Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The short and long term future of the Cuban Internet

I gave a talk on the short and long term future of the Cuban Internet at the Conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

For the short run, I talked about things that are announced and underway -- expansion of public access and connecting schools, universities and homes as well as the possibility of satellite as an unlikely, but feasible means of interim connectivity.

I pointed out several characteristics of these short run projects -- they rely on a backbone network, China has been the preferred vendor nation so far and the quantity and quality of connectivity are far short of what we experience in developed nations. Even with the currently planned expansion, the Cuban Internet will remain in the 1990s.

For the long term, I pointed out that Cuba has the opportunity to skip technology generations and consider things like low-earth orbiting satellite, 5G wireless and advances in short range wireless.

That being said, long run policies regarding infrastructure ownership and regulation are more important than long run technology options. I suggested several ownership/regulation paradigms found around the world today and I encourage Cuba to consider them carefully.

In the middle of the talk, I took a brief digression to point out that two of the presenters in my session had been instrumental in bringing the Internet to Cuba and a third pioneer was in the audience.

When does the "long term" begin? It's a vague term, but by 2020 we will have a new Cuban government, the US embargo may be history and the Cuban economy will hopefully have improved significantly. Cuba should be in a better position to build a modern Internet by then.

The presentation consists of 26 slides in the style I prefer -- an image with a few words, accompanied by notes and annotation. The annotation both explains the point the slide is making and provides links to sources and more information. You can download the PowerPoint presentation here.

Here are a couple of the slides:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Cuban ICT statistics report for 2014

Cuba's National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) has released their annual report of selected information and communication technology (ICT) indicators, including the following table of physical indicators:

They report that the number of Internet users is over 3 million, but must be including people who access the domestic intranet in that total. There are only 533,900 connected computers, so each one is shared by around 5.6 people. Not only are the users sharing computers, the connections are much slower than we are used to in developing nations. (I don't know how they count smart phone access).

It's also interesting to look at percent changes over time:

We see that the percent of the population with cell coverage has been flat for two years. Evidently, they are no longer expanding the 2G cell network. Presumably, the next deployment will be 4 or 5G. The number of cell phones is growing, but they do not differentiate between modern smart phone/computers and 2G flip and candy-bar phones. Growth in the number of .cu domain names has slowed compared to last year, but it is still substantial, indicating increasing organizational use.

Growth in the number of computers and the number of phone minutes has slowed relative to last year:

Both may be related to the Internet -- people are buying smart phones instead of computers and using Internet applications to make voice over IP calls.

Finally, ONEI reported that there are 1,264,817 fixed phone lines, of which 967,963 are residential. That puts the goal of having DSL service available to 50% of Cuban homes by 2020 in perspective. In addition to installing DSL equipment in central offices, many of these phone lines may have to be upgraded. The number of central offices increased from to 688 to 740 -- perhaps the new ones are already equipped for DSL service.

You can see coverage of previous ONEI ICT reports here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Leaked documents

Carlos Alberto Pérez publishes leaks -- "Chirileaks" -- on his blog La Chringa de Cuba. Two leaks pertaining to the Internet were one on Cuba's national broadband plan and another on ETECSA's plan for home connectivity.

Cuba is not known for kindness to dissidents, so one wonders why Pérez still has his job, not to mention his freedom. The answer might be that these are intentional leaks -- letting the world and the Cuban people know that Cuba is paying attention to the Internet and plans to improve things. Cuba has declared the Internet a priority and these leaks lend credence to that claim.

Anonymous quotes, "trial balloons" and government leaks are common in the US and Cuba may be doing the same. Regardless, Pérez is giving us interesting information and I hope the Chirileaks keep coming.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Speculation on the Cuban Internet backbone

Since the earliest days of the Internet, Cuba has stressed geographically distributed connectivity, unlike most developing nations, which focused on one or a few large cities. That policy is still in effect. There are plans to connect universities, schools and homes and there are already public WiFi hotspots and and Internet-access rooms in every province. (Of the original 118 public access rooms, only 12 were in Havana).

A backbone network covering the length of the island is necessary to achieve such geographically dispersed connectivity and, since essentially all of Cuba's international traffic is now routed over the undersea cable connection at the east end of the island, there must already be a backbone network connecting the provinces. The provision of 1 mbps international connectivity at the new WiFi hotspots is further evidence of a backbone.

I know nothing of the architecture or technology (fiber and wireless?) of today's backbone, but the load is very light compared to a future with planned traffic from homes, schools, universities and public access locations, so Cuba must be planning a high speed backbone.

We got a very hazy view of that plan in a Cuban market research study, which was just published by Nearshore America. The report includes diagrams of the three-phase backbone plan shown below:

These diagrams are attributed to ETECSA, but they have been substantially redrawn to protect the identity of the person who supplied them. While the legend on each slide shows 2 fixed and 9 reconfigurable multiplexers, I suspect that refers to the final phase. Similarly, I am guessing that "12 OLA" refers to optical wavelengths in each network link, but that is just a guess. The author of the Nearshore report was not told the time schedule for the phases.

I'd be curious to know a lot more, like who is designing and installing the backbone and who is supplying the equipment -- for example, are those Huawei multiplexers?

The one thing these images show us is that ETECSA is indeed planning a fiber backbone network.

Uodate 8/20/2015

@yawnboy sent me a link to material releasesd by Edward Snowden showing that the NSA was thinking of installing back doors in Huawei routers in 2010.

An NSA presentation included this slide:

The text note accompanying the slide reads in part:
Many of our targets communicate over Huawei produced products, we want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products - we also want to ensure that we retain access to these communication lines, etc.
I'm offering this in jest, but it would have been ironic if Cuba had installed Chinese routers with NSA backdoors.

Update 8/28/2015

Reader Ed Francis sent me a link to a 2005 post on Chinese companies in Cuba. The author visited the offices of several Chinese companies, including that of Huawei. The following is a Google translate version of his observation:
Huawei to enter the Cuban market in 2000, when the company won the bid in an international tender Huawei Cuban government for the construction of a national fiber transmission network are conducted. Although the company is currently in Cuba only two market development officer and six engineers responsible for technical support, but Huawei's products have entered the all Cuban existing telecommunications.

Huawei's office, Interim Head of Cuban Mr. Humberto said Cuba telecom market competition is very fierce, before the market is mainly occupied by Alcatel, Ericsson and other large companies in Europe, I would like to win the market from their hands share of easier said than done. However, with a strong technical strength and highly competitive prices, Huawei has basically heard from a Cuban company became a pivotal role in the market. Cuba Telekom AG is the only company operating fixed telephone service, the total investment in 2004 to purchase 30% of Huawei's products.
It sounds like he is saying that Huawei won a bid for the construction of a fiber backbone in 2000. No details are given, but I wonder if that may be referring to the network pictured above.

The article also says Huawei has an office with two market development officers (salesmen?) and six engineers, headed by a Cuban, Mr. Humberto. (It is my understanding that Chinese infrastructure projects are typically run and staffed by Chinese, which would make this an exception).

I checked on the Huawei and Cuban Chamber of Commerce Web sites, and there is no listing for a Huawei office in Cuba today; however, ZTE does have an office in Havana. (ZTE sold ETECSA 5,000 home modems for the planned DSL rollout and may also be seeking to sell backbone equipment).

Update 8/31/2015

Ed Francis has continued his detective work. On LinkedIn, he found that Jorge Rivero Loo has, since 2008, supervised the implementation and technical support of the optical backbone network outlined above. The network uses Huawei equipment and Mr. Rivero has worked for them since 2002. Before that, he worked for ETECSA and studied at Jarcov University (in Russia?) and CUJAE.

Have US firms missed the boat?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Secretary of State Kerry's Trip to Cuba

US embassy in 1961

A senior State Department official held a press conference on Secretary Kerry's trip to Cuba to raise the flag over our new embassy. He said that due to space limitations, attendance at the embassy-opening ceremony will limited -- it will be "government-to-government event."

But, later in the day, there will be
a large event at the chief of mission’s residence, which is also a diplomatic installation, in which a broad range of groups will be invited, including the Cuban Government, Cuban Americans, Cuban artists and cultural leaders, the Diplomatic Corps, entrepreneurs, and Cuban political human rights and media activists ... nothing in the Secretary’s events on Friday will change our support for dissidents on the island, for political actors, for human rights activists, for independent media. Nothing has changed in that regard, and nothing will, and we will always stand with peaceful political activists who are looking for opening and space and human rights in Cuba.

You can read the full press conference transcript here and this Washington Post/Reuters video says that Cubans were enthusiastic about the new embassy:

Update 8/17/2015

Press availabiliity (video and transcript) with US Secretary of State Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Rodriguez.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

China's CCTV focuses its rosy lens on Cuba

I've not watched a ton of CCTV, but everything I have seen paints a positive picture of China. That is not to say you cannot learn from CCTV, just don't expect a well-rounded presentation.

CCTV America has posted short interviews of six Cuban Experts on reinventing Cuba. The first, by Ted Henken, directly addresses the Cuban Internet and the social media:

The others are indirectly relevant to the Cuban Internet because Chinese companies have played and are playing a major role in its development.

The ALBA-1 undersea cable connecting Cuba to Venezuela and Jamaica was installed by a joint venture made up of Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell and Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe and it has been reported that the project was fincanced by a loan from China. Cuba’s WiFi and home connectivity projects are also using Chinese equipment.

The six videos are:

  • There are challenges in accessing the Internet in Cuba but there is progress. For more on this, CCTV’s Elaine Reyes spoke to Ted Henken in Miami. He’s a professor at Baruch College who has studied the Internet and social media in Cuba.
  • Healthcare coverage starts at birth for Cubans. So how does the country pay for it? And what exactly is covered? CCTV America’s Elaine Reyes spoke to Robert Huish, assistant professor at Dalhousie University.
  • Carlos Alzugaray, former Cuba Ambassador to Belgium talks to CCTV about the current business climate in Cuba.
  • For more on Cuba’s healthcare industry and medical innovations, CCTV America’s Phillip Yin spoke to Steve Wilkerson. He is the chairman of the International Institute for the Study of Cuba.
  • The Cuban Revolution proved to be a transformative time not just for the political system in Cuba, but also for the arts as well. CCTV America’s Elaine Reyes spoke to Abigail McEwen. She’s an Assistant Professor of Latin American Art at the University of Maryland.
  • Gerry Hadden has done several stories in Cuba. He sat down with Elaine Reyes and talked about the changes he’s seeing there, and what the future holds.

CCTV has also produced Reinventing Cuba, a documentary, which will air Sunday August 16th at 7pm EST 11pm GMT & Monday 8/17 7am Beijing. You can watch it live online and it will probably be archived. Here's a (rosy) trailer for the documentary:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Cuba is using WiFi for short run portable connectivity

I've been in Scandinavia and Vietnam this year and have not bothered to get a SIM card for my phone -- WiFi was available wherever I went.

Let me start with a look at today's Cuban WiFi, then turn to the question of portable and mobile connectivity in the long run.

Nick Miroff has published a Washington Post article on the activity at one of the 35 new WiFi hotspots in Cuba. Here are a few observations from that and other articles reporting on the new hotspots:
  • The users are young people.
  • They are often communicating with family and friends outside of Cuba. My guess is that a lot of that communication is paid for by those outsiders.
  • The content, like that of the weekly paquete, is apolitical.
  • IMO seems to be a popular program for audio and video chat.
  • People are using the hotspots a lot at night when it is cool.
  • There are long lines for 2 CUC (a little less than $2) scratch-off cards that enable one to log on for one hour and Miroff says sidewalk entrepreneurs are hoarding and re-selling them for 3 CUC with impunity.
  • Yoandy Sánchez has an even better idea -- send an SMS message that costs 2 CUC to an ETECSA phone number that responds with a 1-hour passcode. (A hidden cost of obsolete technology is that it "blinds" developers).
  • Miroff also says people are using Connectify Hotspot to share access to a single connection, at reduced speed, for 1 CUC per hour.
  • He also says ever-resourceful Cuban hackers are tapping into street lamp electrical wires to create charging stations.
  • The hotspots are supposed to provide 1 mbps connectivity to all users who are logged in, but that is not always the case. Still, people are doing video chats and streaming lo-res video. (Miroff was able to watch ESPN highligts).
  • Even at 2 CUC per hour, there is a lot of pent-up demand for Internet access. People are willing to wait to get online.
  • Getting online at one of these hotspots is something of a party/social event.
  • Cuba also has conventional Internet access rooms with PCs, but these WiFi spots allow people to bring their own devices so the cost to ETECSA is much less and they do not have to worry about equipment becoming obsolete.
  • They are using Huawei WiFi equipment (and are also using Huawei gear for home DSL).
  • Let's keep this WiFi rollout in perspective -- 35 oversubscribed hotspots for 11 million people is a drop in the bucket.
And, of course, I've got a few unanswered questions, like:
  • What are they doing for backhaul at the 35 hotspots?
  • How are they managing bandwidth to give each user 1 mbps?
  • Are Huawei engineers building the network or is Huawei merely a vendor, with Cubans doing the engineering and installation? (I hope it is the latter).
  • Are the talents of Cuba's homegrown WiFi connectivity experts being used?
  • Are the Chinese financing the rollout and, if so, what are the terms?
  • Is the Cuban government surveilling the users?
  • Which IP addresses are blocked?
  • Are the Chinese supplying equipment, software or expertise for surveillance and content filtering?
  • How fast are they planning to extend WiFi access?
OK -- that is today, but what about the future?

I've been in Scandinavia and Vietnam this year and have not bothered to get a SIM card for my phone -- WiFi was available wherever I went. In the US, WiFi access is providing competition for the cellular network, cable companies are creating public hotspots using home and commercial routers for backhaul and Fon is doing the same in Europe.

The US and Europe have robust fourth generation cellular networks with near ubiquitous backhaul and radio coverage, but nearly all Cuban cellular connectivity is second generation. In an earlier post, I suggested that Cuba forgo short term cellular connectivity. Can they substitute WiFi in the interim? Speaking at the 10th Congress of the Young Communist League of Cuba, Deputy Minister of Communications Jose Luis Perdomo hinted that that might be their strategy.

The following graph from Akami's State of the Internet report shows total (upload and download) global monthly mobile voice and data as measured by Ericsson (PetaBytes per month).

Voice calls are rapidly diminishing as a percentage of mobile data. By 2020, applications like IMO, Skype, WhatsApp and Google Hangouts will have rendered the distinction between voice and data meaningless -- it's all bits.

In five years, the Cuban economy will probably be stronger, the embargo will probably be history and we will know the cost and performance of 5G cellular, 2020 WiFi and other wireless equipment. Can Cuba get by with 2G phone service and expanded WiFi access until that time?

Internet geeks have a saying: "IP everywhere" (even over carrier pigeon). Cuba might become the first "IPv6 everywhere" nation.

Update 8/27/2015

The market research firm IHS reports that Voice over IP (VoIP) and IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) equipment sales to carriers are up by 46% over the second quarter of 2014 and Huawei is the leading supplier of the equipment.

Calls using VoIP, like Skype or Google Voice, have been competing with circuit switched calls for many years -- making their "best effort" to deliver high quality. At times, the quality was not as good as circuit switched calls, but IMS calls use more complex protocols to deliver superior quality.

The fact that sales of VoIP and IMS equipment to "cell phone" operators are growing rapidly foreshadows the increased substitution of "data" for "voice" suggests that Cuba may forget about circuit-switched calling going forward.

I spoke with IHS analyst Stephane Teral about the future of the cellular network in Cuba, and, while he does think they could move to an all IP network, he does not feel they can afford to wait for 5G technology, saying:
They need LTE to bring their economy up to speed. It's proven that there is a direct positive correlation between broadband infrastructure and economic growth. I'm sure some investors will pop up; someone will raise the money to build the network.
Regardless, Cuba is no longer expanding the current 2G network -- the covered population has remained constant for two years.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

CUCs, Pesos and now Bitcoin

Below are screenshots from a video of someone making a bitcoin transaction at one of Cuba's new WiFi hotspots.

You will find the video and an article on Cuban bitcoin here.

For more on the introduction of bitcoin, see this TV Marti report, which features an inteview of bitcoincuba founder Fernando Villar.

I've never used bitcoin, but it seems like a way for Cubans to be paid for outsourced work or sales without the governments of Cuba or the US knowing.

I am not an economist, but understand that the current two-currency situation distorts the economy and converting to a single currency will be problematical and cause some unfairness. How does bitcoin figure into all this?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Cuban Internet -- a look back and looking forward

Does Raúl Castro still fear the Internet? Does he have reason to do so?

I recently attended the 2015 Conference of the Association for the study of the Cuban Economy, where I was on a panel on the future of the Internet in Cuba with two friends who played significant roles in Cuban networking history. A third colleague, Juan Blanco, was in the audience.

Jesus Martinez, Juan Blanco and Óscar Visiedo

Óscar and later Jesus were the directors of CENIAI, the National Center for Automatic Interchange of Information, and were responsible for Cuba's first computer network activity. Juan ran political interference for them -- using his social-political contacts to argue for the adoption of email. (Juan says the debate focused purely on email, ignoring the Usenet News grou

CENIAI staff, 1990. Photo by Óscar Visiedo, Jesus Martinez second from left in the back row

CENIAI began networking in 1982 with connections to Soviet and European databases and limited email. By 1992, CENIAI had 62 staff members, and was part of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.

They were not on the Internet, but connected by phone several times a day to exchange batches of email and discussion forum posts. The discussion groups, known collectively as Usenet News, covered a wide variety technical, cultural and political discussion. They were part of an asynchronous global network that used the Unix to Unix copy protocol (UUCP):

UUCP connections, 1988

By 1995, Cuba was among the networking leaders in the Caribbean. CENIAI and three other networks with international UUCP links were transferring over 60 Mbytes of international email and had nearly 2,600 users:

Monthly international email traffic in 1995

Cuba's UUCP connection was to the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) in Canada. APC provided connections for many non-governmental organzations (NGOs) and that attracted the attention of politicians, who saw NGOs as subversive. There was debate and the Interior Ministry argued that material sent to and received from APC should be blocked since it could not be controlled.

Juan Blanco argued that the Ministry of the Interior was only concerned with control of communication at the expense of arresting national development, saying that had their view prevailed when Lenin was around there would be no phone system in the USSR. His argument was effective and the UUCP traffic to APC was allowed to continue.

Óscar Visiedo left for the United States and Jesus Martinez took over as director. Under his leadership, CENIAI established their first Internet connection, a 64 kbps IP link to the US National Science Foundation (NSF) backbone. The cost was born by the NSF International connections program, which connected academic and research networks from 28 nations.

Martinez and his colleagues were proud and happy to be on the Internet, but the Internet was no longer under the radar. In June, 1996, the Executive Committee of the Cuban Council of Ministers issued Decree 209 regulating the use and development of information networks and Internet services within Cuba. The decree established an inter-ministerial commission with responsibility for all matters relating to access to and the information on computer networks of global reach. The commission was to be chaired by the Minister of Metallurgical Industry and Electronics and include Ministries of Science, Technology and Environment, Communications, Interior, Revolutionary Armed Forces and Justice. Many interests were represented.

It appears that power was consolidated in January 2000, when Decree Law 204 created the current Ministry of Informatics and Communications (MIC) with control over Information technology, the electronics industry, telecommunications, broadcasting, radio spectrum and the postal service – traditional media and computer networks.

Today, the Cuban Internet is far less developed than would be expected in a nation with Cuba's level of education and development. This is due to the embargo, the poor economy at the time of Cuba's connection to the Internet and government fear. All three must change for the Cuban Internet to thrive.

The fear was based in part on the collapse of the Soviet Union. In October 1997, Raúl Castro said:
Glasnost, which undermined the USSR and other socialist countries, consisted in handing over the mass media, one by one, to the enemies of socialism.
In a 1995 interview, Cuban researcher Gillian Gunn noted that since the spring of 1993, there had been Cuban government memos calling for increased audit and control of NGOs and Raúl Castro commented on her report, noting that NGOs were a threat.

The Cubans may also have been aware of the role of the global UUCP network in thwarting the 1991 Soviet Coup attempt against Gorbachev.

In spite of these reservations, there was debate within Cuba. Óscar Visiedo demonstrated the network for Fidel Castro, who he says was positive. (Fidel inaugurated the Youth Computer Clubs). At the same time as Raúl Castro spoke out against the Internet, pragmatic Finance Minister (?) Carlos Lage reiterated Juan Blanco's view, saying:
One telex can cost twelve dollars [whereas] the same message costs 75 cents in the form of a fax and 3 cents via the Internet ... in spite of our blockaded circumstances, we are in a relatively good position [to face the challenges of such scientific and technological changes], due to the educational and scientific work developed by the revolution.
This time the hard liners prevailed, deciding to limit access to the Internet, but today US support for the embargo is declining, the Cuban economy is in better shape than it was in 1996 and it will improve further post December 17. One issue remains -- does Raúl Castro still fear the Internet? Does he have reason to do so?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Video showing a neighborhood LAN in Cuba

I've written posts about the wired and wireless neighborhood local area networks that have sprung up around Cuba. They are used for file exchange, game playing and discussion -- but no political discussion.

I came a across a Voice of America video (below) with interviews of a couple of the users (perhaps system administrators -- they did not say). Here are a couple of stills from the video:

Building junction point

Cables run across roof tops and between buildings

Does anyone recognize this switch?

Everybody knows that we are being watched ...

The video reminded me of the way people in rural India used to share cable TV:

It also reminded me of Cuba's necessity-driven hacker/maker culture:


Computer programmer is one of the jobs the Cuban government has designated as eligible for self-employment -- let's hope for innovation from these hackers and I hope ETECSA is hiring them for their networking skills.

Here's the video:

Also see:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Instructions/tutorial for connecting to an ETECSA WiFi hot spot

Might the style of this help page say something about Cuba's improvising, do-it-yourself culture?

Instructions for connecting to an ETECSA hotpsot are posted in (Google Translate) English here and in the original Spanish here. The instructions are clear and they don't simply say what to do -- they teach a new user a little about the Internet. For example, they explain what DHCP and cookies are as well as showing how to enable them.

The tutorial also points out that your position and distance from the access point will affect signal strength and promises that the next tutorial will include plans for home-made antennae.

The instructions say all users will be able to download at a rate of 1mb/s regardless of the number sharing the access point. I imagine that that implies only a fixed number of users are able to connect at the same time and they only allow people with relatively strong signals to connect. (Can any reader verify that claim)?

Finally, they show how a user can check his/her download speed using Wget:

While not a computer science textbook, this user guide goes beyond rote "click this then click that" instructions -- it attempts to teach a little. The difference may be subtle, but people who have some understanding of the technology they are using will be more self-sufficient and less alienated. This is one tenuous example, but might the style of this help page say something about Cuba's improvising, do-it-yourself culture?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Does Cuba trust the US (and Google)?

Will mistrust stop Google and other US Internet companies in Cuba?


I've written posts speculating on what Google might do in Cuba and on the possibility of their providing Internet access, but have received consistent "no comment" from Google, so a recent Havana Times report that Cuba had turned down an offer of WiFi connectivity from Google caught my eye.

The Havana Times post was based on an interview of the second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, but he does not mention Google or an offer of connectivity from them in the interview. He speaks instead of the intent of imperialists to use the Internet as a way to destroy the Revolution.

That has been the party line for years. Left trolls say the fear is realistic, citing the Helms-Burton Act, which has been used to justify various covert Internet initiatives to assist "the Cuban people in regaining their freedom." Right trolls answer that the Cuban government is only interested in enriching the Castros and their friends.

I've no idea what Google has offered Cuba, but it seems that trust is central to this discussion -- does the Cuban government trust Google or see them as a tool of the US government?

Google's advances toward Cuba have been made by their in-house "think/do tank" Google Ideas, which "builds products to support free expression and access to information for people who need it most — those facing violence and harassment."

Google Ideas is headed by Jared Cohen who, before coming to Google, was a member of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff and served as an advisor to Condoleezza Rice and later Hillary Clinton. A couple years ago, Julian Assange of Wikileaks published documentation of Cohen's activity, branding him "Google’s director of regime change." A Cuban pro-government blog publicized Assange's work saying Google was doing what the CIA and NSA could not and channeling the State Department in Silicon Valley.

(Note the irony of the Cuban government pointing to documents uncovered by Wikileaks)!

Will mistrust stop Google and other US Internet companies in Cuba? Has the mistrust begun to thaw? Diplomatic relations are resuming and Raúl Castro, who opposed the Internet at its beginning, says Cuba and the United States are entering a new era.

Mr. Machado's remarks suggest that we may have to wait till regime change occurs (without Google's help) in 2018.

Update 7/17/2015

President Obama has stated that "On Cuba, we are not in the business of regime change."

In spite of that, Gustavo Machin, deputy director for U.S. affairs in the Cuban Foreign Ministry, told reporters that he saw no evidence of practical change, citing the multimillion-dollar 2016 US budged request for Cuban democracy programs.

Tracey Eaton has analyzed the State Department request for Cuba funds for the 2016 fiscal year in a thorough blog post with links to the actual budget appendices. For example, he highlighted the following $20 million request for Cuba:

Regardless of one's opinion of the stated goals and the innefectiveness of such programs, the government of Cuba sees democracy promotion programs as regime change efforts. I don't know whether their expressed fear of such projects is genuine or propaganda, but either way, they undermine trust in US Internet companies.

Update 7/27/2015

In a recent blog post, Circles Robinson askes whether the Cuban people (as oppossed to the government) trust the United States, condluding that "In asking around for opinions we found that in general there appears to be little mistrust of ulterior motives and most people are happy with the change. Likewise Obama seems quite popular."

This is of course annecdotal and probably limited to Havana, but it does not seem unreasonable.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cuban international traffic shifts from satellite to the ALBA-1 undersea cable

Doug Madory, Director of Internet Analysis at Dyn Research, sent me a note on Cuba's international traffic. As you see here, on July 1, nearly all satellite traffic (blue and green) was re-routed to the ALBA-1 undersea cable:

As a result, median latency has stabilized at around 210 milliseconds:

This is good news for Cubans who have Internet access at work, school or ETECSA hotspots and navigation rooms.

There must be relatively fast terrestrial connectivity to the cable landing point at Siboney Beach. Does anyone have any information about the nature of that connectivity? Huawei is installing home DSL and WiFi -- have they also installed an inter-province backbone? Could there have been an unannounced deal with medium-earth orbit satellite provider O3b Networks?

Update 7/20/2015

Huawei may be installing home DSL and WiFi hotspots in Cuba, but Doug Madory has discovererd at least one piece of Cisco equipment -- a 2800 router at the University of Havana. (I'd be curious to know how they obtained it.)

I am not familiar with the Cisco 2800, so I Googled it to get the specs. I was saddened to see that it is old equipment, near the end of its support life -- the end date for software maintenance has already passed and hardware support will end soon.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Cuba connecting universities with fiber

Is this the start of a fiber backbone?

Walter Baluja, Director of the Computer Science Department of the Ministry of Higher Education has announced that starting January of 2016 all academic centers in the country will have access to fiber connections. I take that to mean ETECSA will offer them fiber connections, not that all will accept the offer, but I could be wrong.

The article also says universities in Granma and Pinar del Rio already have access to fiber cable, as shown below:

There are two campuses (u in the above map) in Granma and one in Pinar del Rio, so I would guess there is now fiber between Bayamo and the undersea cable (c) at Siboney. There may also be fiber to the second Granma campus in Manzanillo. Similarly, there is probably fiber between Pinar del Rio and a satellite ground station (s) in Havana.

I don't know the location of the Havana ground stations, but found this old picture of a ground station near Havana that communicated with Intersputnik and Intelsat satellites.

Anyone recognize the location?

Baluja said the connected universities have already increased their payment to ETECSA to expand connectivity from "2 to 20 megabytes." I am not sure what he meant by that. First of all, it is common to use megabits per second as a measure of communication speed. Regardless of bits or bytes, 20 is way to slow for fiber links to the campuses. Maybe he was trying to say users were getting 20 mbits per second in labs and offices. He also said they would be installing WiFi LANs on the campuses.

Reading between the lines of press releases is tiring and error prone, but this seems to indicate that Cuba is building a fiber backbone. (I've seen a presentation slide showing planned fiber between Bayamo and the undersea cable).

Chinese equipment is being used for DSL to the home and Wifi access points. I wonder if Chinese equipment is being used in these fiber links. If so, how is Cuba paying for it and what, if anything, are they giving up? Oh -- and where does that leave US vendors?

Update 7/17/2015

Almost all of Cuba's international traffic is now being carried over the undersea cable at the eastern end of the island, so I guess there is a backbone network connecting Havana and other large cities to the cable landing at Siboney Beach.

Today, that is probably a mix of fiber and wireless links. If there is to be fiber to every university by 2016, does that imply a fiber backbone for the entire island or are some of those fiber links to microwave towers? The same question comes to mind with respect to the WiFi access points in every province.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A leaked ETECSA presentation on home Internet connectivity in Cuba

I don't criticize to knock the system down. On the contrary, I criticize to perfect the system.
Carlos Alberto Pérez

This post has taken several twists and turns.

I started out to write a post commenting on an ETECSA PowerPoint presentation on their plan for home Internet connectivity. The presentation had been leaked by Carlos Alberto Pérez on his blog Chiringa de Cuba on June 23. In addition to some analysis of the plan, I was going to discuss the role of Chinese equipment suppliers, predominantly Huawei.

Then, on June 25, ETECSA denied the validity of the leaked document, saying it was used only for training. They said the tentative prices shown were incorrect, but did not retract the substance of the presentation, which shows a plan to provide DSL service to some Cuban homes using Chinese equipment.

That denial was followed by the blocking of access to Pérez' blog, presumably because he had published the leaked document.

You can no longer access Pérez' post, but the presentation itself has been posted by several people. I have put a copy here, and invite people to add comments to it. (As they say, information wants to be free).

I will provide my reactions to the leaked document here and save the reflections on the Chinese role for a second post.

The presentation says ETECSA plans to roll out asymmetric (faster download than upload) DSL service using Chinese equipment in an unspecified number of central offices. As we see in the following leaked slide, they will use Huawei ME 60 gateways between the phone and IP networks and have ordered 15,000 TP Link TD 8840T modems for homes. I do not know, but it seems reasonable to guess that the digital multiplexers (DSLAMs) installed in the central offices will be from Huawei as well. (I'll get to the question marks later).

The following price slide was included in the presentation, but ETECSA has said this was only a place-holder for training purposes and I will take them at their word -- consider these prices only as possibilities:

These prices may be higher than we eventually see, but there will surely be a significant number of people who cannot afford a DSL connection so we can imagine people sharing accounts and a black market for reselling time.

The following slide differentiates between national and international access, so I presume that the actual prices will take that into account. That would be reasonable since most international access will be over congested satellite links. The slides say nothing about which, if any, international sites will be blocked.

The above slide also differentiates speed levels, times of day and days of the week. I suspect the actual pricing will take time and day into account, but that may or may not be the case for the different speeds that are shown. Varying infrastructure will cause speed differences regardless of price.

Before a home can receive DSL service, the equipment in the central office serving it must be upgraded and a relatively short, high quality phone line must run between the home and its central office. (That is one of the question marks in previous diagram).

Cuba reported 3,882,424 private homes (2012) and 939,500 residential phone lines. That means around 2.9 million homes would have to be wired before they could have Internet service. The presentation says they will give priority to homes that already have land lines and those belonging to the self-employed. (The former is obvious and the latter interesting).

Cuba reports having 688 central offices (2013), few of which contain DSL equipment. Most would have to be upgraded in order to provide DSL service.

Once connected, what will be the data transmission speed? The above slide shows asymmetric (down/up) connection speeds ranging from 128/64 to 8,192/768 kb/s. With DSL technology, transmission speed depends upon the distance of a home from its central office and the condition of the copper lines connecting them. These are always best effort numbers -- "up to" the stated speeds.

Let me give an example, I live Los Angeles and Google Maps says I am 1.1 mile from my central office. Verizon offers me two service levels: "high speed" DSL service is .5-1 mb/s and "enhanced" service is from 1.5-3 mb/s, for an extra $10 per month. To be fair, the copper in my neighborhood is 70 years old, but I doubt that many Cuban customers will be able to get 8,192 kb/s.

There is also a slide showing day/night and weekday/weekend traffic patterns. Judging from the y-axis, I am guessing that this is showing international traffic, which is heavy during week days. Before a user logs on, he or she will be able to measure their current connection speed before starting a session and using their hours.

The Internet connection is the second question mark in the previous diagram. What are the connection speeds between the central offices and the Internet? In the US, central offices are connected by high speed fiber, but I know little about Cuba. For example, in Havana, some or all central offices may be connected to a fiber backbone, but what of the link from there to the Internet? Havana is far from the undersea cable landing to the east, so I imagine those links are via congested satellites.

The bottom line is that this is an early step toward modern home connectivity using yesterday's technology and I hope Cubans are planning to leapfrog today's technology in the long run.

Well, that is a little tea reading from the leaked slides. It is too bad that the situation is so opaque that we have to guess about ETECSA and their plans and it is even worse that they seem to have blocked Pérez' blog. He is an asset, not a threat -- as he has stated "I don't criticize to knock the system down. On the contrary, I criticize to perfect the system."

I think the involvement of Chinese suppliers is more interesting than this leak, and I will take that up in a subsequent post.

Update 6/29/3025

Ted Henken told me that the problem with accessing Chiringadecuba.com may not have been government blocking but expiration of the domain name, and it seems he was correct.

I did a whois lookup and it turns out the domain expiration date was 2015-06-26. I then checked at the registrar, Name.com, and saw that chiringadecuba.com is not available. It sounds like it may have expired, but they are giving Perez a grace period within which to re-activate it. Since he would not have a US credit card, there may be some difficulty with that.

Update 6/29/2015

Chiringadecuba.com is online again and the expiration date has been extended till next year. My apologies to ETECSA for fearing that they may have blocked access.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What is the effect U.S. trade restrictions on IT exports to Cuba?

The Senate Finance Committee is researching the economic impact of U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba and I was asked to testify before the US International Trade Commission on the effects of the U.S. restrictions on our exports of telecommunication equipment and services to Cuba. I have a chance to revise the testimony, and would appreciate feedback.

Click to download Word or PDF versions of the draft.

Here is the testimony introduction:

The Commission has asked for testimony on the effects of the U.S. trade restrictions on our telecommunication exports to Cuba. Since there is a great deal of uncertainty about the Cuban plans and policies and U.S. policy is also in a state of flux, I will lay out a framework for discussing the issue rather than attempting specific predictions. This framework can be modified and fleshed out by future research. I will focus on Internet-based telecommunications, which are subsuming traditional telephony.

Potential U.S. exports to Cuba include:
  • Personal Internet access devices
  • Internet services for fees or advertising
  • Internet infrastructure
  • Internet service provision
  • Digital entertainment and other content
  • Sensor-based Internet access devices – “the Internet of things.”

Some of these markets, for example, providing Internet infrastructure and service, are more severely impacted by U.S. restrictions than others.

U.S. restrictions are only one impediment to the sale of these goods and services – there are others that are out of our control:
  • Cuban government fear of free information exchange
  • The Cuban economy
  • The absence of domestic Internet infrastructure
  • Socialist values and practices
  • Foreign competition
  • Domestic competition from state monopolies

Update 6/26/2015

An anonymous reader has the opinion that my testimony document underestimates the potential of the Cuban market. They listed the following examples:

Web hosting service -- the reader is "middle man" for ten Web sites hosted in Canada and knows of many others.

Specialized professional audio/video equipment that is only made in US, or were US products traditionally have much better quality. Examples include products from Avid, M-Audio and Alesis. Their products are sometimes bought by Cuban companies in third countries using a foreign nationals or foreign companies as middle man. Other times they have to settle for lower quality products from China or Europe.

Computer assisted Medical equipment -- this is a big opportunity because the Cuban government spends a lot on healthcare every year

Specialized Software -- for example Oracle databases, which are pervasive in Cuba.

The reader went on to say that some US companies refuse to sell their products to Cuban even in foreign countries. For example Dell dealers refus to sell laptops to people with Cuban passports in Madrid and Barcelona.
Note that the specialized software is pirated, as is much of the software and content distributed in the weekly "paquete." Copyright infringment will be an issue in any discussion of liberalizaton of US trade policy. Also note that the medical and audio/video equipment is sold primarily to government enterprises, not private individuals or cooperatives.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Cuba's WiFi access plan raises intresting questions.

Do we see the outline of a future national fiber backbone?

Luis Manuel Díaz Naranjo, ETECSA Director of Communications, has announced that during the coming weeks, they plan to roll out 35 WiFi access points. As shown here, they will be distributed throughout the island.

Forthcoming WiFi access locations -- hint of a backbone?

Mr. Díaz said the access points would accommodate 50-100 or more simultaneous users at speeds up to "1MB" per second. (I assume he means megabit, not megabyte). He also announced that ETECSA's hourly access charge would be permanently cut to 2 CUC. This is evidently a rollout of an earlier trial in Santiago de Cuba.

While these access points are not yet operating, Carlos Alberto Pérez has spotted the equipment at one of the Havana locations. The equipment is supplied by the Chinese company Huawei, which is bad news for US companies.

Three Huawei WiFi antennae in Havana

That is all I know about this new Cuban path to the Internet, but it raises several interesting questions and points.

For a start, how do they achieve backhaul speeds to support 50-100 simultaneous users at up to 1 mb/s at an access point? The announcement makes it clear that some access points will be more powerful than others. Assuming they allow international access, are some linked to the undersea cable and others linked to satellites?

Regardless of the international link, how is the link made from the access point to the international connection -- fiber, copper, wireless, a combination? The answer will differ for each access point. Looking back at the above map, do we see the outline of a future national fiber backbone?

I have seen a couple of presentation slides showing a four-phase "planned" fiber backbone connecting many of the provinces shown on the access-point map. Eight of them are included in the first phase of the backbone.

Another question has to do with the equipment vendor, Huawei. Lina Pedraza Rodríguez, Cuban Minister of Finance and Prices, said that Cuba is in "very advanced" negotiations with Huawei, at the recent World Economic Forum on Latin America.

Could she have been referring to the wireless and backhaul equipment for these access points? Might she have been thinking of a possible upgrade to DSL of Cuba's telephone central offices, as suggested by the announced plan to make low-speed broadband connectivity available to half of the homes in Cuba by 2020? Or could she have been thinking of the plan to connect all Cuban schools or even a national fiber backbone like the one in the slides I saw?

Regardless, one wonders how the work will be financed, what sort of concessions ETECSA has made, and what this means for US telecommunication equipment and service providers who hope to do business in Cuba. I assume the installation is being done by ETECSA employees -- I hope they are hiring some of the folks who have been building out unauthorized WiFi LANS.

Will the government block access to some sites and services? Freedom House ranks the Cuban Internet as not free for political and cultural reasons, but there is also the possibility of blocking access for economic reasons. For example Skype and FaceTime are blocked in Cuba. Could that be to protect ETECSA phone call revenue?

Skype recommends 100 kb/s upload and download speed with reasonable latency. As Doug Madory has shown, Cuban undersea cable links have a latency of around 200 milliseconds, so Skype would work for international calls from cable-connected access points.

Latencies: 600 msec satellite (A), 200 msec cable (C)

Other developing nations have faced this same tradeoff. My favorite example was India during the mid 1990s when voice calls over the Internet were explicitly illegal, yet shops offering the service advertised in the newspaper and had signs on their storefronts.

This is a major rollout by Cuban standards, but it is a drop in the bucket. Does it signify a policy shift? The overriding question has to do with the goal of the Cuban government. Is the goal to remain in power, maximize ETECSA profit, maximize government profit, transfer wealth to ETECSA investors, etc. or is it to provide affordable, modern Internet connectivity to the Cuban people?

Update 6/22/2015

The WiFi hotspot in Santiago de Cuba is on line and this report makes it sound like the connection is quite slow and congested at peak hours -- whether hard wired or by WiFi. That is a bad sign -- if Santiago is not connected to the undersea cable, which region is?

Update 6/28/2015

The photo of three Huawei WiFi antennae shown above is from the blog of Carlos Alberto Pérez, but his blog is no longer accessible online.

On June 23, Pérez published a leaked document -- a presentation on ETECSA's plan for home Internet connectivity. ETECSA has denied the validity of the leaked document, saying it was used for training. They said the tentative prices shown were incorrect, but did not retract the substance of the presentation, which shows plans to provide DSL service to some Cuban homes using Chinese equipment.

It seems likely that Pérez' blog was blocked because he published the leaked document.

Update 7/3/2015

The new WiFi hotspots are now online. If you have used one, let me know what the speed and user experience was like.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Cuba's broadband connectivity plan

The International Telecommunication Union advocates nations formulating broadband plans. They stated the case for broadband planning in a 2013 report on the correlation between national broadband plans and citizens’ access to affordable service. In a subsequent report, they surveyed the state of national planing and found that 140 nations had national plans, 13 were working on them and 43 were not.

Cuba was one of the 13 in the process of planning, and the Ministry of Communication has now drafted a national plan for developing broadband infrastructure and you can read the executive summary here.

They define broadband as a connection speed of at least 256 kbit/s, saying that will advance to 2,048 kbit/s (download) by 2025 and 10 mbits/sec (download) by 2030. For comparison, the Federal Communication Commission revised the US definition of broadband from 4 mbits/s download and 1 mbits/s upload to 25 mbits/s download and 3 mbits/s upload and Google Fiber and others are rolling out 1 gbit/s up and down in selected cities.

This is indicative of a DSL roll-out in Cuba, which I have advocated earlier as a short run step toward a modern Internet, but the 2030 goal strikes me as low for 15 years from now. I am also struck with the mention of download speed, but not upload speed -- a nation of content creators would want fast upload as well.

The plan includes lists of conceptual and economic barriers in the way of broadband connectivity and goals like connecting institutions and homes, improving cybersecurity and the environment and improving university and research connectivity. Each goal has a list of specific objectives like connecting every university and research institute to the national research and education network at a speed of at least 256 kbit/s for 30% of the users and 2 mbit/s for 70% of the users.

There are also lists of implementation guidelines, recommendations like evaluate building another Internet exchange and check the prices of personal computers and smart phones. There are also two resolutions -- approve this plan by June 22, 2015 and prepare an implementation timetable by October 2015. There was no mention of who should approve it and no request for comments.

This is just the executive summary -- I have not seen the full document. It is far from an implementable action plan and it raises more questions than it answers -- for example, when they say "Internet connectivity," do they mean international Internet connectivity and, if so, is it over satellite or undersea cable? Still. it is more than we are used to seeing from Cuba. Hopefully we will learn a lot more in October.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cubans announce the formation of an IT professional society -- the Unión de Informáticos de Cuba (UIC)

There are differences between Cuba's IT professional society and the Association for Computing Machinery in the US.

The formation of the Unión de Informáticos de Cuba (UIC) was announced during a plenary session at the First National Workshop on Computerization and Cybersecurity in Havana. Over 7,500 computer professionals also watched via a teleconference (no mean feat in Cuba).

My first reaction upon hearing the news was "cool -- it's a professional society like our Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)," but after reading more I realize that there are differences between ACM and UIC, reflecting cultural/bureaucratic differences between the US and Cuba and the fact that ACM was established 68 years ago. Let's look at some of the differences.

The UIC was established by the Cuban Ministry of Communication, which also controls the Internet and telephone systems, while ACM was established at a meeting at Columbia University in 1947.

ACM is a professional society -- it's tagline is "advancing computing as a science and a profession" -- while UIC feels like a professional/political organization. As Yoani Sanchez points out, the membership application form asks for political affiliations like membership in the Communist Party or Young Communist Union. Can you imagine ACM asking whether a member is a Republican or Democrat?

The UIC membership application asks for political affiliations (red added).

People have to apply to be accepted into the UIC and they may be dropped for infractions like violation of the code of ethics. An applicant has to complete a form by July 15, attach a photo, copy of their diploma and a CV, then wait to see if the application is accepted. Bill Gates or Steve Jobs could not have applied and I am not sure if, say, a biologist who did computer modeling would be eligible.

One joins ACM by filling out the following form online and paying the first year dues.

Members are expected to have either a bachelor's degree, the equivalent level of education or two years full-time employment in the IT field, but no one checks up on this. There is also an optional profile in which one specifies professional specialties and interests, but the information is used for allocating ACM resources (and perhaps selling ads), not for screening applicants.

The UIC is a Cuban organization, open only to Cubans, while ACM is global, with chapters in 57 nations.

ACM has 138 active chapters

ACM reaches out to young people via student chapters on college campuses and, while UIC does not yet have student chapters, Cuba devotes significant resources to training potential computer users and professionals via a well-established system of Youth Computer Clubs (YCCs). The government established 32 YCCs in 1987 and today over 2.25 million kids and adults have completed courses (and played games) at 611 YCCs.

ACM offers concrete benefits including the monthly Communications of the ACM magazine, online access to articles, books, videos, webinars and courses and membership in over 170 special interest groups. ACM was formed in 1947 so they have had 68 years to organize and capitalize -- what will UIC be offering members 68 years from now?