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:

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