T-Mobile announced on May 9 that customers will be able to use their mobile devices in Cuba beginning this summer.
The mobile giant struck the potentially lucrative deal with Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications firm Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA (ETECSA), offering visitors to the island affordable voice calling, text messaging, and data roaming. On top of this, users will receive a 65 percent savings on calls between the United States and Cuba, or $0.60 for every minute. The move follows the Obama Administration’s thawing of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the loosening of long-held travel and trade restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba last year.
“The historic opening of Cuba is a natural opportunity for us to take action, and we are. That’s the Un-carrier way!” said T-Mobile’s President and Chief Executive Officer John Legere in a press release. “We have more customers of Cuban descent than any other wireless provider – so connecting them with family and friends in Cuba is a message we heard loud and clear!”
¡Bienvenidos, Cuba! Introducing voice, text, and data roaming in Cuba starting this summer. https://t.co/xDBhwAVa9s
— T-Mobile (@TMobile) May 9, 2016
— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) May 11, 2016
A mere 10 years ago, the idea of a major American telecom company offering services to Cuba seemed like a distant dream. The socialist nation was once listed on the state-sponsored terrorist list and considered to be no more than a proxy of the Soviet Union. Now, decades after the end of the Cold War, endless opportunities exist for tech companies to strike gold by investing in the new and exciting markets available on the island. Google is also reportedly looking to expand internet access in Cuba.
Because of the 50-year embargo by the U.S. and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s economic development has been severely stunted, and the communications infrastructure on the island has not been able to keep up with advances in technology, such as wireless internet. Fewer than one in four people in Cuba have access to mobile services. But now, as the U.S. and Cuba reopen their respective embassies, Cuba’s economy is expected to boom as U.S. investors flock to its shores. Already, commercial flights between the two countries have resumed for the first time in more than 50 years, allowing citizens greater access to the island.
T-Mobile is currently the third-largest mobile service provider in the United States, and its customer base notably includes people with family and friends on the island, including 36.6 percent of Cuban-born wireless customers, according to CNet.
“Verizon and Sprint already offer roaming to Cuba. But T-Mobile says it serves more customers with ties to Cuba than any other provider in the US. It claims more than a third of all Cuban-born wireless customers in the US use T-Mobile’s service, which is more than AT&T and triple the number of Verizon customers. The company also said that Cuba is the No. 1 requested addition to its international roaming program.”
— Engadget (@engadget) May 9, 2016
The company also said that Cuba was the number one most requested addition to their international roaming services on social media. Subscribers in Cuban-American hubs like Miami are reportedly picking up Un-carrier and MetroPCS almost “twice as often” as Verizon or AT&T, according to the Tech Times. AT&T itself is still reportedly in talks with ETECSA.
President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March, marking the first time in almost 90 years a sitting U.S. President visited the island. Although the President has yet been able to get a complete embargo lift through Congress, this clearly marks a new era for U.S.-Cuban relations.
T-Mobile has yet to announce pricing for its Cuba roaming plan. Verizon currently charges $3 per minute for voice calls, while Sprint charges $2.49 per minute. Both currently charge around $2 a megabyte when roaming in Cuba.
[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]