Hardware techies benefit from lack of affordable cell phones in Cuba
Self-taught repairman says cell phone revolution is where the money is
Author: Hatzel Vela, Reporter, hvela@Local10.com
Andrea Torres, Local10.com Reporter, firstname.lastname@example.org
Published On: Oct 31 2015 11:23:17 AM EDT Updated On: Nov 13 2015
01:18:24 AM EST
CIEGO DE AVILA, Cuba –
The 21st century left some parts of Cuba behind, so Vismay Delis Guibert
has been in the business of repairing old phones for about six years.
Cellphones have slowly become an integral part of life in the central
city of Ciego de Avila, where sending text messages is cheaper than
making a call.
Guibert and a friend work as street-level techies at their Clinica del
Celular. Without a storefront, they install apps, update mobile
software, and buy and sell second-hand devices.
“The Cell Clinic, Maintenance and Repairs – phones, headsets, chargers,
batteries, cases,” reads the sign at Guibert’s business.
MOBILE WIFI ACCESS: The government’s latest promise: 35 WiFi areas.
Nauta, Cuba’s e-mail service, will handle the access accounts.
Guibert’s business is booming. At Ciego de Avila, according to a
government newspaper, there were about 125,000 users this month. And
despite the poverty, the numbers were expected to increase.
The Cuban government — which runs one of the last
telecommunication-sector monopolies in the world — reported earlier
this year that the island’s mobile phone market has at least 3 million
Huawei, a Chinese telecoms equipment company, is moving forward with
deals to sell phones in Cuba, according to Brics Post. Meanwhile, the
Cuban government’s Cubacel sells a French Alcatel cell phone with a
touch screen and an Android operational system for about $7, when a
government employee makes about $20 a month.
To get a cell when there is “a special,” Cubans have to make long lines
and they are only allowed to buy one at a time, according to CubaNet, an
independent news site. The most popular appears to be the OT-1060x,
CubaNet reports, which has a camera, but doesn’t have internal memory.
For the few with cash, there are cellphones for sale on
Habana.PorLaLivre.com, a free market site that functions much like
Craigslist, a classified advertisement site based out of San Francisco.
And for the few who get their hands on a reliable device, Cubacel’s
coverage remains unavailable in areas all over the country.
Telecommunication giants such as AT&T and Verizon want the U.S. embargo
lifted. They are interested in both cellphone penetration rate and
Internet connectivity. The International Telecommunication Union
classified access to mobile phones and the Internet in Cuba last year,
as one of the most expensive in the world. The island does maintain some
of the cheapest fixed-telephone services in the world.
The ITU reported that at 18 percent, Cuba “still has a very low
mobile-cellular penetration,” was “seriously lagging behind” and had a
“very low” household Internet access. Lack of international connectivity
would be an issue for future broadband adoption.
Verizon was allowed to offer roaming wireless service. Sprint was
getting ready to sign an agreement with La Empresa de Telecomunicaciones
de Cuba, ETECSA, the government’s telecommunications company.
The announcement was made at EXPOCUBA, an international business fair,
in Havana, although they had signed an agreement in September that
involved ALBA-1, a submarine fiber-optic link cable hooked up to
Venezuela in 2011.
The Miami Herald’s Mimi Whitefield recently reported that savvy
developers, who have dreams of owning a start up company, are hopeful.
There was one running a Yelp-like application known as Alamesa, which
lists about 620 restaurants. But with the limitations on hardware and
Internet access they may be ahead of their time.
Without ample access to the Internet, resourceful Cubans have found ways
to get access to content. There is a black market in Cuba for content
ranging from pornography to soap operas, foreign news and movies.
Some use SIM cards, a portable memory chip used to hold data. Others use
Flash USB drives and .Zip files they call “paquetes.” They can download
enough content to last them for a week or a month. Some Cubans are
making money out of renting memory cards, much in the same way teens in
South Florida rent video games to their friends.
The memory cards require unlocked cell phones. And while it remains
challenging for users to buy new phones and there is a need to unlock
the phones they have, Guibert will continue to have good business.
Although he is the hardware magician of the poor, his services aren’t cheap.
As he was welding an antenna, which he said Ciego de Avila cellphone
owners break off frequently, he said he can afford to keep prices high,
because there is always a demand for his services.
The devices “get wet, fall down, get scorched,” said the Cuban who is of
Jamaican and Haitian descent.
Guibert said he started working at 8 a.m. and was going to close shop at
6 p.m. A handful of people were standing in line waiting for him to
troubleshoot their phones. He fixes batteries for about $10 and replaces
broken screens for $25. He said he takes $200 to $300 a month.
But “you have to invest a lot of money as well,” he said.
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