Diplomatic fallout thwarts Gaza telecoms rollout

Faltering peace talks with Israel delayed a Palestinian company's plan to launch a second cellular service, including a 3-G network, in Gaza.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Palestinian mobile company Wataniya is pictured in Ramallah, West Bank, in July 2013. Faltering peace talks with Israel delayed Wataniya's plan to launch a second cellular service, including a 3-G network, in Gaza.

From tech engineers and software designers to teenagers and businessmen, many in Gaza were eagerly awaiting a shipment earlier this month from Palestinian mobile company Wataniya. The cargo included long-coveted technology to set up a 3G mobile network, the first of its kind in the occupied territory.

A sizable part of that shipment, though, never made it. On April 2, as peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian authorities seemed close to breakdown, Wataniya Palestine CEO Fayez Husseini told the Financial Times that the steel and cement it needed to build its network infrastructure “were not allowed in.”

The block delays Wataniya’s ability to bring its services to Gaza – services that many had hoped would invigorate the local telecom market by introducing much-needed competition. The only mobile operator in Gaza at the moment, the Palestine Cellular Communications Co., known simply as Jawwal, “is not bad, but doesn’t offer many services for its clients,” says our correspondent in Gaza.

This case has been particularly frustrating for Gazans, many of whom argue that their IT sector is inherently impaired by inferior networks. Jawwal’s prices are higher than elsewhere in the region, “because of the lack of a true competitor,” our reporter says. “People were expecting for Wataniya to start working here so as to get more offers from both companies as well as low prices for the services they get.”

Mobile services like phone banking, which are taking off in some of the world’s poor, rural communities, aren’t on offer in Gaza. Nascent IT entrepreneurs battle power cuts and slow Internet service to conduct business – delays that make them uncompetitive within the region.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.

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