Three major cell phone companies - Cellcom, Pelephone, and Golan Telecom - signed an agreement Monday to participate in joint venture for building their network, including 4G or LTE capabilities.
Under the agreement, the companies will consolidate their antennae and allow customers to use their services interchangeably. Antennae will be permitted to be built on the land belonging to any one of the 3 cellular companies, allowing for better service for rural Israelis and decreasing the spending necessary to implement 4G service.
Moreover, the service would finally introduce 4G-LTE service to Israel, which has been slow in arriving despite being available in the US for at least a full year. The system dramatically increases data flow over cell networks, which has boomed since smartphones became more popular over the past several years.
The agreement requires approval from the Ministry of Communications and the Antitrust Commissioner.
Communications Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud-Beytenu), welcomed the agreement. The proposal "is compatible with the trends and principles of cooperation prevailing in the European Union and the world," he stated.
Erdan emphasized that the measure "will allow to keep the number of cellular companies, including the consumer price and the range of services offered to it," down to acceptable levels.
Environmentally, he noted, the plan "will also help reduce the number of antennas scattered around the country and prevent more flooding of new antennas on public land." The Minister noted that Israel is needlessly swamped with antennae, which are spread among 5 competing companies and take up an immense amount of time, money, and space. "Due to growing traffic on cellular networks, the establishment of an advanced LTE network in Israel is the order of the day," he stated. He clarified that plans for the network are already under development.
The move follows another landmark business proposal Monday night, where anti-monopoly laws were passed in the Knesset on their second and third readings. The law mandates fair competition in all government contracts and activities, that banks and other large financial institutions sell off their shares in large companies, and that the public be involved in selecting the board of directors for those companies.
The three major cell phone providers of Orange, Cellcom, and Pelephone are bound to be affected by the change, after holding a monopoly on cell service in Israel until recently. In 2011 and 2012, smaller providers like Golan Telecom and Rami Levy opened up the market for simple service, changing the face of the Israeli cellular market and providing alternatives to the hefty fees of "traditional" companies.