologies (MTIT) had released the spectrum to start operation of its mobile network.

Wataniya group CEO, Scott Gegenheimer, told CommsMEA that he hoped the network, which was awarded the second operator’s license in 2006, would begin operating “early next year”.

According to the World Bank, which published a report entitled “Introducing Competition in the Palestinian Telecommunications Sector” earlier this year, Wataniya's targets are to reach a subscriber base of 400,000 customers after one year of operation, and 600,000 after two years.

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.

Allan Richardson, CEO of Wataniya Palestine, 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.

Currently, Palestine only has PalTel owned mobile network Jawwal operating in the region, with the only challenge to its dominance of the market coming from Israeli operators whose signals ‘leak’ over the border.

Increasing competition in the telecommunications sector in Palestine is considered vital to the economic redevelopment of the area.

The World Bank stated that “increasing competition and efficiency in the telecommunications sector will have far reaching effects throughout on the Palestinian economy’’. 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.

The World Bank estimates that the delay in Wataniya starting operations has resulted in a loss of income for the Palestinian Authority of US$13 million in the first year, and US$28 million in the second year.