Opportunities in Cuba Telecommunications Market
While growth remains swift, the cost of owning services remains beyond the reach of most ordinary Cubans – with the price of even the most basic handsets more than the average Cuban monthly wage. Nonetheless, it is clearly a market with a lot of potential; a fact recognised by Latin America’s largest telecoms operator, Spain’s Telefónica. The company is rumoured to be interested in acquiring Telecom Italia’s 27% stake in the state-controlled incumbent, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA (ETECSA).
The strong growth of services throughout 2008 – from April onwards – highlights the high demand that exists for mobile services and an operator such as Telefónica that has considerable experience in mobile services, as well as the financial backing to lower the cost of services significantly, could make mobile usage more accessible to a larger variety of subscribers. BMI of course maintains that the market would greatly benefit from additional competition, but there is no indication from the Cuban government that it is considering opening up the market to other firms.
Wireless technologies have been incredibly important in expanding the use of telecommunications in the Caribbean, given the relative ease of deployment and the fact that the technologies can be rolled out over several islands. This has led to over half of the markets covered by BMI recording penetration rates of over 100% by the end of 2008. With slower growth now forecasted for many markets, the focus for operators is to encourage subscribers to switch to postpaid tariffs and use value-added services (VAS) – which will see the operators’ revenues increase. Service providers are expanding their 3G networks across the Caribbean, as incoming tourists expect access to high speed mobile networks.
Wireless broadband services look set to follow a similar trajectory to mobile services as WiMAX increases in popularity. Again, the possibilities of rolling out a WiMAX network across a series of islands makes this one of the most popular technologies in the Caribbean for spreading broadband. Both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are expected to auction wireless frequencies for broadband services in early 2009, helping to spread the use of the technology further. The Dominican Republic remains at the forefront of WiMAX in the Caribbean, with the country’s regulator reporting good growth of WiMAX take up. This bodes well for operators across the region. Alternative technologies are also available, including rural broadband through TV sets, offered by a service provider in the Dominican Republic. This particular initiative is helping to counter one of the other problems in the region – the high cost of PCs and laptops. Now mobile subscriptions are set to see much slower growth rates operators – both fixed-line and mobile – are looking to broadband as the next area of real growth