Israel Awards 4G Frequencies to Six Cellular Companies

Move will enable providers to upgrade service and offer nationwide coverage

Hagai Frid

Israel awarded 4G mobile broadband radio frequencies in the 1800 MHz band to six companies, the Communications Ministry said on Tuesday, opening up the market and increasing coverage throughout the country.

Since last year the three largest cellular operators have provided fourth-generation coverage on existing networks in major cities. But Israel’s first auction of dedicated bandwidth is likely to pave the way to nationwide coverage.

Data speeds are much faster on 4G than 3G, enabling mobile-internet users to browse faster and run more complex applications.

Cellcom Israel and Partner Communications already provided 4G services on repurposed 3G networks, while Pelephone, a unit of Bezeq Israel Telecom, operated a 4G network on frequencies loaned to it by the Communications Ministry.

Monday’s 4G-frequency sale, which netted the Communications Ministry 250.5 million shekels ($63 million), comes well after similar moves in other western countries, although Israel’s 3G networks are among the world’s fastest.

Six companies, three new to 4G market

Cellcom was awarded 3 MHz of bandwidth, for which it paid 19.5 million shekels. It already had 12 MHz of 4G bandwidth, after receiving permission to convert part of its existing 3G network.

Partner - which operates under the Orange brand - paid 33.5 million shekels for 5 MHz of bandwidth. It already had 10 MHz of bandwidth. And Pelephone paid 96 million shekels to receive 15 MHz.

Three other companies entered the 4G market for the first time.

Hot Mobile, owned by the European cable group Altice, and Golan Telecom each bought a block of 5 MHz in the tender. Marathon 018, an Internet and long-distance provider, also bought 5 MHz, for its first foray into the mobile market.

Cellcom and Golan agreed to share a network, as have Partner and Hot. Network sharing is a common method of reducing setup costs.

Israeli media reports said Marathon 018 was also looking to set up a shared network with an existing mobile operator.

All the frequencies awarded were in the 1800 MHz band. Some countries operate 4G in numerous bands, between 800 and 2600 MHZ with higher frequencies carrying more data but having shorter reach.