T-Mobile Roaming, Text, Data Coming to Cuba Later This Summer

T-Mobile customers traveling in Cuba will soon be able to use their mobile devices under a services deal signed with a Cuban telecom.

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T-Mobile will later this summer bring mobile roaming, text and talk services to its customers traveling in Cuba, and is today offering a new program that lets customers call landlines or mobile phones in Cuba at prices that are discounted from their regular rates.

The mobile roaming, text and talk services are the result of an interconnect and roaming agreement T-Mobile has signed with Empresa De Telecomunicaciones De Cuba, a Cuban telecommunications company, according to a May 9 announcement from T-Mobile. A starting date for roaming, text and data will be released in the future.

For U.S.-based T-Mobile customers who want to call Cuba, they can now sign up for a $15 a month "Stateside International Talk" feature that will give them discounted rates to landlines and wireless phones in that country. The rate is $0.60 per minute, a 65 percent per minute discount from the company's standard rates. The program gives T-Mobile customers the ability to keep in touch with friends, family and business connections in Cuba from the United States.

"The historic opening of Cuba is a natural opportunity for us to take action, and we are," John Legere, CEO and president of T-Mobile, said in a statement. "That's the Un-carrier way. 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."

Cuba is the most requested destination for T-Mobile's international roaming services, based on social media posts, according to the company.

In September 2015, Verizon Wireless announced that it would begin offering cellular roaming services in Cuba as the thaw in relations between the two nations had begun. The new roaming capabilities arrived about a month after the United States officially reopened its embassy in Havana, according to an earlier eWEEK story. Under the Pay-As-You-Go plan, Verizon customers can add the service to their accounts and make voice calls in Cuba for $2.99 per minute. Data use is billed at $2.05 per megabyte, and standard international text messaging rates will apply.

In June 2015, competitor Sprint added a "Sprint Cuba 20 Plus" calling plan to allow customers to make direct calls to Cuba. The Sprint Cuba 20 Plus plans offer 20 minutes of international calling to Cuba per month for $10 (50 cents per minute), while additional minutes can be purchased for 70 cents per minute.

In March, President Barack Obama traveled to Cuba on a goodwill visit and was accompanied by executives from several U.S. companies that would like to do business there in the future. Executives from Airbnb and PayPal traveled with the president, while others, including Google parent Alphabet, as well as Priceline, Stripe and Xerox, are also interested in Cuba. A key to the expansion of business connections between the two nations is the lifting of restrictions on money transfers between the two countries, which is being worked on by the Obama administration.

Executives from AT&T, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and Marriott International also talked about doing business in the Cuban market as U.S.-Cuban relations continue to normalize, according to an earlier eWEEK story.

Communications between the United States and Cuba have been improving in the last 18 months as the long U.S. trade embargo of Cuba, which began in 1962, has been slowly thawing. The United States and Cuba dropped diplomatic relations in 1961 during the Cold War after Fidel Castro came to power.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba remains, but it has been getting lots of new attention as Obama has called for it to end. Critics oppose the move because they say the nation's communist government has not done enough to enact economic and social reforms to benefit the Cuban people. Other U.S. companies have been making small inroads on their own since Obama first began talking about Cuban-U.S. relations in December 2014.

Cuba, which is approximately 90 miles off the southeastern coast of Florida, has a patchwork of old and beautiful cities and towns, American vehicles that date back to the 1950s, a proud and rugged population, and a long legacy of government control, Communism and economic stagnation.