Friday, January 27, 2017

The Cuban home-connectivity trial ends this week, rollout to begin next week

The free home-connectivity trial in Old Havana will end this week. Two thousand homes were eligible for the trial and I was told, off the record, that 700 people have signed contracts to pay for the service. I am not certain, but my guess is that those two thousand homes are served by a single central office that has been upgraded to offer Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) connectivity. (The revised contract count is lower -- see the 5/1/2017 update below).

I don't see home-connectivity prices on the ETECSA Web site yet, but I've been told off the record that the prices will be:
15 cuc 30 horas, 256 kb/s
30 cuc 30 horas, 512kb/s
45 cuc 30 horas, 1mb/s
The Web site Cibercuba says the prices will be approximately:
15 cuc 30 horas, 256 kb/s
50 cuc 30 horas, 512kb/s
70 cuc 30 horas, 1mb/s
115 cuc 30 horas, 2mb/s
Both sources agree that users will be required to recharge at least once per month, so these are minimum monthly charges and neither says whether unused hours will accumulate or be lost. I also assume that the speeds quoted are for downloading data from the Internet and that the upload speed is slower -- that the DSL links are asymmetric.

Regardless of which estimate, if either, is correct, the prices are high relative to Cuban incomes and the service is slow by today's standards. I was surprised to hear that 700 of the 2,000 eligible homes signed service contracts after the Old Havana trial. Some of the 700 customers may use the Internet for room rental or some other form of business to offset the cost. I recall parts of Old Havana as having stores and businesses, but am not familiar with the specific area in which the trial was held. (The revised contract count is lower -- see the 5/1/2017 update below).

I've also been told that starting next week, connectivity will be offered in Bayamo and Santa Clara -- I don't know how many central offices are in those cities, but my guess is that they will start with densely populated areas. I'm also unsure whether they will give a two-month free trial, as they did in Havana, or will charge from the start.

These installations are consistent with the home-connectivity plan that was leaked in June 2015. That plan promised to make home Internet connectivity available to 50% of Cuban homes by 2020. If the acceptance rate of 700 out of 2,000 homes were to hold up, 17.5% of Cuban homes would be online by the end of 2020. (The revised contract count is lower -- see the 5/1/2017 update below).

Of course there are many factors that would throw that estimate off. The feasibility and speed of DSL connections is a function of the distance of the home from the central office serving it and the condition of the wiring between the home and the central office. Demographics and incomes also vary. I suspect that the infrastructure in the Little Havana trial area is better than average as are the incomes and degree of familiarity with the Internet.

Regardless, DSL speed ranging from 512 kb/s to 2 mb/s is extremely slow by today's standards. I had 5 mb/s DSL connectivity at my home in the 1990s.

I have consistently suggested that Cuba plan to leapfrog today's technology and consider installing next generation technology if possible. With this DSL rollout, they are recapitulating Internet infrastructure evolution from dial-up, to DSL. (They skipped ISDN :-).

I can only speculate on why they are taking the approach they are. Some would say they are afraid of the political implications of modern Internet connectivity. While that may have been the case at the time the Internet was just beginning, it is now clear that one-party governments like that of China have no problem remaining in power while exploiting the Internet. Bureaucracy may play a role, but I am sure there are people at ETECSA who understand that there are alternatives to DSL. Perhaps they are able to finance the DSL rollout on their own and are unwilling to accept foreign investment. (The role of ETECSA shareholders and their degree of control is unclear).

The end of the Old Havana trial and the availability of home connectivity in two more cities will generate a lot of publicity, but it remains a drop in the bucket if Cuba aspires to a ubiquitous, modern Internet.

Central office equipment upgrade for DSL Internet (source)

Update 1/3/2017

The Cuba 2.0 blog has done two posts on the home connectivity trial -- here and here. Those posts confirm several of the things I have been told and reported above and add several new observations. For example, some users reported that the service was unreliable, dropping connections and not being able to reach the DNS at times. It is hard to understand why that should be the case since Cuba 2.0 reports that the wiring to premises has been upgraded.

They also confirmed our speculation that the trial took place in atypical parts of the city -- areas with many self-employed people, shops and rooms for rent to tourists. That means we can not expect the same acceptance rate as seen after the end of the trial, pushing the goal of slow DSL connectivity into the distant future -- to say nothing of affordable, modern home connectivity.

Update 5/1/2017

I had been told that about 700 people had signed up to pay for ETECSA Hogar service but, evidently, that estimate was incorrect. (It may have been an estimate of the number of people using the service during the free trial). ETECSA reports that there were 858 accounts during the free trial period and 358 paid accounts as of March 14th. As shown below, the majority were low-speed accounts.


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