HOT Mobile gains network-sharing approval, as Israel creeps towards LTE

Israel seems to be talking some small but positive steps towards the launch of LTE services, after two operators gained approval for their network-sharing plans, and local press reports suggested that an LTE tender could be published in June.

Altice said the Israeli Antitrust Authority has approved a previously announced network-sharing agreement signed on November 8, 2013 between its subsidiary, HOT Mobile, and Partner Communications, although the agreement is still subject to final approval from the Israeli Ministry of Communications.

In November, HOT Mobile and Partner agreed to set up a 50-50 limited partnership that would develop and operate an advanced shared mobile network for both companies, while they continued to operate separate core networks. At the time, HOT Mobile said the agreement would allow it to launch advanced LTE services.

Partner also said in early 2014 that it has deployed LTE at hundreds of its base stations, but was waiting to be granted the necessary spectrum to be able to launch services.

A plan announced in December last year for Cellcom, Pelephone and Golan Telecom to share the construction and operation of an LTE network under a 15-year agreement is still awaiting approval. Cellcom and Pelephone have already picked their respective LTE vendors, with Ericsson winning the Pelephone mandate and Cellcom selecting Nokia's Networks unit.

Meanwhile local newspaper Globes reported earlier in May that the Minister of Communications, Gilad Erdan, plans to publish an LTE tender in June, and could then hold a spectrum auction in September. The paper, which did not reveal its sources, said Partner and Cellcom would be limited in how much spectrum they would be allowed to purchase. Up to 34-37 MHz is understood to be up for distribution on the 1800 MHz and 2.6 GHz frequency bands.

The late arrival of LTE in Israel has come in for considerable criticism: Globes itself said it's a "disgrace for the Communications Ministry" that the tender has not yet been published, and said the entire country is "suffering terribly on an economic level from the fact that there is no 4G in Israel."

Reports in April suggested Israel's Ministry of Communications is looking to establish three LTE networks and will allow almost unrestricted cooperation on infrastructure.

Cellcom is Israel's largest mobile operator with about 3.1 million subscribers. Partner Communications is the country's second-largest operator and operates under the Orange brand. Pelephone is owned by Israeli incumbent Bezeq.

For more:
- see this release from Altice for HOT Telecom
- see this Globes article

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