I was struck by the emphasis on the Cuban national intranet, as opposed to the global Internet, in nearly all of this. This emphasis is reflected in the relatively low price of intranet access and the continued development of Cuban content and services.
Popular Cuban national intranet sites
The speakers mentioned Cuban services like the Ecured encyclopedia, Redcuba intranet portal and search engine, Reflejos blog site, CubaEduca teaching site and Andariego maps, which are somewhat like Cuban counterparts to Internet sites like Wikipedia, Google, Wordpress, the Khan Academy and Google Maps respectively. González even mentioned Mi Mochila, the state-sanctioned offline competitor to El Paquete, which is arguably the largest private employer and most pervasive source of digital information in Cuba.
Comparison of Wikipedia and Ecured articles on José Martí, Cuba's national hero.
I say these Cuban services are "somewhat like" corresponding Internet services because, given Cuba's population and resources, they can never hope to match the scope and functionality of their global counterparts. For example, Ecured is the closest of these services in design and function to its global counterpart, Wikipedia (both are based on the same software), but the number of Wikipedia articles and size and variety of its editor community are not comparable. Similarly, Redcuba is limited to the national intranet rather than the global Internet.
Copyright considerations also limit the eventual scope of the national intranet. For example, El Paquete distributes pirated Internet material. Some intranet services may also depend upon pirated software. For example, Andariego uses ESRI's ArcGIS geographic information system software -- do they pay for it?
Well, that is what jumped out at me -- you can watch the videos for yourself and see what strikes you.
President of ETECSA, Mayra Arevich Marín:
Vice Minister of Communications, Wilfredo González:
===== Update 1/12/2018
Here are links to two more year-end summaries that are also based on the videos of Arevich and González and richly illustrated with images and charts:
O3b's MEO satellites orbit at an altitude of around 8,012 km above the equator while Intelsat's geosynchronous satellites are at around 35,786 km, therefore the time for a data packet to travel from earth to an O3b satellite and back to Earth is significantly less than to an Intelsat satellite. This move to O3b may be related to ETECSA's recent decision to offer SMS messaging service to the US (at an exorbitant price) and it will surely improve the speed of interactive applications.
That is today's situation as I understand it, but now I want to speculate on the future of Cuban satellite connectivity -- say in the early 2020s.
First a little background on O3b Networks. O3b is a wholly owned subsidiary of SES but it was founded in 2007 by Greg Wyler, who has since moved on to a new venture called OneWeb. While O3b provides service to companies like ETECSA, OneWeb plans to also provide fast global connectivity to individuals in fixed locations like homes and schools as well as the "Internet of things."
This animation was prepared by Teledesic, formed in 1990 to provide LEO satellite connectivity. Teledesic failed, but technology, the market and executive skill have changed since that time.
OneWeb plans to connect the "other 3 billion" people using a constellation of around 1,600 satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 1,200 km and another 1,300 in MEO at 8,500 km. They are working with many vendors and partners and plan to launch their first satellites in March 2018. They will begin offering service in Alaska in 2019 and hope to cover all of Alaska by the end of 2020. By 2025 they expect to have 1 billion subscribers and their mission is to eliminate the global digital divide by 2027.
Now, back to Cuba. ETECSA is doing business with Wyler's previous company O3b. Might they also be talking with his current company, OneWeb? It takes time to launch hundreds of satellites, so service is being phased in -- might Cuba come online sometime after Alaska? By connecting Cuba, OneWeb would gain publicity, the goodwill of many nations and access to a relatively well-educated, Internet-starved market and it would enable Cuba to quickly deploy broadband technology.
As I said, this is pure speculation. OneWeb faces significant technical, business and political challenges and may fail. Politics would be particularly challenging in the case of Cuba. Both the US and Cuba would have to make major policy changes, but maybe the time is right for that -- the Cuban government will change in 2018 and the US government is likely to change in 2020 when Alaska comes online.
OneWeb has established a relationship with ETECSA through O3b, but other companies, including SpaceX and Boeing, are working on similar LEO projects. Might ETECSA be talking to the others?
Community networks like SNET and Guifi.net are compatible with Cuba's tradition of innovation subject to constraints and socialist values.
In an earlier post, I described Havana's community network, SNET, and wondered what it could become if the government and ETECSA were willing to legitimatize and support it. Spain's Guifi.net provides a possible answer to that question.
Guifi.net is said to be the largest community network in the world. It began in 2004 and has grown to have 34,165 nodes online with 16,758 planned, 407 building, 612 testing and 4,043 inactive. The nodes are linked by WiFi and fiber and there are over 50,000 users throughout Spain. (See the chart and map below).
Community networks like SNET and Guifi.net are compatible with Cuba's tradition of innovation subject to constraints and socialist values. Could SNET grow to serve people throughout Cuba if it had access to ETECSA fiber and the global Internet? While community networks may not be a long-run solution for Cuba, they should be considered as an interim, stopgap means of extending affordable Internet connectivity.
I also recommend the Internet Society policy brief Spectrum Approaches for Community Networks. It is a concise document with specific recommendations. For example, the section on spectrum management recommends allocating unlicensed spectrum, dynamic sharing of licensed spectrum and innovative licensing like granting licenses for social purposes or small rural communities and give examples of networks employing each of these. There are similar sections with recommendations and examples for policymakers, network organizers, and network operators. The report also has a list of links to other resources and annotated endnotes.
Working in collaboration with SNET operators, we describe the network’s infrastructure and map its topology, and we measure bandwidth, available services, usage patterns, and user demographics. Qualitatively, we attempt to answer why the SNET exists and what benefits it has afforded its users. We go on to discuss technical challenges the network faces, including scalability, security, and organizational issues.
You should read the paper -- it's interesting and well-written -- but I can summarize a few points that caught my attention.
SNET is a decentralized network comprised of local nodes, each serving up to 200 users in a neighborhood. The users connect to local nodes using Ethernet cables strung over rooftops, etc. or WiFi. The local nodes connect to regional "pillars" and the pillars peer with each other over fixed wireless links. The node and pillar administrators form a decentralized organization, setting policy, supporting users and keeping their servers running and online as best they can. (This reminds me of my school's first Web server -- a Windows 3 PC on my desk that crashed frequently).
The average utilized bandwidth between two pillars during a 24-hour period was 120 Mb/s of a maximum throughput of 250 Mb/s and the authors concluded that throughput is generally constrained by the available bandwidth in the WiFi links between pillars. As such, faster inter-pillar links and/or adding new pillars would improve performance. Faster links from local nodes to pillars, new node servers, etc. would also add to capacity and availability, but that hardware would cost money. The Cuban government would probably see the provision of outside funds as subversive, but what would be the impact of, say, a $100,000 equipment grant from ETECSA to SNET?
The paper drills down on the network topology, discusses applications and presents usage and performance statistics. Forums are one of the applications and one of the forums is Netlab, a technical community of over 6,000 registered members who have made over 81,000 posts. They focus on open-source development and have written a SNET search engine and technical guides on topics like Android device repair. The export of Cuban content and technology has been a long-standing focus of this blog, and it would be cool to see Netlab available to others on the open Internet.
Netlab forum growth
The authors of the paper say that as far as they know, "SNET is the largest isolated community-driven network in existence" (my italics). While it may be the largest isolated community network there are larger Internet-connected community networks and that is a shame. I hope Cuba plans to "leapfrog" to next-generation technology and policy) while implementing stopgap measures like WiFi hotspots, 3G mobile and DSL. If SNET and other community networks were legitimized, supported and linked to the Internet (or even the Cuban intranet), they would be useful stopgap technology. ETECSA could also use the skills of the street net builders.
Freelist hosts a couple of Cuban email lists -- create one of your own?
If you have an idea for a list of your own, check out Freelists.
Freelists.org hosts Internet mailing lists at no cost. (They ask for donations on their site). Freelist uses an open source server called Ecartis, which appears to have a command interface similar to the popular Listserv (which has been around since 1986).
Freelists host over 11,000 lists, two of which pertain to Cuba and the Internet judging by their names: Cubacel and Emprendedorescubanos.
The Cubacel welcome message says it is for discussion of Cubacel and its network and asks people stick to the topic of mobile networks, post plain text messages, not HTML, and only attach files like .pdfs and images when necessary and to compress them if you do. (This feels so 1980s).
I subscribed to Cubacel about four hours ago, and have seen one user ask when 4G might come to Cuba and receive an answer that trials using 1800 Mhz Band 3 had been run near the Miramar Business Center, but that did not give a clue to if and when 4G would be available.
Another person said they had heard that ETECSA was limiting 3G roaming transfer speed to 300 kbps and asked what speeds people were getting, but so far no one has replied. (I've received reports of much faster service).
I've not yet received any messages from the Emprendedorescubanos list.
You can read a bit more about user's experience with and opinion of the Cubacel list here.
If you have an idea for a list of your own, check Freelists out -- it takes only a minute to create a list. (Let me know if you do).
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