T-Mobile has announced an interconnect and roaming agreement with Cuba’s state telecoms operator Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETESCA). The new deal enables T-Mobile to deliver more affordable voice calling for customers who want to keep in touch with friends and family in Cuba, as well as voice, text and data roaming for customers traveling to Cuba starting this summer. The operator said Simple Choice customers will be able to call Cuban landlines and mobile phones for US $0.60 per minute, using the US $15.00 per month Stateside International Talk add-on. T-Mobile added that it quickly moved to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the re-opening of open trade between the U.S. and Cuba after it discovered that 36.6 percent of Cuban-born U.S. mobile consumers were T-Mobile customers. “The historic opening of Cuba is a natural opportunity for us to take action, and we are. That’s the Un-carrier way!” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a statement. “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!” Sprint was the first U.S. operator to reach a roaming and interconnect deal with ETESCA six months ago, followed by Verizon in March.
In September 2015, the Obama administration allowed U.S. operators to establish a presence in Cuba, enter into partnerships with Cuban companies, and provide mobile phone and data services in Cuba. This was part of the U.S.’s plan, begun last year, to normalize relations with Cuba and reduce the long-standing embargo with the goal of ending it. The telecom aspect of normalizing relations will not only improve communications between the two former enemies but also stands to improve the quality of service for many people in Cuba itself, which is one of the least connected countries in the world. Only five percent of Cubans are now regularly able to access the internet. ETESCA is state-controlled and restricts access, but more connection to parties outside the country, plus U.S. presence in the country by way of partnerships which could build infrastructure, is likely to make access easier and even stimulate a loosening of restrictions.
T-Mobile’s offer is more than simply a roaming plan, as it offers service not only to U.S. subscribers traveling in Cuba but also to those in the U.S. who wish to call Cuba. It is being offered at affordable rates, which will likely make it attractive and increase uptake. Between T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon, it looks as if Cuba’s mobile landscape is in for a transformation. And we expect competitor AT&T to join the fray before long, as well.