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Bezeq has launched a series of new services that will be provided nationwide through a new network that the national telephone company is now building. The Next Generation Network (NGN) will also enable Internet speeds whose like has never been seen in Israel, of 20 to 30 megabytes per second, the company's chief executive, Avi Gabbay, promised at a press conference yesterday following the Bezeq Expo at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds yesterday.

The new services will include high-definition telephone audio, access to private telephone lines by computer anywhere in the world, and storage of files on the network.

"In June 2009, we launched Internet connections of 10 to 15 MB, and we are now reaping the fruits - with 10,000 new customers to date," Gabbay said. "Customers are buying these Internet packages, and we are increasing speeds to ensure that they continue to do so."

The new network is already available to 220,000 customers and covers 12% of the country - from Metula in the north through Tekoa in the Judean Desert down to Eilat.

The cost of Bezeq's new Internet package is NIS 260 per month for a connection speed of 20 MB per second and NIS 400 monthly for speeds of 30 MBps. The prices include only infrastructure provided by Bezeq, not fees to the Internet service provider. The ISPs have not announced their rates for the new, faster connections.

Bezeq's venture is the largest infrastructure project carried out in Israel in many years. The company, which is controlled by Haim Saban and the Apax group, will spend about NIS 2 billion to replace its existing network with the NGN. When completed, in about three years, Bezeq's analogue network will have been completely replaced by a network based on Internet Protocol (IP) communications.

The main advantage offered by the NGN network is a switch to VDSL technology for Internet connections, which enables connection speeds of 50 MBps or more. Advanced telephony services will also become available, such as high-definition sound, telephone access from computers (Soft Phone), a choice of dial tones, virtual switchboard services, receipt of several calls simultaneously on the same phone line, and even access to voice mail from television screens.

The new network will also allow Bezeq to shut down the switchboards it currently operates in urban centers. Proceeds from sale of this valuable real estate will be used to finance the new network. Additional financing will be generated by the sale of copper wiring used in the old network. Bezeq will not need such wire any longer, since the new network is based on fiber optic cables.

In addition to fast Internet connections, yesterday's launch included other new services that have become available with the NGN network. One of these is the NDisk, a hard disk that provides storage to customers on the network, thus eliminating the need for them to maintain a large hard disk at home.

Bezeq will also be able to offer business clients IP-based communications - a fiber optic cable to which many extensions with high-quality sound can be connected. Other new services include remote access to one's telephone line.

"This is the most important communications project in Israel in the 21st century," said Bezeq's chairman, Shlomo Rodav. "Without investment in NGN, Israel would slide to the lowest international tier in terms of its communications infrastructure. We are doing everything without government assistance, while providing good service to our customers and added value to our shareholders."

"Nevertheless," Rodav enthused, "the real revolution is still to come. The communications world as we know it is changing."

"Our network will be such that all of its components will be IP-based," he continued. "Transfer of files will be dynamic, and will not differentiate between infrastructure technologies. The network will be able to connect between all types of end-user instruments."

Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon also expressed his enthusiasm for Bezeq's project and its importance for Israel's economy.

"The communications sector is able to grow even in times of recession, when the entire market is cutting investments," he said. "In 2008, the communications sector grew by nearly 4%, and brought in revenue of some NIS 60 billion - nearly 5% of the gross domestic product."

Kahlon told participants at the conference that he met recently with Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz to discuss fast communication lines parallel to all new road or rail construction in Israel. Kahlon also recently authorized the Israel Electric Corporation and cellular operator Partner to conduct a fast Internet experiment using IEC infrastructure, to promote the technology and competition in the field.

"I believe we must simplify and ease regulation as much as possible," he added.