Why Cuba Is at the Start of a Cell Phone Revolution
Cuba’s national telecom provider, ETECSA, will offer 3G data to the 5 million-or-so cell phone users in the country for the first time, it said Tuesday in a statement (in Spanish). Service is rolling out Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to avoid the network overloads that accompanied tests this August.
Larger companies and foreign embassies were able to buy into the fledgling 3G network as early as December 2017, according to the Associated Press, and this summer Cuba began allowing access to employees of its state-owned news organizations. In October, Cuba’s president Miguel Diaz-Canel began tweeting.
Before this foreign travelers could roam through their home networks but most Cubans could only access state-operated email accounts on their mobile phones. That’s unless they were at one of the growing number of WiFi hotspots, where costs are around $1 an hour, compared to average state wages of $30/month.
That’s all set to change this week. While home internet has been legal since 2017, limited capacity on ETECSA’s part has kept it from taking off. Before that, Cubans came up with plenty of creative workarounds, including local intranets and so-called sneaker-nets in which people passed each other’s data on storage media.
Thanks to deals with foreign telecoms operators, including American ones, and expanded infrastructure, Cubans will now be able to pick up data packs for $7 for 600 MB, or $30 for 4 GB a month, Reuters reports. This will not mean the service is quite ready to compete with the U.S., however, so anyone traveling to Cuba should take note of the connectivity advice offered by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.
Apart from expanding telecoms access, Cuba is also undergoing a major revision of its constitution, the first since 1976.