Israel’s telecommunications network is one of the most sophisticated in the world. It is one of the few countries worldwide to have 100 percent digitalization of its conventional telephone network, while some 33 percent of the country’s residents (1.9 million subscribers) own mobile telephones, one of the highest levels of market penetration worldwide. Israel also has a highly developed data communications infrastructure: fax transmissions, electronic mail, Internet use, and more sophisticated data bases are widespread.
Telephones were first introduced by the British mandatory authorities in the 1920s. The Israeli Ministry of Posts (later the Ministry of Communications) took over the telephone infrastructure after independence and in 1950 introduced international calls. In that same year the first-ever Hebrew telephone directory was published. In 1955 inter-urban dialing enabled phone calls between Israeli cities without contacting local exchanges and by 1963 all the country’s exchanges were automated. By 1977 it was estimated that half the country’s homes had a phone; the millionth Israeli line was installed several months before the establishment of Bezeq in 1984.
The scope of Israel’s telecommunications infrastructure today is particularly remarkable, when one considers that in the early 80s the average waiting time for a new telephone was over three years, and existing lines could not cope with demand during peak hours. Since then a combination of high-tech innovation and economic re-organization has transformed the situation. This transformation began in 1984 when Bezeq, the Israel Telecommunication Corporation Ltd., was formed as a government-owned enterprise working on a profit and loss basis. Previously, telephones had been issued by a department within the Ministry of Communications which worked on an allocated annual budget. Subject to the forces of the market, Bezeq set about satisfying a waiting list of 250,000 subscriber requests. By 1990, it had fulfilled all requests and was even subsequently able to launch a marketing campaign to persuade homeowners to install a second line. Today Israel has 40 lines per 100 people with a fixed-line network of 2.55 million.
Bezeq also set about upgrading the country’s telecommunications infrastructure. Complete digitalization has meant that subscribers can enjoy a range of state-of-the-art services from call waiting and call forwarding to voice-mail recordings, caller identification and dial-back to missed calls. Most inter-urban links and much of the urban infrastructure are underground fiber-optic lines to the country’s cable television network. Subscribers can dial directly to every country in the world via underwater fiber-optic lines connecting Israel to Europe, or via satellite link-ups.
In the mid-1980s the first mobile phone company made its appearance in Israel. At first prohibitively expensive, market penetration became substantial by the 1990s and soared when the second company began operations in 1994 using new digital technology and a revolutionary marketing strategy of extremely low tariffs. A third cellular communications company will begin operating during the next year.
Phone use has also proliferated in Israel due to extensive use of data communications facilities. Every business and institution and many homes have fax machines and are linked to electronic mail and the Internet. Many companies are installing Integrated Services Digital Networks (ISDN) for a wider range of voice, data and video services.
Israeli companies are also active in developing conventional and mobile phone infrastructure overseas, as well as operating and maintaining them.
- A satellite station has been installed in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan.
- A similar facility is being constructed in neighboring Uzbekistan.
- In southern Hungary a joint venture between Israeli and local partners is developing a telecommunications infrastructure comprising 108,000 lines with digital switching.
- In Poland Israeli companies and the Polish telecommunications company RP Telecom are installing 81,000 lines near Warsaw.
- In India Bezeq is setting up a cellular phone network in three southern states.
- Motorola Israel is developing a cellular phone network for Accra, Ghana.
In addition to developing basic infrastructure, Israeli companies have also penetrated high-tech niche markets. Systems developed in Israel can increase the capacity of digital satellite and fiber optic cable telecommunications links by five times.
Customers include Deutsche Telecom and the Chinese national telephone corporation. Local wireless loops and small rural switch systems, which are very popular in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, have also been developed in Israel.
Israel’s telecommunications providers are currently installing "intelligent networks" to facilitate the expansion of the global information highway. These include virtual private networks, premium service rates and toll-free calling.
Experimental pilot projects include video-on-demand, asynchronous transfer mode (ATM), transmission technology, smart cards, digital broadcasting services and the development of metropolitan area networks (MAN). Intelligent network services will enable mobile phone subscribers to use data transmissions by fax or computer, voice-activated dialing, and call filtering and identification – all through their personal phone service anywhere in the world.
In the 21st century, Israel’s telecommunications network is likely to be characterized by greater emphasis on mobile rather than fixed phones with more emphasis placed on computer and electronic messages. The use of video-phones is also expected to become standard during the next decade.
The efficiency and extensiveness of this telecommunications infrastructure has underpinned Israel’s impressive economic growth in the 1990s. Furthermore, telecommunications has emerged as one of the country’s most important commercial sectors; the export of advanced telecommunications equipment as well as of entire telecommunication systems is expected to continue to serve as an important factor in export growth.
Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs