Saturday, March 29, 2008

Q&A on Cuban cell phone service

Q&A on Cuban cell phone service
Posted on Fri, Mar. 28, 2008
Associated Press Writer

Cell phone service will soon be widely available to Cubans for the first
time. Some questions and answers:

Q. What kind of service will be provided?

A. Details will be announced in the coming days, but it is likely to be
the same service now available to foreigners and elite Cubans, which
supports long distance national and international calls, and text
messaging. It likely won't include e-mail and other smart-phone
services. Camera phones available to everyday Cubans also won't be able
to transmit images directly.

Q. So what's really new here?

A. Until now, only Cubans who work for foreign companies or have top
government positions have been able to get legal contracts to use cell
phones. A growing number of Cubans have managed to get around this by
using other people's contracts or phones left behind by visiting friends
or relatives from other countries, and the government hasn't stopped
them. Now Cuba says it will legalize cell phone use and make it much
more accessible.

Q. Why now?

A. Raul Castro said when he became president last month that he would
quickly lift some prohibitions to create new government income. Some
also believe that allowing Cubans to have modern gadgets such as cell
phones, personal computers and microwave ovens may dissuade them from
demanding deeper changes in the state-controlled economy.

Q. Who will provide the service?

A. Cuba's state-controlled telecommunications monopoly, a joint venture
between the government and Telecom Italia.

Q. How much will it cost?

A. Probably so much that most Cubans can't afford it. Foreigners and
companies currently pay $120 to activate service and 60 cents a minute
for local calls.

Q. What about international calls?

A. Cuba already allows international cell phone calls at a steep cost.
Daytime rates are $2.70 a minute to the United States, $2.45 to Mexico
and $5.45 to almost everywhere else. A 10-minute call to Miami runs $33,
more than the average government worker earns in a month.

Q: How will Cubans come up with that money?

A: Likely users include Cubans who get hard currency from relatives or
friends living abroad, or who earn much more than most workers, either
through legally licensed small businesses or black market enterprises.

Q. How good is the service?

A. A lot better than it was a few years ago, before Telecom Italia
invested heavily in Cuba's fiber optic cable network and upgraded to the
world's leading cell phone technology. Cuba's phone monopoly now
believes it can handle heavier traffic - and make money off of it.

Q. What kind of phones will be available?

A. The phone monopoly's cell division, Cubacel, already provides prepaid
service and sells mobile phones with cameras for as much as $250. It
also sells basic models of Nokia and Motorola phones, now considered
obsolete in many other countries, for about $90 each.

Q. What about smart phone capabilities?

A. There are no plans to sell smart phones such as Motion Ltd.'s
BlackBerry, Palm Inc.' Treo, or Apple's new iPhones. Cubacel currently
offers smart phone services, such as e-mail, to a very limited number of
firms with local cell contracts. That technology can now be used by
visitors with smart phones that were activated through service contracts
from telecommunications firms in other countries that have operating
agreements with Cubacel.

Q. How will having a cell phone help everyday Cubans?

A. Cubans likely will use cell phones the same way people in other
countries do, to stay in contact with their families and acquaintances
when out of their home or office, especially in a place where public
phones are scarce and often don't work. Cell phones will make it easier
to make and keep appointments, rather than having to return home simply
to change a meeting time. Cubans who already have cell phones often give
them to their teenagers for security when they go out in the evenings.

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