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Paltel plans network expansion in 2013

Palestinian operator reveals 2013 investment plans, including mobile network extension

Ammar Aker, CEO, Paltel.
Ammar Aker, CEO, Paltel.

Paltel, the incumbent telecom operator in Palestine, is planning to invest a combined sum of about $50m in its fixed and mobile networks in 2013, the company's CEO told CommsMEA.

The firm will probably invest between $15m and 20m in its mobile network, with $30m to 35m earmarked for fixed-line infrastructure, including the expansion of its fibre network, according to Ammar Aker, CEO, Paltel.

Paltel recently gained most of the approvals required from Israeli authorities to expand its mobile network along main roads in Area C zones of the West Bank, and the telco hopes to start deploying the network infrastructure soon, Aker said.

The West Bank was divided into areas A, B and C by Israel. Area C accounts for almost 65% of the West Bank and is fully controlled by the Israeli authorities.

"We applied for 65 sites, but we will start with 10 to12 immediately," Aker said during a telephone interview from Ramallah.

The new sites will be along main roads including the road from Jerusalem to Ramallah and Jericho, which also leads to the Jordanian border. Coverage will also be extended to the road from Ramallah to Hebron.

However, while Paltel has gained approval to deploy some new cell sites, it has not been able to gain the spectrum required to launch 3G services, which remains under the grip of Israeli authorities.

"We are one of the few operators left in the Middle East to not have mobile broadband. We have the licence and we have paid for the licence three years ago but we still cannot operate because we were not assigned a frequency band from the Israeli authorities," Aker said.

"It is killing our growth. We have modest growth but we cannot grow as other operators have done in the world. 3G and mobile broadband provided a new opportunity for growth for many operators especially with everything moving towards data instead of voice."

The CEO added that he hoped that President Obama's recent visit to the region would lead to "some improvement in the political situation", which could in turn lead to some movement on the issue of the 3G spectrum.

Paltel has about 2.6m mobile subscribers, 400,000 fixed subscribers and almost 90,000 Internet subscribers. It competes with second operator Wataniya Palestine, which is owned by Qatar's Ooredoo Group.

The Palestinian telcos also continue to face competition from five Israeli operators, which use cell cites placed along the borders and from settlements in the West Bank to target Palestinian subscribers.