But India is going to be, sooner or later. And that makes India a bonanza for Israeli companies as it establishes dominant positions in the business of building, testing and deploying the next generation of wireless communications.
A lot of the profit comes from defense contracts — Israel, one of the world’s top military exporters, has a large defense business — but there’s plenty of work in the civilian sector, too. In an interview at the World Internet Conference in Lima, Peru, Asher Grunbaum, manager of Strategic Relationships at the Israeli embassy, said the country’s Tel Aviv chamber of commerce has more than 1,500 connections with Indian companies, from cable makers to text-messaging software companies.
Part of the attraction of India for the Israeli companies is its sheer size. “This is a country of 1.3 billion people with an army of nearly 2 million. You can’t work with that if you don’t have a very sophisticated presence,” Grunbaum said. “The growth over the past 15 years has been incredible.”
Peru has similar opportunities. The country, one of the world’s poorest, needs to greatly increase its broadband coverage, and is poised to do so in the coming years, Grunbaum noted. On a map of geostrategic importance, Lima is not so prominent as Lima, but it is always close to Tel Aviv. And Grunbaum cited recent reports suggesting that Israel could become a major logistics hub for all the mining and agricultural exports to Asia.
One of the big advantages, Grunbaum added, is that Israel, which has a strong but young tech sector, doesn’t need to worry about experience. “We’re in a much different place than in the U.S., where experience matters a lot,” he said. “We don’t look to experience as much as we do to the latest tech; we look to the new tech.”
One of Israel’s leading firms is a longtime partner of the state-run Israel Aerospace Industries, which is one of the world’s largest defense contractors, while Cellcom is a mobile telecommunications provider. “Israel has 50-plus telecom companies,” Grunbaum said. “We’re the Intel and Microsoft of the telecom business.”
To make his point, Grunbaum highlighted the expansion of 4G networks, which was completed here in 2015 with U.S. government aid, and noted that 5G is now not too far away. He said that Israel is going to start commercial 5G services as early as this year, with 5G available to many Indians by the end of the year.
Israel’s tech hub is also making inroads in other emerging markets, including Southeast Asia. “We’re one of the most well-known technologies,” he said. “We’re working with three or four countries in Southeast Asia, and we’re going to play a big role in Wi-Fi.” Grunbaum said that there’s been a lot of business involving Israel’s “Matrix of Privacy” surveillance system.
Last month, Israeli telecom operator Amos Genish opened a wireless technology center in Hanoi, Vietnam, and Grunbaum said that other Israeli firms were also in talks to open in that country.
Grunbaum acknowledged that companies based in Israel could be seen as “soft power.” And he said that countries that export security are under pressure from more important allies — especially the Europeans. “They don’t like to be perceived as a soft power country,” he said.
By contrast, Grunbaum said that Israeli companies do very well when it comes to innovation, including “using technology to show that Israel can do anything.”