Friday, December 2, 2016

Wishful thinking -- Google Fiber in Havana

Might ETECSA, Cuba's government-monopoly telecommunication company, collaborate with Google to provide connectivity in Havana? This post offers conjecture, but it is informed conjecture.

Consider the following:
  • When Google Fiber started in Kansas City, most people assumed that it was a demonstration project, intended to spur investment by the incumbent US Internet service providers (ISPs). Few thought that Google wanted to become a retail ISP.
  • Google Fiber garnered a lot of publicity and Google, began speaking of it as a real, profit-making business. They announced other cities and started laying fiber in some of them.
  • Last June, Google bought Webpass, a small ISP that deploys fiber and was experimenting with unproven, but perhaps revolutionary pCell wireless technology from Artemis Networks. I speculated that they might be thinking of shifting Google Fiber to a hybrid fiber-wireless model based on that acquisition and other experiments they were conducting.
  • Last October Google Fiber announced that their work would continue in cities where they had launched or were under construction, but they would "pause operations and offices" in cities in which they had been conducting exploratory discussions and they took many, but not all workers off the Google Fiber project.
  • Google's Project Link has installed wholesale fiber backbones in two African capitals and I have suggested and speculated that they might do the same in Havana (with the caveat that they do it in conjunction with ETECSA, since there are no competing retail ISPs in Cuba as there are in Africa).
  • Google fiber backbones in Kampala and Accra
  • Last July ETECSA announced that they would be running a fiber trial in parts of Old Havana. They did not specify if it was fiber to the premises or neighborhood.
  • A month ago, a friend told me that a friend of his who worked at ETECSA said the fiber trial would begin December 5.
  • Last week, Trump threatened to "terminate the deal" (whatever that means to him) if Cuba would not make it better.
  • Yesterday, nearly identical stories suggesting that the White House was pushing Cuba on deals with Google and General Electric were published in the Wall Street Journal and El Nuevo Herald.

That is all for real -- now for the conjecture ...

Maybe the trial in Old Havana will be a joint project between Google and ETECSA. Google has considerable fiber installation experience with Project Link in Africa and Google Fiber in the US. A joint project with ETECSA would be relatively simple because they would not have to deal with competing ISPs as in Africa or lawsuits and other obstacles from incumbent ISPs as in the United States.

It could either be a pilot experiment -- a trial -- or the first step in leapfrogging Havana's connectivity infrastructure. One can imagine Google installing a fiber backbone in Havana like they have done in Accra and Kampala and leaving it up to ETECSA to connect premises using a mix of fiber, coaxial cable and wireless technology.

If that were to happen, Havana could "leapfrog" from one of the worst connected capital cities in the world to a model of next-generation technology. If things went well in Havana, which city would be next?

The partnership between Google and ETECSA could take many forms. Google might supply expertise and capital and ETECSA could supply labor and deal with the Cuban and Havana bureaucracies.

In return, Google would get terrific publicity, a seat at the table when other Cuban infrastructure like data centers or video production facilities were discussed and more users to click on their ads. (Take that Facebook). Havana could also serve as a model and reference-sell for cooperation between Google and other cities. (Take that Comcast and AT&T). There might even be some revenue sharing, with ETECSA paying Google as the ISPs do in Africa.

This would also be a win for the US administration and President Obama's legacy. Trump says he wants to renegotiate "the deal" with Cuba. If so, he would find Google (and GE?) at the negotiating table along with US airlines, telephone companies, hotel chains, cruise lines, etc.

Again -- this is conjecture ... but would the Wall Street Journal print something if it were not more than a rumor -- perhaps something leaked by the White House?

A Google-ETECSA collaboration in Old Havana?

Update 12/7/2016

Well, it looks like my conjecture was off base. December 5th has come and gone without an announcement of the fiber trial in Havana with or without Google's participation.

The US-Cuba Bilateral Commission met today and their press release enumerated considerable progress in several areas, but said nothing about deals with Google or other companies.

An article in OnCuba says that agreements were reached with Google, General Electric, Goodyear, Caterpillar and Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Pearl Seas Cruises. It restates that Cubans have access to the Play Store and mentions their collaborated on Kcho's WiFi hotspot, but it says nothing about more connectivity or collaboration with ETECSA.

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