Cuba gets hooked on cell phones

With an annual 20 percent growth in telephony since 2008, especially mobile phones, the largest of the Antillean Islands has alleviated its low telephonic density.

Archivo IPS

Digital telephony has almost doubled in the last three years.

Cuba could close the year with more than two million cell phone lines, according to the recent forecast made by the executives of the National Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) in the Mesa Rodonda TV programme, more given in recent times to dealing with domestic or national problems.


The company’s executives confirmed the investment plan and the strategies to continue developing that sector, which since 2008 has grown 20 percent a year, especially on account of mobile telephony.

From 2.9 million telephone lines at the close of June, 62 percent, or 1.75 million, were cell phones, Hilda Arias, the main director of ETECSA’s Mobile Telephony Services, reported to the TV programme. She even forecast that in the next five years that figure could climb to 4 million, an amount that doesn’t seem impossible if the sector’s growth rate is taken into account. Three years ago, in June 2010, Cuba only had a million cell phone lines.

That advance has alleviated the low telephonic density of the country: from 12 percent in 2008 to 25.8 percent at the close of 2012.

Despite the benefit, Cuba is still among the nations with the lowest amount of lines per inhabitant, a serious problem since communications are a fundamental support for any hope for development.

In the last five years, investments have been directed fundamentally to the renovation of the infrastructure through its digitalisation, which already stands at 98 percent. As a result of the millions of dollars’ worth of expenditures, of the 683 telephonic stations in the Cuban archipelago, 607 are already digitalised, while there are still 76 that are analogical and manual.

The investment plans also anticipate the installation of 30,000 fixed telephonic services a year, but everything indicates that the priority is to expand cell phone telephony, replace the obsolete technology and promote export value services.

Jorge Legrá, director of ETECSA’s Strategic Programmes, mentioned the policy of expanding the population’s access to the Internet. The company provides more than 30,000 data broadcasting and Internet access services, used by 1.7 million users, giving priority to sectors linked to education, health care and science, among others.

Legrá announced plans for increasing those services, like adopting other modalities that allow for WIFI connections and access to the Internet from mobile phones. “ETECSA is also working to gradually enable the payment of various services starting next year through mobile telephony and establishing the reception of data,” Legrá said.

That company recently took one more step in that direction by opening 118 public Internet centres. However, the prices of one hour of access to the worldwide web in these centres reiterate a problem which was referred to by those interviewed by the Mesa Redonda: the high outlays to contract a mobile telephony line or its recharge.

Hilda Arias sent a sign of encouragement to TV viewers when she announced that formulas to reduce the prices were being tested in three small municipalities in the country. And she insisted that ETECSA’s marketing strategy includes the reduction of prices to make that service more massive.

Though slower than what is wished by consumers, the company has adopted in recent times numerous marketing initiatives that have allowed it to notably reduce the price: a line used to cost the public 111 convertible pesos (CUC) in 2008 and today it stands at 30 CUC. The price remains high if we take into account that in the CADECA money exchange houses the rate is 1 CUC x 24 pesos.

Because of its tight dimensions, the company’s commercial network – more than 400 offices throughout the Cuban archipelago – already is insufficient to carry out a good sales and post-sale work and give quality attention to its clients. After recognising that difficulty, the ETECSA officials announced plans to expand the distribution chain and even did not rule out the possibility of giving participation to non-state management forms.

In very diverse ways they made clear the interest of expanding telephony in Cuba. (2013)

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