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Sprint Signs Major Deal in Cuba

Sprint became the first U.S. telecommunications company to provide direct roaming mobile phone service to foreigners in Cuba, after a striking a deal at the Havana International Fair. Sprint says it expects the number of visitors in Cuba to reach 5 million a year within the next decade.

The U.S.-based firm Sprint signed a deal with Cuba’s state telecommunications agency Etecsa, with the objective to reach millions of tourists expected to visit the island in coming years. The move comes as Washington and Havana continue to explore business opportunities, since restoring diplomatic relations in July for the first time in more than 54 years.

With the new deal, Sprint’s clients will now be able to generate and receive calls and text messages in Cuba from their personal mobile devices, an achievement that Sprint’s CEO lauded as an important step for both countries.

"This is a big deal, because it shows that the U.S. and Cuba working together in an area of progress which is communications, and we expect this to be the beginning of a long-term relationship between Sprint and between Etecsa," said Marcelo Claure, president and CEO of Sprint.

The agreement was announced Monday at the Havana International Fair, which features 900 companies this year, a third of them Cuban. Roughly 70 countries are represented, including the United States, which continues to focus on relations with the island.

"There are things that could be done in Washington, we're taking a look at it, we're going to be a voice for change, ultimately a voice for the end of the embargo," said Myron Brilliant, executive vice president of the U.S.-Cuba chamber of commerce.

One of Sprint’s primary rivals in the United States, Verizon, announced in September that it would offer a roaming service to its clients visiting Cuba, although indirectly, through a third-party contracted by Etecsa.

U.S. firms have fallen behind those of Cuba’s strategic partners, including China, Russia, and Venezuela. Spain, for its part, also has enjoyed successful commercial relations with Havana, and has the largest presence at this year’s fair, representing 150 of the 600 participating foreign companies.