Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Cuba's year-end progress report -- emphasis on the national intranet

In 2014, Cuba embarked on a program for the "informatization" of society and "advances in the informatization of society" was the theme of the short videos by ETECSA president Mayra Arevich Marín and Vice Minister of Communications Wilfredo González, which are at the end of this post.

The following are some of the points they made:
  • Some e-government -- paying taxes, recording of births and marriages, court information, etc. is now online.
  • Mobile banking and bill paying has been tested by 20,000 users and will be rolled out this year.
  • Cuban content continues to be developed.
  • There are now 11,980 home DSL subscribers. (This is a drop in the bucket, but more than I would have expected).
  • Connectivity at hospitals and medical facilities have improved -- 200 clinics and 190 pharmacies now have connectivity.
  • School connectivity at all levels has improved and all universities have fiber links.
  • They will offer mobile phone access to the Internet this year.
I was struck by the emphasis on the Cuban national intranet, as opposed to the global Internet, in nearly all of this. This emphasis is reflected in the relatively low price of intranet access and the continued development of Cuban content and services.

Popular Cuban national intranet sites

The speakers mentioned Cuban services like the Ecured encyclopedia, Redcuba intranet portal and search engine, Reflejos blog site, CubaEduca teaching site and Andariego maps, which are somewhat like Cuban counterparts to Internet sites like Wikipedia, Google, Wordpress, the Khan Academy and Google Maps respectively. González even mentioned Mi Mochila, the state-sanctioned offline competitor to El Paquete, which is arguably the largest private employer and most pervasive source of digital information in Cuba.

Comparison of Wikipedia and Ecured
articles on José Martí, Cuba's national
I say these Cuban services are "somewhat like" corresponding Internet services because, given Cuba's population and resources, they can never hope to match the scope and functionality of their global counterparts. For example, Ecured is the closest of these services in design and function to its global counterpart, Wikipedia (both are based on the same software), but the number of Wikipedia articles and size and variety of its editor community are not comparable. Similarly, Redcuba is limited to the national intranet rather than the global Internet.

Copyright considerations also limit the eventual scope of the national intranet. For example, El Paquete distributes pirated Internet material. Some intranet services may also depend upon pirated software. For example, Andariego uses ESRI's ArcGIS geographic information system software -- do they pay for it?

Well, that is what jumped out at me -- you can watch the videos for yourself and see what strikes you.

President of ETECSA, Mayra Arevich Marín:

Vice Minister of Communications, Wilfredo González:

Update 1/12/2018

Here are links to two more year-end summaries that are also based on the videos of Arevich and González and richly illustrated with images and charts:

The big picture

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cuban satellite connectivity -- today and (maybe?) tomorrow

Last January, Doug Madory of Dyn Research reported on Cuban traffic, noting that C&W's share had increased:

Yesterday Madory reported that ETECSA had activated a new internet transit provider, medium-Earth orbit (MEO) satellite-connectivity provider O3b Networks (Other 3 billion), replacing geostationary satellite provider Intelsat:

(They have also added Telecom Italia, which, until 2011, owned 11% of ETECSA, but I will save that for another post).

O3b's MEO satellites orbit at an altitude of around 8,012 km above the equator while Intelsat's geosynchronous satellites are at around 35,786 km, therefore the time for a data packet to travel from earth to an O3b satellite and back to Earth is significantly less than to an Intelsat satellite. This move to O3b may be related to ETECSA's recent decision to offer SMS messaging service to the US (at an exorbitant price) and it will surely improve the speed of interactive applications.

That is today's situation as I understand it, but now I want to speculate on the future of Cuban satellite connectivity -- say in the early 2020s.

First a little background on O3b Networks. O3b is a wholly owned subsidiary of SES but it was founded in 2007 by Greg Wyler, who has since moved on to a new venture called OneWeb. While O3b provides service to companies like ETECSA, OneWeb plans to also provide fast global connectivity to individuals in fixed locations like homes and schools as well as the "Internet of things."

This animation was prepared by Teledesic,
formed in 1990 to provide LEO satellite
connectivity. Teledesic failed, but
technology, the market and executive skill
have changed since that time.
OneWeb plans to connect the "other 3 billion" people using a constellation of around 1,600 satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 1,200 km and another 1,300 in MEO at 8,500 km. They are working with many vendors and partners and plan to launch their first satellites in March 2018. They will begin offering service in Alaska in 2019 and hope to cover all of Alaska by the end of 2020. By 2025 they expect to have 1 billion subscribers and their mission is to eliminate the global digital divide by 2027.

Now, back to Cuba. ETECSA is doing business with Wyler's previous company O3b. Might they also be talking with his current company, OneWeb? It takes time to launch hundreds of satellites, so service is being phased in -- might Cuba come online sometime after Alaska? By connecting Cuba, OneWeb would gain publicity, the goodwill of many nations and access to a relatively well-educated, Internet-starved market and it would enable Cuba to quickly deploy broadband technology.

As I said, this is pure speculation. OneWeb faces significant technical, business and political challenges and may fail. Politics would be particularly challenging in the case of Cuba. Both the US and Cuba would have to make major policy changes, but maybe the time is right for that -- the Cuban government will change in 2018 and the US government is likely to change in 2020 when Alaska comes online.

OneWeb has established a relationship with ETECSA through O3b, but other companies, including SpaceX and Boeing, are working on similar LEO projects. Might ETECSA be talking to the others?

To learn more, see this survey of LEO satellite plans and related issues.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Could SNET become Cuba's Guifi.net?

Community networks like SNET and Guifi.net are compatible with Cuba's tradition of innovation subject to constraints and socialist values.

In an earlier post, I described Havana's community network, SNET, and wondered what it could become if the government and ETECSA were willing to legitimatize and support it. Spain's Guifi.net provides a possible answer to that question.

Guifi.net is said to be the largest community network in the world. It began in 2004 and has grown to have 34,165 nodes online with 16,758 planned, 407 building, 612 testing and 4,043 inactive. The nodes are linked by WiFi and fiber and there are over 50,000 users throughout Spain. (See the chart and map below).

Community networks like SNET and Guifi.net are compatible with Cuba's tradition of innovation subject to constraints and socialist values. Could SNET grow to serve people throughout Cuba if it had access to ETECSA fiber and the global Internet? While community networks may not be a long-run solution for Cuba, they should be considered as an interim, stopgap means of extending affordable Internet connectivity.

For a technical description of Guifi.net, see A Technological Overview of the Guifi.net Community Network. (Send me a note if you would like to see it, but do not have access).

I also recommend the Internet Society policy brief Spectrum Approaches for Community Networks. It is a concise document with specific recommendations. For example, the section on spectrum management recommends allocating unlicensed spectrum, dynamic sharing of licensed spectrum and innovative licensing like granting licenses for social purposes or small rural communities and give examples of networks employing each of these. There are similar sections with recommendations and examples for policymakers, network organizers, and network operators. The report also has a list of links to other resources and annotated endnotes.

RFC 7962, Alternative Network Deployments: Taxonomy, Characterization, Technologies, and Architectures also provides context and spells out options for potential regulators and network developers and operators and has an extensive list of references.

I hope someone at ETECSA is reading these documents.

Guifi.net growth Source

Guifi.net geographic reach Source

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Data on SNET and a few suggestions for ETECSA

What would be the impact of, say, a $100,000 equipment grant from ETECSA to SNET?

I've written several posts on Cuba's user-deployed street networks, the largest of which is SNET in Havana. (SNET was originally built by the gaming community, but the range of services has grown substantially). My posts and journalist's accounts like this one describe SNET, but a new paper presents SNET measurement data as well as descriptive material.

The abstract of the paper sums it up:
Working in collaboration with SNET operators, we describe the network’s infrastructure and map its topology, and we measure bandwidth, available services, usage patterns, and user demographics. Qualitatively, we attempt to answer why the SNET exists and what benefits it has afforded its users. We go on to discuss technical challenges the network faces, including scalability, security, and organizational issues.
You should read the paper -- it's interesting and well-written -- but I can summarize a few points that caught my attention.

SNET is a decentralized network comprised of local nodes, each serving up to 200 users in a neighborhood. The users connect to local nodes using Ethernet cables strung over rooftops, etc. or WiFi. The local nodes connect to regional "pillars" and the pillars peer with each other over fixed wireless links. The node and pillar administrators form a decentralized organization, setting policy, supporting users and keeping their servers running and online as best they can. (This reminds me of my school's first Web server -- a Windows 3 PC on my desk that crashed frequently).

SNET organization (source)

The average utilized bandwidth between two pillars during a 24-hour period was 120 Mb/s of a maximum throughput of 250 Mb/s and the authors concluded that throughput is generally constrained by the available bandwidth in the WiFi links between pillars. As such, faster inter-pillar links and/or adding new pillars would improve performance. Faster links from local nodes to pillars, new node servers, etc. would also add to capacity and availability, but that hardware would cost money. The Cuban government would probably see the provision of outside funds as subversive, but what would be the impact of, say, a $100,000 equipment grant from ETECSA to SNET?

The paper drills down on the network topology, discusses applications and presents usage and performance statistics. Forums are one of the applications and one of the forums is Netlab, a technical community of over 6,000 registered members who have made over 81,000 posts. They focus on open-source development and have written a SNET search engine and technical guides on topics like Android device repair. The export of Cuban content and technology has been a long-standing focus of this blog, and it would be cool to see Netlab available to others on the open Internet.

Netlab forum growth

The authors of the paper say that as far as they know, "SNET is the largest isolated community-driven network in existence" (my italics). While it may be the largest isolated community network there are larger Internet-connected community networks and that is a shame. I hope Cuba plans to "leapfrog" to next-generation technology and policy) while implementing stopgap measures like WiFi hotspots, 3G mobile and DSL. If SNET and other community networks were legitimized, supported and linked to the Internet (or even the Cuban intranet), they would be useful stopgap technology. ETECSA could also use the skills of the street net builders.

I don't expect ETECSA to take my advice, but if working with SNET is too big a step, they might test community collaboration by working with the developers of a smaller street net like the one in Gaspar or try involving communities in networking some schools, experimenting with community-installed backhaul or deploying interim satellite connectivity.

(You can find links to the paper, Initial Measurements of the Cuban Street Network, presentation slides and abstract here).

Friday, October 20, 2017

Freelist hosts a couple of Cuban email lists -- create one of your own?

If you have an idea for a list of your own, check out Freelists.

Freelists.org hosts Internet mailing lists at no cost. (They ask for donations on their site). Freelist uses an open source server called Ecartis, which appears to have a command interface similar to the popular Listserv (which has been around since 1986).

Freelists host over 11,000 lists, two of which pertain to Cuba and the Internet judging by their names: Cubacel and Emprendedorescubanos.

The Cubacel welcome message says it is for discussion of Cubacel and its network and asks people stick to the topic of mobile networks, post plain text messages, not HTML, and only attach files like .pdfs and images when necessary and to compress them if you do. (This feels so 1980s).

I subscribed to Cubacel about four hours ago, and have seen one user ask when 4G might come to Cuba and receive an answer that trials using 1800 Mhz Band 3 had been run near the Miramar Business Center, but that did not give a clue to if and when 4G would be available.

Another person said they had heard that ETECSA was limiting 3G roaming transfer speed to 300 kbps and asked what speeds people were getting, but so far no one has replied. (I've received reports of much faster service).

I've not yet received any messages from the Emprendedorescubanos list.

You can read a bit more about user's experience with and opinion of the Cubacel list here.

If you have an idea for a list of your own, check Freelists out -- it takes only a minute to create a list. (Let me know if you do).

Cubacel list emails (source)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Cuba's (hopefully limited) ADSL expansion

Home ADSL is less important than other interim, stopgap measures like WiFi parks and El Paquete Semanal.

In 2015, ETECSA announced/leaked a plan to make ADSL service available in 50% of Cuban homes by 2020. I was skeptical. Doing so would mean investing a lot of money for obsolete technology between 2015 and 2020.

They just announced the availability of ADSL connectivity at homes in portions of seven cities and, by December, they say some home connectivity will be available in every province.

ETECSA first tested, then offered ADSL service in Old Havana. Only 600 customers opened accounts after the test period, leading me to speculate (and hope) that the ADSL project would end given the low acceptance rate. I was wrong, but I still don't think ADSL will or should reach anywhere near 50% of Cuban homes.

Let me digress a bit to explain why I think ADSL is a bad idea. ADSL requires a telephone line from one's home to a phone company central office where the DSL equipment is installed and the central office needs a fast enough connection to the Internet to handle the traffic of all the customers it serves. Deteriorated wiring, a long distance from a home to the central office or a lack of backhaul capacity from the central office to the Internet reduce connection speed.

For example, in my neighborhood Frontier offers ADSL service at speeds ranging from 1.61 Mbps to 6 Mbps. (The FCC defines "broadband" as 25 Mbps or more). My home is about two miles from my central office and it was built just after World War II, so the fastest speed they can offer me is 3 Mbps. That has not changed since I discontinued ADSL in the 1990s. ADSL technology has improved since that time, but Frontier has not invested in new equipment because their ADSL service is clearly inferior to that offered by cable TV companies.

Perhaps ETECSA has a commitment to their DSL equipment vendor, Huawei, or they are able to make a profit serving a few customers at the high prices they are charging today, but I can't imagine them making a large investment in this technology. (see prices below).

I don't have the details, but my guess is that only a few central offices will be equipped for ADSL in each new city and a relatively small number of people in served neighborhoods will choose to pay the prices they are charging for home Internet service. (I wonder what percent of their current Havana and Bayamo customers are businesses or homes of people who rent rooms or work at home).

As such, I don't see this slow, expensive, restricted service as very important. It should be considered an interim, stopgap measure, like WiFi parks or El Paquete Semanal, while ETECSA plans "leapfrogging" to next-generation technology and, more important, regulation and infrastructure ownership policy in the 2020s.

Cities served, prices and connection speeds

Update 10/4/2017

ETECSA has released details on their recent ADSL expansion. There are answers to 85 frequently asked questions including this list the popular councils in which ADSL is available:

ADSL is now available in portions of 16 popular councils in addition to previous availability in Havana and Bayamo. Around 600 homes have subscribed in Havana.

In 2016 there were 764 central offices in Cuba (719 of them digital). I don't know if some central offices serve homes in more than one popular council or if there are some popular councils served by more than one central office, but even with this expansion, ADSL is only available to and affordable by a small portion of Cuban homes.

My guess would be that the central offices that have been upgraded to allow for ADSL are in relatively affluent neighborhoods and many subscribers are businesses or people renting rooms in their homes, but that is just a guess and it would be interesting to see a survey of ADSL subscribers.

Update 10/16/2017

When ETECSA held a home connectivity trial in Havana last year, 868 people participated and over 600 contracted for the service. They are now extending the availability of home connectivity to portions of seven Havana municipalities: La Habana Vieja, Centro Habana, Revolution Square, Havana del Este, San Miguel del Padrón, La Lisa and beach. (It had been available in only two up till now).

Note that all locations in those municipalities will not be covered -- I suspect that is due to distance from an ETECSA central office, a lack of backhaul capacity and/or the poor wiring condition.

They also announced a home service price cut -- 15 CUC for 30 hours per month will now get you 1 Mbps instead of 256 kbps. (The release said 1 megabyte, but I suspect that was a typo).

Perhaps ETECSA is able to recover the cost of their DSL and infrastructure investment at the speeds and prices they are offering, but this is clearly not the path to widespread home connectivity.

Update 10/17/2017

ETECSA has released the number of Nauta Hogar subscribers outside of Havana: 232 in Pinar del Río, 225 in Holguín, 134 in Guantanamo, 79 in Granma and 142 in Las Tunas. Most of those are 1 or 2 Mbps.

With a reported subscriber count of 600 in Havana, this brings the total number of homes with ADSL connectivity to a little over 1,400. As of 2015, there were 996,063 residential phone lines in Cuba. They clearly can not and should not count on using ADSL to reach the 50% availability level mentioned above.

Update 12/26/2017

Last week, ETECSA announced the availability of DSL connectivity to 821 potential clients in Santiago de Cuba, a city with a population of 433,527 in 2015. The announcement singles out two neighborhoods, so I suspect that two central offices were upgraded to offer DSL service and evidently only 821 homes have good enough copper wiring to receive data from them at 4 Mbps. (There are 719 digital central offices in Cuba).

It is telling that they proudly announce such a modest achievement -- reminiscent of the coverage of Kcho's WiFi hotspots. (I'm tempted to mention Donald Trump at this point, but will resist the temptation).

Last May, ETECSA announced the goal of being able to offer 38,000 home DSL accounts. I doubt that they came close to that goal. The goal for 2020 is to offer connectivity to 50 percent of Cuban homes. As of 2016, there were 1,322,002 residences with fixed phone service in Cuba. Their goals are not achievable and, as I stated above, that is good news. At the price ETECSA is charging, very limited DSL coverage may pay for itself or make a little profit, but it is only a temporary stopgap for very few people.

Update 12/30/2017

ETECSA is offering their Nauta Home DSL service in Camagüey. It looks like three central offices are able to offer DSL and this map shows the approximate areas they serve, presumably at up to 4 Mbps. For reference, the road shown around Camagüey is about 18.5 miles long.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Google global cache servers are online in Cuba, but Google's App Engine is blocked

This is a belated update. I had hoped to get more information before posting it, but difficult Internet access in Cuba and now the hurricane got in the way -- better late than never.

Cuban requests for Google services are being routed to GCC servers in Cuba and all Google services that are available in Cuba are being cached -- not just YouTube. That will cut latency significantly, but Cuban data rates remain painfully slow. My guess is that Cubans will notice the improved performance in interactive applications, but maybe not perceive much of a change when watching a streaming video.

Note the italics in the above paragraph -- evidently, Google blocks access to their App Engine hosting and application development platform. Cuban developers cannot build App Engine applications and Cubans cannot access applications like the Khan Academy or Google's G-Suite.

The last time I checked, Rackspace and Amazon allowed access to their hosting platforms from Cuba, but IBM Softlayer and Google did not. President Obama clearly favored improved telecommunication for Cuba, stating that
I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba. Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.
in his Cuba Policy Changes. While Trump claimed that he was "canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba," he made few changes and has said nothing about restrictions on access to Internet services by Cubans.

I wonder why IBM and Google do not follow the lead of Amazon and Rackspace.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Fact checking the recent news about Google in Cuba

The Cuban Internet is constrained by the Cuban government and to a lesser extent the US government, not Google.

Google's Cuba project has been in the news lately. Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote a Wall Street Journal article called "Google’s Broken Promise to Cubans," criticising Google for being "wholly uninterested in the Cuban struggle for free speech" and assisting the Castro government.

The article begins by taking a shot at President Obama who "raved" about an impending Google-Cuba deal “to start setting up more Wi-Fi access and broadband access on the island.”

(The use of the word "raved" nearly caused me to dismiss the article and stop reading, but I forced myself to continue).

The next paragraph tells us "Google has become a supplier of resources to the regime so that Raúl Castro can run internet (sic) at faster speeds for his own purposes."

The article goes on to tell us that Brett Perlmutter of Google "boasted" that Google was “thrilled to partner” with a regime-owned museum, featuring a Castro-approved artist.

(Like "raved," the use of the word "boasted" seemed Trump-worthy, but I kept reading).

O'Grady also referred to a July 2015 Miami Herald report that Perlmutter had pitched a proposal to build an island-wide digital infrastructure that the Cuban government rejected.

Next came the buried lead -- it turns out this article was precipitated by blocked Cuban access to the pro-democracy Web site Cubadecide.org.

Perlmutter tweeted that the site was blocked because of the US embargo on Cuba.

Well, that is enough. Let's do some fact checking.

President Obama's "raving:" It is true that President Obama made a number of (in retrospect) overly-optimistic predictions during his Cuba trip, but the use of the word "raving" and the obligatory shot at President Obama were clues that O'grady might not be impartial and objective.

Google as a supplier of resources: This presumably is a reference to Google's caching servers in Cuba. While these servers marginally speed access to Google applications like Gmail and YouTube, it is hard to see how that helps Raul Castro. It has been reported that Cuba agreed "not censor, surveil or interfere with the content stored" on Google's caching servers. Furthermore, Gmail is encrypted and YouTube is open to all comers -- for and against the Cuban government.

Brett Perlmutter's boasting:
about partnering with a Cuban artist's installation of a free WiFi hotspot. I agree that the WiFi hotspot at the studio of the Cuban artist Kcho is an over-publicized drop in the bucket -- much ado about not much.

Google's rejected offer of an island-wide digital infrastructure: I have seen many, many (now I'm channeling Trump) references to this "offer," but have no idea what was offered. Google won't tell me and I've seen no documentation on the offer.

Google's blocking of Cubadecide.org: It is true that Google blocks access to Cubadecide.org. Furthermore, they block access from Cuba to all sites that are hosted on their infrastructure. Microsoft also blocks Cuban access to sites they host; however, Amazon and Rackspace do not. Cubadecide.org could solve their problem by moving their site to Amazon, Rackspace or a different hosting service that does not block Cuban access.

Perlmutter blames the embargo: I don't want to give Google a pass on this. The next question is "why does Amazon allow Cuban access and Google does not?" They are both subject to the same US laws. IBM is a more interesting case -- they did not block access at first but changed their policy later.

There may be some reason for IBM and Google behaving differently than Amazon and Rackspace. I asked both IBM and Google for an explanation, but neither replied.

It should also be pointed out that the Cuban government also blocks access to some Web sites so they could counter a move by Cubadecide.org if they wished.

Before publishing this post, I wanted to confirm my understanding of the situation and I found something I cannot explain. It turns out that the Khan Academy, an educational site with both Spanish and English versions that I would love to see available in Cuba, uses both Amazon and Google as hosts.

When I accessed them from the US, I was directed to Amazon for the English site and Google for the Spanish site, but I got strange results from friends in Cuba. One told me he was unable to access either site from a government enterprise but was able to access both from a WiFi park. Another told me he was unable to access either from a university, the medical network, Mednet, or a WiFi park. I had them try the Amazon IP address I was directed to in the US (, but that did not work in Cuba either.

Well, that remains a mystery, which maybe some reader in Cuba can clear up.

Well, those are the "facts" as I see them. The bottom line for me is that the Cuban government, not Google, is constraining the Cuban Internet. (I've talked about Cuban constraints in several earlier posts, for example, here and here). The US embargo and Trump's policy have also set the Cuban Internet back. That being said, I would like to know why Google feels compelled to block Cuban access when Amazon does not.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Nearshore Americas throws in the towel

Previously optimistic Nearshore Americas says Cuban offshore IT is a lost cause.

In an earlier post, I asked whether the nascent Cuban software community would thrive. The offshore IT firm Nearshore Americas seemed to think the answer was "yes." Two years ago, I described their report on Cuba’s Readiness for ICT Transformation, which spoke of barriers to success but also documented Cuba's talent pool and the government agenda for improving connectivity.

That was two years ago. Today, they have given up on Cuba. Kirk Laughlin, Nearshore Americas founder and managing director, has written a post stating that
For those who continue to hope that Cuba will turn the corner, stop hoping. It’s futile. We know it first hand, and in this piece, I’ll explain as plainly as I can that Cuba is a lost cause, a basket-case for global services and easily the biggest disappointment ever in the short history of Nearshore information technology and business process outsourcing.
He goes on to describe his frustrating interactions with stubborn, paranoid Cuban officials and diplomats during the ensuing two years. He came to realize that "an American pitching technology in Havana is like a Russian selling satellite equipment in Washington, D.C. – suspicions are instantly raised."

Hopefully, things will change in the future, but Trump's presidency is not likely to diminish Cuban official's fear of expressing opinions that contradict the party line and Díaz-Canel's policy is uncertain.

The following figures show results of Nearshore Americas' poll of Cuban IT workers two years ago.

Update 9/5/2017

Inspired by the Nearshore Americas post, Cuban blogger and professor Armando Camacho has written a post on the failure of Cuban outsourcing (in Spanish). He speaks of Cuba's potential as an outsourcing hub, Nearshore Americas' optimism after President Obama's liberal Cuban policy announcement in December 2014 and their disappointment with Cuba's response. As Camacho puts it "nobody likes to get a zero on an exam," and that is the grade he is giving the Cuban government.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cuba's Digital Revoluton -- a flawed documentary

Most of Cuba doesn't have the Internet.
The Bertelsmann Foundation has produced a 25-minute documentary on Cuba's Digital Revolution (below). The video is divided into four parts:
While I agree with the editorial point of view that US Cuba policy should remain open, as it was during the Obama administration, the video is flawed.

There is nothing novel about the basic content -- it has all been covered in other videos, articles, and blogs like the one you are reading now.

More important, the video overstates the impact of the opening of the US to Cuba, concluding that "In the two years since the Obama administration engaged with the country, Cuba has taken remarkable steps towards a digital revolution" or stating that "in 2014, after the Obama administration extended an olive branch, the Cuban government began relaxing restrictions on internet use -- the government opened a series of WiFi parks."

Correlation is not causation. The first WiFi parks opened in July 2015, several months after President Obama's policy change, but Cuba had begun opening public access facilities in June of 2013 and the WiFi hotspots were built by Huawei, a Chinese company with a long standing relationship with Cuba.

Carlos Gutierrez, who served as Secretary of Commerce under George W. Bush, went further saying "all the big telecomms -- AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon have roaming agreements with the Cuban government and that's what's enabled all these people to get WiFi." He does not understand the difference between mobile roaming and WiFi or who the roaming users are and I can't understand why that clip was not cut.

But, it's not all bad. The presentation is often engaging. For example, we follow the narrator around Havana as he buys a phone (on Revolico) and gets online at a WiFi hotspot and there is a good interview with a distributor of El Paquete. My favorite part was a conversation in which Cardenas is trying to recruit a contributor for his blog. He takes a thinly veiled shot at the US and goes on to say that he wants to improve and refine Cuban socialism, not abandon it. He criticises the government in order to improve it.

If you still want to watch the video, focus on the vignettes, not the hyperbole. Here it is:

Monday, August 21, 2017

A new undersea cable -- landing in Cuba?

Having two landing points in western Cuba would significantly reduce the load on today's backbone.

Phase 1 routes around Cuba, phase 2 connects Cuba.
As shown here, Deep Blue Cable is planning a Caribbean cable. Phase one, the solid line on the map, bypasses Cuba but phase two shows two Cuban landing points. The phase two cities are not shown, but one appears to be near Havana and the other near Playa Girón. The phase one route survey is underway. Cable installation will begin in September 2018 and it is scheduled to be ready for service in December 2019.

They did not give a schedule for phase two, but having two landing points in western Cuba would significantly reduce the load on today's backbone. Traffic from Camagüey, Holguín, Guantánamo, and Santiago de Cuba could continue being routed over the current undersea cable at the east end of the island and traffic from Havana, Cienfuegos and other western locations would be routed through the new landing points, increasing speed and freeing Cuban capital for connecting smaller cities.

After leading a delegation to Cuba in January 2016, Daniel Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, said there were at least a half-dozen proposals for cables between Cuba and the US, but that is the last I have heard of those proposals.

The cable connecting the US base at Guantanamo to Florida could one day be turned over to Cuba, but even if that were to happen it would not alleviate the backbone load since it lands at the east end of the island.

I have long advocated Cuba investing in interim, stopgap Internet connectivity in the short run while planning to leapfrog current technology using next-generation technology when it becomes available. This cable could be a major component of that next-generation Internet.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Laptops for Cuban professors

Late last year, we learned that China's 90,000 employee Haier Group would be producing laptops and tablets in partnership with GEDEME, a Cuban manufacturer that will assemble the machines using Haier parts, equipment, and production processes.

Last week, a friend who is a professor at the University of Havana told me that he and other professors have been given GDM laptops. He said UCI, ISPJAE and Univerisity of Havana faculty were the first to receive the laptops, but eventually all professors at all universities would get them.

When Haier announced they would be producing laptops in Cuba, they said would be Core i3, Celeron and Core i5 CPUs with up to 1 TB of memory. The processor in my friend's machine is a 1.60GHz Celeron N3060, which Intel announced April 1, 2015. The N3060 is a system on a chip with two processor cores, a graphic processing unit, and a memory controller. His laptop has 4 GB of RAM, a 97.31 GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive and a 1,024 x 768 pixel display with 32-bit color depth. It has a wired Ethernet port, but no WiFi or Bluetooth.

The machine came with UCI's Nova Unix operating system, but my friend has installed Windows in its place and he says most people do the same. (Cuban officials say they can achieve software independence using Nova, but Cuba is not large enough to support its own software, services, and standards).

These are low-end laptops, but they represent a significant step up over phones and tablets for content creation. They are also power-efficient, making them suitable for portable use, but for some reason, they do not have WiFi radios.

A laptop without WiFi is striking today. I don't know what the marginal cost of WiFi would have been, but Alibaba offers many chips for under $5 in relatively small lots. Why don't these machines have WiFi radios? Is the government trying to discourage portable use at home or public-access hotspots?

Regardless of the reason, WiFi dongles are a low-cost fix. There are not a lot of WiFi dongles for sale on Revolico today and their prices are high, but I bet the offerings pick up if these laptops roll out.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Internet status report from Cuba's Minister of Communication

Communication Minister Mesa Ramos
Last month, Minister of Communications, Maimir Mesa Ramos spoke to the Cuban Parliament on the current state of the Internet and reviewed some recent achievments. I've listed some of the points he made (bold face) along with my comments.
  • They are working on a new regulatory and legal framework.
  • The International Telecommunication Union describes four generations of regulatory evolution. Cuba is one of the few nations remaining at level 1. Might they leapfrog a generation or more?
  • They are assembling tablets and laptops running the Cuban operating system, Nova.
  • We discussed this work here and it is my understanding that the laptops are being rolled out to university professors.
  • A computer science professional society was created.
  • We covered this topic here.
  • In 2016, 3,330 new data links were established to national agencies and institutions and the bandwidth to these organizations increased by 72 percent.
  • I can think of many follow-up questions to drill down on this one, but it is good to hear that domestic infrastructure is improving.
  • There are now 879 mobile base stations in Cuba, 358 of which support third generation (3G) mobile service.
  • The percent of the population with mobile coverage has not changed, so the main activity has been 3G upgrades. It would be interesting to know how many Cubans have 3G phones and if backhaul capacity has been added to 3G base stations. Also for context -- 5G networks are forecast to cover around a third of the global population by 2025. Is Cuba planning on leapfrogging to 5G mobile technology?
  • There are over 630 public access navigation rooms and 370 WiFi access points.
  • It is good that they are able to expand public access, but it is an interim, stopgap measure.
  • There are 4.3 million mobile "lines.”
  • I assume this means 4.3 million mobile accounts.
  • Four million users have access to the “Internet,” roughly one million through permanent accounts.
  • The four million figure must include those with access to the domestic Cuban intranet, but not the global Internet. Perhaps the one million permanent accounts belong to people who have accessed the global Internet. Regardless, the term "user" is not defined.
  • Their home broadband service has about 600 subscribers and they realize that it is not the solution for mass access to the Internet.
  • I've been following this home broadband project for some time and have consistently said it made no sense. It seems that the Cubans now agree, but it is hard to understand how such a bad idea was ever considered. I hope different people are making decisions today.
  • Mass deployment will come from wireless services.
  • I wonder what they mean by this. Today's 3G mobile, WiFi hotspots and unofficial streetnets are clearly interim stopgap measures. I hope he was referring to studies of forthcoming 5G wireless and high-speed point-point wireless links to leapfrog current wireless technology. While I am dreaming, I'd love to see Cuba talk with OneWeb and SpaceX about their forthcoming satellite networks. OneWeb is committed to first deploying over Alaska -- how about talking with SpaceX about first covering Cuba?
  • International bandwidth doubled in 2016 from 4Gb/s to 8 Gb/s.
  • That is good to hear -- they need to balance international bandwidth with domestic backbone and access networks, but it should also be kept in context. My small university has a symmetric 10 Gb/s to the Internet.

There was some discussion after the presentation, in which representatives encouraged the production of Cuban content and expressed concern about affordability, cyber crime, and the migration of computer scientists to the non-state sector.

Wilfredo González, vice minister of the Ministry of Communication, said their principle computerization asset was over 25 thousand professionals, trained by Cuban universities.

Miriam Nicado, Rector of the University of Computer Sciences, where the Nova operating system was developed, said its widespread use would allow Cubans to surf with security, independence and technological sovereignty. I wonder if Cubans who get those new Nova-based laptops are installing Windows on them. China, with a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, can support their own software, services, and standards, but not Cuba.

This talk was given shortly before Cuba released their 2016 ICT statistics report, which covers some of the same ground. Check this post for further discussion of that report.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cuban ICT statistics report for 2016

I look at the ICT statistics reported annually by ONEI, the Cuban Office of statistics and information, every year. This table shows the Internet-related statistics from the latest report:

And this table shows the percent changes over the years:

The first thing I noticed was that the number of "Internet" users increased by 15.8%. I assume that much of that increase and that of the previous year was due to the opening of public access navigation rooms and WiFi hotspots.

I put "Internet" in quotes because the index is not defined. Given its magnitude, I assume that it combines users with access to the internal Cuban intranet and those with access to the global Internet. Furthermore, it is not clear who they are counting as a "user." Does it include anyone who has purchased access time once during the year, people who theoretically have access to the intranet at work or school, etc.? It is customary for statistical agencies to publish appendices with definitions of their indices, but I have not seen one for these statistics. (I'd love a copy of the index definitions if someone has it).

Note that the user increase is only a little over half the increase during the previous year. My guess is that is because a large portion of the first-year WiFi users were highly motivated "early adopters" who continue to use public access points. They were joined this year by people who did not log on until a location opened up near them, they heard about the Internet by word of mouth or perhaps only got a WiFi equipped device this year.

The number of computers increased by 7.6% with 15.1% more of those on the network. "Computer" is not defined, but this increase might reflect laptops, tablets and perhaps phones which people have acquired in order to use the WiFi hotspots.

The number of mobile accounts increased sharply, but, as with network users, the rate of increase was substantially lower than the previous year. The percent of the population with mobile coverage is unchanged, so the total number of mobile base stations has probably remained abourt the same as it was last year. That being said, we know that there are 879 mobile base stations in Cuba and 358 of them have been upgraded to support third generation communication. The number of users with 3G compatible phones is unknown.

The number of names registered under the .cu top-level domain actually decreased, an inidication that new enterprises are registering under top level domains like .com or .co.

For further discussion of the trends noted in this year's report, check our summary of last year's report.

Update 8/5/2017

For further discussion of related topics, see this post on a talk on Internet status by Cuba's Minister of Communication. In the post, I comment briefly on the following points made by the Minister:
  • They are working on a new regulatory and legal framework.
  • They are assembling tablets and laptops running the Cuban operating system, Nova.
  • A computer science professional society was created.
  • In 2016, 3,330 new data links were established to national agencies and institutions and the bandwidth to these organizations increased by 72 percent.
  • There are now 879 mobile base stations in Cuba, 358 of which support third generation (3G) mobile service.
  • There are over 630 public access navigation rooms and 370 WiFi access points.
  • There are 4.3 million mobile "lines.”
  • Four million users have access to the “Internet,” roughly one million through permanent accounts.
  • Their home broadband service has about 600 subscribers and they realize that it is not the solution for mass access to the Internet.
  • Mass deployment will come from wireless services.
  • International bandwidth doubled in 2016 from 4Gb/s to 8 Gb/s.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

DSL Internet available in some Bayamo homes

Nahta home user in Havana (source)
In February, I heard that ETECSA was testing home DSL in Bayamo. They are now offering the same home DSL plans in Bayamo as in Havana.

The announcement said that, as in Havana, access would be limited to homes within a limited area -- probably within a specified distance from the central office(s) that are equipped for DSL. I have heard about similar projects underway in Santa Clara and Las Tunas, so we can expect the service to eventually be rolled out to limited areas there as well.

ETECSA says they will be making this service available in 38,000 homes during 2017. If they are serious about their avowed plan to make DSL available to 50% of homes, they have a long way to go (but I doubt they are serious about doing so).

Saturday, July 1, 2017

What does Trump's Cuba policy memorandum say about the Internet?

Trump orders the Secretary of State to create a Cuban Internet task force.

Last week I reviewed Trump's Cuban policy speech and its implications for the Internet. The speech was accompanied by a national security memorandum on strengthening US Cuba policy, which was sent to the Vice President, Cabinet Secretaries, and heads of various departments.

The first thing that struck me about the memorandum was that it was a "national security" memorandum. Does Trump think Cuba poses a threat to our national security and how does his policy improve the situation? That is a topic for another discussion, but what does the memorandum say about the Internet?

The memorandum addresses the Internet in its purpose, policy and implementation sections.

The purpose section states that in Cuba "the right to speak freely, including through access to the internet, is denied, and there is no free press." One of the purposes of the memorandum is to restore the right to speak freely on the Internet. The Cuban government censors and sometimes punishes dissent and uses the Internet for propaganda, but it is not clear that Trump's policy and attitude will improve the situation. Furthermore, freedom of speech online is often abused and it is ironic that Trump should lecture anyone on this issue.

In the policy section, Trump says he will "amplify efforts to support the Cuban people through the expansion of Internet services, free press, free enterprise, free association, and lawful travel." This sounds good, but, at best, it is inconsistent with the policy he outlined last month in Saudi Arabia when he promised that "America will not seek to impose our way of life on others but to outstretch our hands in the spirit of cooperation and trust." At worst, he could be considering actions like the failed smuggling of satellite equipment into Cuba, Zunzuneo or the Alan Gross affair.

The implementation section says he will "support the expansion of direct telecommunications and Internet access for the Cuban people" by having the Secretary of State convene
a task force, composed of relevant departments and agencies, including the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and appropriate non-governmental organizations and private-sector entities, to examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba, including through Federal Government support of programs and activities that encourage freedom of expression through independent media and internet freedom so that the Cuban people can enjoy the free and unregulated flow of information
I contacted the State Department to see if they could tell me more about the task force, but they offered no details at this time. I'll follow up on this.

I cannot end this post without commenting on the writing style of the memorandum. It is written in the first person, implying that Trump actually wrote it. I am sure it was drafted and revised by staff, but gratuitous adjectives as in "dissidents and peaceful protesters are arbitrarily detained and held in terrible prison conditions," sounded Trumpian to me and the call for the establishment of a task force, quoted above, reminded me of James Joyce. I also found the organization confusing in places. Some policies seemed more like goals and one of them is to "not reinstate the 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot' policy." One wonders why he did not also vow not to reinstate limits on the value of rum and cigars travelers are allowed to bring back from Cuba.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Mobile coverage in Cuba -- mixed 2G and 3G

Cuba us rolling out 3G mobile service rapidly, but capacity remains a question mark.

In an earlier post, I raised a few questions about Cuba's current and planned mobile coverage. I've now found answers to one of my questions -- what is the current mobile coverage?

Hilda María Arias Pérez, Central Director of ETECSA’s Mobile Services Division, reports that there are 4,220,000 mobile accounts and 856 2G locations, covering 75% of Cuban territory and 85% of the population. They began the 3G rollout April 10 and by May 10 had 343 3G locations covering 13 % of the territory and 47% of the population.

Mobile accounts, May 10, 2017 (source)

2G and 3G access points, May 10, 2017 (source)

Map of 2G and 3G service areas (source)

The map shown above is consistent with this crowdsourced coverage map:

Strong signal: received signal strength indicator (RSSI) > -85dB,
Weak: RSSI < -99dB

The rapidity of the rollout indicates that cell tower upgrades were simple, but it does not answer the question of radio and backhaul capacities. Third-generation users will transfer more data than 2G users, who mainly use their phones for calls and text-based applications. On the other hand, ramping up of 3G usage will be limited by phone incompatibility, service cost and Trump's ban on self-directed, individual travel. (I'd be curious to know what percent of 3G traffic is used by roaming tourists).

The anecdotal reports I have seen indicate that 3G performance is good today, but the future remains unclear. Hopefully, ETECSA is planning to install backhaul capacity to deal with 3G loads in the short run and 5G loads in the future.

Engineer Arias Pérez discusses ETECSA's mobile coverage in this interview:

Update 7/30/2017

Minister of Communications, Maimir Mesa Ramos announced that there are 879 mobile base stations in Cuba and 358 of them support 3G.He also said there were about 4.3 million mobile accounts, but did not comment on the percent of mobile phones that were 3G compatible.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Trump's Cuba policy and its impact on the Cuban Internet

Overall, I don't see anything in Trump's policy that will directly impact the Cuban Internet, but it will have an indirect impact by delaying the eventual rapprochement between the US and Cuba.

On June 12th, I speculated on Trump's forthcoming Cuba policy and its impact on the Internet. He outlined his policy in a June 16th speech (transcript) and the Treasury Department published a FAQ on forthcoming regulation changes. It looks like my (safe) predictions were accurate.

I predicted he would attack President Obama, brag about what he had done, make relatively minor changes that would not upset businesses like cruise lines, airlines, and telecommunication and hotel companies. I also said he would criticize Cuban human rights, while hypocritically ignoring the issue in other countries.

For example, he slammed President Obama and bragged that "I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba."

This does not come close to passing a fact-check. He said he was going to restrict people-to-people travel and stop people from doing business with companies owned by the Cuban Military, but that is far from canceling President Obama's "deal," which included little things like establishing diplomatic relations, reducing constraints on remittances, dropping the wet-foot-dry-foot policy, allowing US companies to do business with self-employed Cubans, allowing US companies to sell telecommunication equipment and services, agricultural commodities, medicines, and medical devices in Cuba, taking Cuba off the list of state-sponsors of terrorism, etc. You get the idea -- he canceled none of this, not even President Obama's lifting of restrictions on rum and cigar imports for personal use.

His statements on Cuban human rights are either 100% hypocritical or he has changed his mind since his speech in Saudi Arabia last month. At that time, he promised that "America will not seek to impose our way of life on others but to outstretch our hands in the spirit of cooperation and trust."

If he really has changed his live-and-let-live human-rights policy, we can expect a spate of new sanctions, from Manila to Moscow.

I had one surprise -- his singling out hotels and other businesses operated by the military-run conglomerate, Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA). Officials say existing hotel deals will not be effected, but the detailed regulations have not yet been released. This change will cut Cuban worker's jobs and GAESA's profit, but I guess the ban is good news for AirBnB and any future Trump hotel or resort in Cuba.

How about changes affecting the Cuban Internet?

I read the Fact Sheet on Cuba Policy, looking for changes that would affect the Internet, and did not find much.

The first "key policy change" is "allowing American individuals and entities to develop economic ties to the private, small business sector in Cuba." Someone should let him know that President Obama made such changes some time ago, for example in allowing software imports from the private sector.

In fact, someone should read him President Obama's 2009 Fact Sheet - Reaching out to the Cuban people. That document introduced many changes which enhance the ability of Cuban private, small businesses to "develop ties to the US," for example by authorizing "greater telecommunications links with Cuba to advance people-to-people interaction at no cost to the U.S. government." The fact sheet lists seven concrete telecommunication policy changes, none of which were "canceled" by Trump.

He has canceled none of President Obama's changes to encourage private Cuban business and added nothing new himself.

One change he did make is stopping "self-directed, individual travel" to Cuba. That will force would-be tourists to join fake groups and fake their travel reports or go to Aruba instead of Cuba, but it will not slow the deployment of Chinese telecommunication infrastructure.

I hope Trump's policy will not undo the progress made by Google in establishing a relationship with Cuba and gaining permission to install Google Global Cache servers on the island. The servers are not yet in use, and when they go online they will have a small practical impact, but they indicate that Google has built trust and a relationship with the Cuban government and Internet community. I bet representatives of Google and other companies who have established relationships with Cuba are trying to reassure their counterparts that this is a temporary, unpopular change in US policy.

Overall, I don't see anything in Trump's policy that will directly impact the Cuban Internet, but it will have an indirect impact by delaying the eventual rapprochement between the US and Cuba. The Cuban government will enjoy a few more years of claiming their economic problems are the result of the US embargo, the integration of the Cuban and American people will be slowed and The Chinese, Russians, and Iranians will have more time to establish political and business relationships in Cuba with diminished competition from the US.

Trump's speech did not change much practically -- its intent and impact were symbolic. It let him say he had carried out a campaign pledge, which was music to the ears of the Cuba-hardline audience at the Manuel Artime auditorium, named for a leader of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The talk lasted about 39 minutes with 53 applause breaks (50 for Trump, 3 for others) and a violin rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Add to that the fact that Trump speaks slowly and repeats a lot of words and phrases, you realize that the speech was 90% political cheerleading and 10% content. You can watch the speech below, but reading the transcript is a lot quicker.

For a more comprehensive critique of Trump's Cuba policy see this article by Ben Rhodes, who was one of two White House staff members handling the negotiations leading up to our opening with Cuba. I also recommend the podcast interviews of Rhodes and Dan Restrepo, who served as a top Latin America advisor to President Obama and wrote a Cuban-rapprochement roadmap for candidate Obama before he was elected President. The interviews reveal President Obama's strategy and describe the negotiation process.

Update 6/22/2017

Airbnb has published a report on their Cuba rentals. The following table summarizes their activity since they began Cuban operations in April, 2015:

Airbnb specializes in people-people rentals and contact so my guess is that the majority of their Cuba business has been "self-directed, individual travel," which Trump has banned. Thus, one of the two major changes he has introduced will work against his "key policy change" of "allowing American individuals and entities to develop economic ties to the private, small business sector in Cuba." It will also cut the goodwill and mutual understanding resulting from home-stay tourism. But, I bet he got a round of applause when he announced it in his speech last Friday.

For further discussion of the Airbnb report in Spanish, click here.
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