Beyond the Towers – Unraveling the Network Infrastructure of Israeli Telecom
According to the U.S. International Trade Administration, the Israeli telecom network is one of the most advanced that the world offers. You can see that from its early adoption of 5G. Israel launched its 5G network in September 2020, less than two years after the technology was introduced, and it would have launched sooner were it not for financial issues holding the project back.
In short – Israel has an advanced communication system that benefits its citizens and sets the stage for the country to become a business powerhouse.
But what lies behind that system?
It’s a crucial question to answer as the country furthers its goal of providing seamless communication to each of its citizens. It’s only through understanding infrastructure that people can understand the scale of the challenges ahead. Downturns in mobile device production and issues with workflows lie ahead, especially in the wake of supply chain issues that affected the entire globe. This article explores what is (and what’s to come) as the country expands its already technologically-advanced telecoms infrastructure.
Israeli Telecoms Landscape and Evolution
Israel’s telecoms industry is massive, with revenue from services that rely on the underlying infrastructure coming in at $4.8 billion in 2022 alone. Moreover, growth is on the horizon. A 2022 GlobalData report suggests the industry will enjoy a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1% between 2022 and 2027.
In short – it won’t be long before telecoms crack $5 billion (and beyond) in Israel.
But to understand why the country has such a strong telecoms landscape, you need to go back in time to see who laid the foundations for that landscape to grow. It all started in the 1920s when telephones were first introduced into the country by British authorities. Those authorities laid down landlines and created a basic infrastructure, but it would take a few decades more for further expansion.
That came in the 1950s thanks to the Israeli Ministry of Posts (now the Ministry of Communications), which introduced the ability to make international calls. Over the next three decades, the infrastructure grew further. With the arrival of inter-urban calling in 1955, Israeli telephone users no longer had to go through an exchange to reach the person they wanted to call. They could just ring them up directly. By 1963, the exchanges that still existed became fully automated, placing Israel ahead of the UK, which didn’t get rid of its last manual exchange until 1970.
But there were also challenges to confront.
Though more than 50% of homes had telephones by 1977, the early 1980s was a bad time for anybody who wanted a phone in Israel. Wait times stretched to three years. The underlying infrastructure didn’t help, either, as it was outdated and struggling to keep up with peak demand.
Founded as a government agency, Bezeq confronted the supply issues, resolving them so successfully that it fulfilled the orders of over a quarter of a million Israelis who wanted phones. By 1990, it had even launched marketing campaigns designed to convince citizens to get a second line installed.
But perhaps more importantly, Bezeq also worked on the struggling telecoms infrastructure in Israel. It was their work that made it possible for Israel’s first mobile phone companies to start selling to consumers in the later 1980s and through the 1990s. And as the 21st century approached, Bezeq (and many supporting companies) turned its attention to digitization.
Today, Israel is one of the very few countries that has completely digitized its phone lines, bringing them up-to-date with the internet age. Furthermore, smartphone penetration is almost total and is anticipated to grow from 87.58% in 2023 to 90.21% by 2028.
In short, Israel has come a long way since British authorities placed rudimentary landlines throughout the country. It’s now a telecoms powerhouse that is primed to lead the way, rather than following the leader, when it comes to offering data-driven telecoms solutions to its citizens.
The Hidden Infrastructure: Beyond the Towers
In the modern age of cell phones, the telecom tower is a must.
You’ve likely seen these towers before. Stretching into the sky, they’re loaded with the antennae, transmitters, and other electrical components necessary to beam cellphone signals across Israel and make it possible for you to call other people with a device that fits in your pocket.
But while those towers are the most visible indicator of the strength of Israel’s telecoms industry, they’re far from the only component that makes it work. In fact, they wouldn’t work at all were it not for three more components, which work in harmony with telecoms towers, to create a robust network – data centers, optical fiber, and routers and switches.
Data Centers – Before they can offer telecom services to their clients, service providers need to build data centers. Think of them as the intermediaries that handle every signal (and request) your phone puts out. Without data centers, you wouldn’t receive the content you ask for on your phone, be that web-based or simple SMS messages, turning your phone into little more than a brick in your hands.
Optical Fiber – Think of optical fiber as the circulatory system of Israel’s telecoms industry. Combined with receivers, transmitters, and optical repeaters, optical fiber is vital for modern phone networks, broadband, and data networking. At the beginning of 2023, about 70% of Israeli homes have access to fiber optic connections.
Routers and Switches – Routers and switches work similarly to the manual operators of the past, with switches playing a key role in connecting the devices in a telecoms network so they can communicate with one another. Routers essentially play the same role for switches, connecting several switches to help create an even larger network.
Embracing Next-Generation Technologies
Israel has developed such an advanced telecoms infrastructure because the country’s governing bodies aren’t afraid to accept and integrate new technologies. You’ve already seen what this means concerning 5G (Israel was one of the earliest countries to adopt the technology), and this upgrade enables faster mobile data connections for the millions of Israelis who have smartphones and mobile devices.
But 5G is far from the only sign of Israel’s focus on advancement.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a growing industry in the country, one which looks likely to achieve $7.58 billion in market value by the end of 2023. Though primarily focuses on Israel’s automotive market, IoT technology is already in the process of being built into the country’s telecoms system, as we see from recent Ministry of Communications (MoC) actions. In 2021, the MoC introduced new legislation designed to open up 100 telecommunications bands to provide “unfettered use” of 5G and IoT technology. The increased resource utilization and efficiency that this move drives means Israeli consumers will be more connected than ever before.
Then, there are edge computing technologies. The idea behind edge computing is that the data a user generates isn’t processed within the telecoms network itself, but rather at the periphery of the network. In other words, it’s processed closer to the source (i.e., the user or the business), using IoT sensors and devices working in real-time rather than relying solely on existing network infrastructure.
The result? Connectivity to remote locations that might otherwise not be able to be plugged directly into Israel’s constantly growing network. In practice, we’ll likely see this combination of 5G, IoT, and edge computing deliver connectivity to some of the less hospitable areas of Israel, such as remote farmland and even unpopulated areas. That increased connectivity simply makes communication (and data transmission) faster and easier, creating more flexibility.
Satellite Communication: Bridging the Gaps
The mention of more remote or rural areas of Israel highlights one of the challenges the country’s telecom providers must overcome – bridging the gap between remote and populated areas.
Combining IoT and edge computing technologies helps with this, especially thanks to its near-point of access connectivity, but it’s not a perfect solution. The fiber optics needed to enable connectivity can’t be built in every region, so there is still a gap between what those in remote areas can access compared to those in more populated areas.
Satellite technology can be the bridge to that gap.
The development of the Dror 1 satellite by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is a perfect example. Often referred to as a “smartphone in space,” the satellite is Israeli-made and aims to meet the needs of the country’s satellite communications network for at least 15 years after its launch. Though not yet launched, it’s an ambitious project designed to allow constant iteration, with technicians on the ground being capable of upgrading the satellite while it’s in space. Think of it as the hub through which satellite-reliant data and communications will pass before reaching their intended recipients.
Of course, a new satellite means little without the dishes to pick up its signals back on Earth, which is where companies like VSAT Israel come in. The company manufactures “Very Small Aperture Terminal” satellite dishes, which allows them to install small satellite dishes capable of receiving and transmitting data to and from space. When combined with IAI’s upcoming satellite, these dishes (and those like them) may be the key to bridging the digital divide that exists between rural and highly populated areas of Israel.
No longer isolated from the rest of the country, those in more remote locations will be able to rely on ground-based satellite dishes and the IAI’s satellite to communicate and send information. That makes them crucial to those who currently don’t have access to Israel’s emerging IoT and edge computing technology, enhancing Israel’s already powerful digital networks so they’re accessible to all.
Ensuring Network Security and Reliability
An increasingly digitized telecoms infrastructure doesn’t come without problems, the most obvious of which are cybersecurity threats. The reason is simple – data is worth a lot to those who have it, either monetarily or in terms of using the secrets contained within that data to their advantage. As Israel has developed one of the more digitized telecommunications infrastructures in the world, it’s also become a target of more cyberattacks. For instance, the first quarter of 2022 saw Israeli companies experience 137% more cyberattacks than they had in the same period during 2021, amounting to almost 1,500 attacks weekly. Over an approximate 13-week period, that amounts to 19,500 attacks, building to 78,000 throughout the year.
These attacks threaten the communications capacity of Israel’s digital network, from intercepting individual calls to stealing military secrets. In response to this threat, Israel’s MoC, along with the country’s National Cyber Directorate, is implementing new regulations that create unified standards for cybersecurity in the country.
All firms must create plans to protect their communications networks under these rules.
The country’s former Communications Minister, Yoaz Hendel, referred to these new standards for communication protection as an “Iron Dome,” signifying the intent to create an impenetrable barrier between Israel’s telecoms network and those who would attack it.
There are already many examples of Israeli companies stepping up to face this challenge. For example, March 2023 saw Cyberint Technologies, a cyber-intelligence company in Israel, ink a deal with a UAE telecoms company named Etisalat by e& to develop a system enabling real-time responses to cyberattacks. While such systems won’t make the likes of ransomware and fraud a thing of the past, they allow companies to get ahead of the issues by spotting them as they occur, reducing the possibility of these attacks developing into more complex problems.
Cyberint’s deal is one of many examples.
Through these advancements in cybersecurity, Israel’s telecoms industry takes the measures needed to confront cyber threats, enabling uninterrupted communication through a reliable network.
Sustainable Telecoms Infrastructure
An aspect of emerging technology that mustn’t go unnoticed is the impact it has on the environment. Cellphone towers, data centers, and the entire infrastructure on which Israel’s telecoms industry is based needs power, and the industry is taking steps to improve sustainability across the board.
The effects are already being seen. According to Our World in Data, sustainability initiatives in Israel have already allowed the country, as a whole, to drive down CO2 emissions from a peak of 10.10 tons per capita in 2007 to 6.13 tons in 2021. That reduction is driven by commitments, both outside and inside the telecoms sector, to reduce emissions.
These efforts are spearheaded by The Energy Ministry, which unveiled plans to cut CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 in 2020. Although a large part of that plan depends on installing new technologies, such as solar arrays, and reducing private vehicle usage to almost zero by 2050, the telecoms industry is contributing in any way that it can.
Bezeq is leading this charge.
It takes things a step further than The Energy Ministry with a commitment to reduce its CO2 (and other greenhouse emissions) to net zero by 2050. It aims to achieve this through a combination of electronic waste management techniques, such as the repeated use and upcycling of outdated technology, and reductions in power consumption in offices and server rooms.
Granted, these efforts are somewhat indirect, essentially balancing the power usage of the company’s telecoms networks through reductions in other areas. But this doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. Should Bezeq achieve its net zero goal, along with other telecom companies following suit, it will contribute massively to global environmental preservation efforts while still providing technologically-advanced communications technology to Israel.
Bridging the Urban-Rural Connectivity Divide
Bridging the urban-rural divide, along with ensuring cybersecurity, is one of the biggest challenges that the Israeli telecoms industry faces. As it stands, rural areas simply don’t have the same level of connection as their urban counterparts, be that in terms of speed or the number of communications options available.
Steps are already in place to rectify this issue.
You’ve seen one of these steps already in Israel’s dedication to improving its telecoms satellite infrastructure, with new satellites and VSAT dishes on the ground providing communication capabilities to areas that previously weren’t linked to Israel’s telecoms network. But this is only one option, and it comes with the restrictive burden of installing satellite dishes in areas that may not want them.
The MoC recognizes these issues and, working alongside Bezeq, has a goal of connecting 92% of households to optical fiber by the end of 2025. It’s not complete coverage, at least not yet, but this increased connectivity provides options for rural communities beyond satellite communication.
As for the benefits of this fiber optic plan, it’ll provide rural communities with access to high-speed internet that even satellite connections can’t provide. With faster internet, rural businesses have an opportunity to expand by tapping into new markets and becoming more efficient, with that expansion leading to more job opportunities and higher revenue.
It’s also important to recognize the educational potential of improved connectivity – online resources become more readily available. Without fiber optics, those in rural communities are often limited in the way they access online resources, particularly when it comes to video and streaming services. Healthcare benefits also exist, again with increased connectivity providing access to more information.
This isn’t to say that bridging the connectivity divide isn’t without challenges, the most prominent of which is improving the digital literacy of those in rural communities. But when compared to the much greater challenge of providing digital telecoms in the first place, this is a fairly small barrier to overcome.
Constant Innovation – The Key to Israeli Telecoms
The Israeli telecoms industry has come a long way since the British first introduced phones into the country. Since the establishment of Bezeq in the 1980s, the country has been on a run of constant innovation that has led to it becoming a global leader in digital communications technology.
Resting on its laurels is the last thing on Israel’s mind.
Now that the country has a 100% digital telecommunications infrastructure, attention turns to expanding and innovating on that network. The introduction of 5G, adaptation to IoT and edge computing technology, and continued efforts to achieve parity between rural and urban areas are all evidence of this. It’s through this constant innovation, coupled with industry-wide commitments to sustainability, that Israel’s telecommunications industry will grow stronger and maintain its position as a world leader.
As for you, keeping up-to-date with the ever-evolving Israeli telecoms industry puts you in a position to take advantage of these continued innovations. Continue reading and researching, keeping an eye on the exciting developments the future holds, to understand how you can use Israel’s powerful telecoms network to improve your personal and business life.