Telecommunications is a major part of Israel’s high-tech industry that still leads the nation in imports and exports.Israel’s Telecom 2002 exhibition in Tel Aviv, featuring the latest innovations in the worldwide telecommunications industry, began Nov. 3 by facing the grim market realities of 2002 while optimistically predicting growth in the future.

One of the speakers at the opening of the conference was Israel Export Institute Chairman Shraga Brosh, who said that high-tech, especially the telecommunications industry, continues to be Israel’s leading industry in both exports and imports, despite the sizeable drop in sales figures since 2001.

Brosh presented data showing that Israel’s high-tech exports totaled $12.6 billion in 2001, while the forecast for 2002 is $10.7 billion, a drop of 15 percent. The telecommunications industry’s 2001 exports of $4.25 billion are forecast to sink 30 percent to $2.98 billion in 2002.

Brosh said the fall in exports “reflects the steep decline in the global communications industry,” but added, “According to IDC, the telecommunications sector is expected to grow 8.3 percent by 2006, and there is no question that the Israeli industry will be in the forefront of global growth.”

The highlight of Telecom 2002 will be preparations for third-generation cellular systems from Finnish-based Nokia and Ericsson of Sweden. In addition to the UMTS systems they plan to roll out, the two European cellular manufacturers also displayed new devices and services.

These UMTS systems will enable mobile wireless users to receive high-value broadband information, commerce and entertainment services via fixed, wireless and satellite networks. UMTS will allow wireless users far wider access to new sources of media and content than is presently available, according to industry sources.

Nokia displayed a new cellular phone model, the third generation-compatible Nokia 6650, as well as a line of advanced services, most of which are still not commercially available. Ericsson displayed applications such as video conferencing, multimedia messaging, location-based services, business management systems, and games.

While Ericsson and Israel-based Cellcom demonstrated working UMTS systems, Israel’s Partner Communications’ chief executive Amikam Cohen said that in 2003, Partner would be the first to launch the technology in Israel. Cohen said the company is part of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa’s third generation group, considered the largest such group in the world, operating in Europe and Australia, among other places. Hutchison Whampoa is the largest shareholder in Partner.

For its part, Israel’s Pele-Phone announced an upcoming trial of EVDO technology, which makes possible very high-speed data communications on its new 1X-CDMA network. This is a direct continuation of the company’s new public relations strategy of presenting its intermediate generation network as third generation.

One of the exhibition’s big attractions is the display of Motorola’s Vered Harim cellular military system. The system is being exhibited against a backdrop of the dispute concerning Cellcom’s request to purchase some of the Vered Harim GSM-900 frequencies, in addition to the GSM-1800 frequencies already obtained by Cellcom, in order to lower the setting up and operating costs of its GSM network.

The first phase of the conference addressed key network infrastructure areas and presented different views on the Internet technology horizons. The second phase summed up the status of service, business, marketing and operations. The third phase concerned telecom and content regulation, trying to find out if regulation is a critical must or unnecessary burden, and the fourth and final phase addressed investments in the future of Israel’s technology, especially in startups and the venture capital industry.