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Wataniya begins operations in Palestine

“Soft launch” for 40,000 customers of Palestine’s second mobile operator

Palestinians buying Wataniya phone cards earlier this week.
Palestinians buying Wataniya phone cards earlier this week.

Palestine's second mobile operator this week began offering a limited range of services to its customers.

The "soft launch" of Wataniya Palestine for 40,000 pre-registered customers follows a number of stalled attempts to provide those living in Palestine with a second local mobile operator, as the network continues to struggle to get Israel-held mobile frequency released.

Wataniya Palestine CEO Allan Richardson said: "We felt that because we had a large number of people who had pre-registered it was fair to give them the opportunity to use the network, so we've opened up the network to them. It's a soft launch. Not all the services are in place and there is still a bit more to do, but nothing major."

Richardson compared Sunday's launch to the early stages of a motor race. "We're in the pits, the engines are started, we're moving along slowly and we'll join the main race in a little while."

Wataniya Palestine is currently operating with 3.8 MHz of frequency, 1MHz less than the 4.8 MHz that was agreed in a deal brokered by Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair.

Nati Schubert, senior deputy director-general at Israel's ministry for communications has said previously that Israel will make the promised frequency available as soon as the Palestinian Authority complies with certain stipulations in the May agreement, but he declined to reveal the steps the Palestinian Authority needs to take.

"Right now, with the number of subscribers we've got, we don't anticipate problems in the short to medium term," Richardson said. "But we will need the spectrum, and we have received assurances from the relevant people."

Richardson added that he was happy with the performance of the network, and he said the response from customers so far had been "very, very positive".

Palestine has one other mobile operator, Jawwal, a subsidiary of recent Zain acquisition Paltel. Wataniya Palestine's official launch is expected to take place next month.