Late last year, we learned that China's 90,000 employee Haier Group would be producing laptops and tablets in partnership with GEDEME, a Cuban manufacturer that will assemble the machines using Haier parts, equipment, and production processes.
Last week, a friend who is a professor at the University of Havana told me that he and other professors have been given GDM laptops. He said UCI, ISPJAE and Univerisity of Havana faculty were the first to receive the laptops, but eventually all professors at all universities would get them.
When Haier announced they would be producing laptops in Cuba, they said would be Core i3, Celeron and Core i5 CPUs with up to 1 TB of memory. The processor in my friend's machine is a 1.60GHz Celeron N3060, which Intel announced April 1, 2015. The N3060 is a system on a chip with two processor cores, a graphic processing unit, and a memory controller. His laptop has 4 GB of RAM, a 97.31 GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive and a 1,024 x 768 pixel display with 32-bit color depth. It has a wired Ethernet port, but no WiFi or Bluetooth.
The machine came with UCI's Nova Unix operating system, but my friend has installed Windows in its place and he says most people do the same. (Cuban officials say they can achieve software independence using Nova, but Cuba is not large enough to support its own software, services, and standards).
These are low-end laptops, but they represent a significant step up over phones and tablets for content creation. They are also power-efficient, making them suitable for portable use, but for some reason, they do not have WiFi radios.
A laptop without WiFi is striking today. I don't know what the marginal cost of WiFi would have been, but Alibaba offers many chips for under $5 in relatively small lots. Why don't these machines have WiFi radios? Is the government trying to discourage portable use at home or public-access hotspots?
Regardless of the reason, WiFi dongles are a low-cost fix. There are not a lot of WiFi dongles for sale on Revolico today and their prices are high, but I bet the offerings pick up if these laptops roll out.
Internet status report from Cuba's Minister of Communication
Communication Minister Mesa Ramos
Last month, Minister of Communications, Maimir Mesa Ramos spoke to the Cuban Parliament on the current state of the Internet and reviewed some recent achievments. I've listed some of the points he made (bold face) along with my comments.
They are working on a new regulatory and legal framework.
Four million users have access to the “Internet,” roughly one million through permanent accounts.
The four million figure must include those with access to the domestic Cuban intranet, but not the global Internet. Perhaps the one million permanent accounts belong to people who have accessed the global Internet. Regardless, the term "user" is not defined.
Their home broadband service has about 600 subscribers and they realize that it is not the solution for mass access to the Internet.
I've been following this home broadband project for some time and have consistently said it made no sense. It seems that the Cubans now agree, but it is hard to understand how such a bad idea was ever considered. I hope different people are making decisions today.
Mass deployment will come from wireless services.
I wonder what they mean by this. Today's 3G mobile, WiFi hotspots and unofficial streetnets are clearly interim stopgap measures. I hope he was referring to studies of forthcoming 5G wireless and high-speed point-point wireless links to leapfrog current wireless technology. While I am dreaming, I'd love to see Cuba talk with OneWeb and SpaceX about their forthcoming satellite networks. OneWeb is committed to first deploying over Alaska -- how about talking with SpaceX about first covering Cuba?
International bandwidth doubled in 2016 from 4Gb/s to 8 Gb/s.
That is good to hear -- they need to balance international bandwidth with domestic backbone and access networks, but it should also be kept in context. My small university has a symmetric 10 Gb/s to the Internet.
There was some discussion after the presentation, in which representatives encouraged the production of Cuban content and expressed concern about affordability, cyber crime, and the migration of computer scientists to the non-state sector.
Wilfredo González, vice minister of the Ministry of Communication, said their principle computerization asset was over 25 thousand professionals, trained by Cuban universities.
Miriam Nicado, Rector of the University of Computer Sciences, where the Nova operating system was developed, said its widespread use would allow Cubans to surf with security, independence and technological sovereignty. I wonder if Cubans who get those new Nova-based laptops are installing Windows on them. China, with a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, can support their own software, services, and standards, but not Cuba.
This talk was given shortly before Cuba released their 2016 ICT statistics report, which covers some of the same ground. Check this post for further discussion of that report.
I look at the ICT statistics reported annually by ONEI, the Cuban Office of statistics and information, every year. This table shows the Internet-related statistics from the latest report:
And this table shows the percent changes over the years:
The first thing I noticed was that the number of "Internet" users increased by 15.8%. I assume that much of that increase and that of the previous year was due to the opening of public access navigation rooms and WiFi hotspots.
I put "Internet" in quotes because the index is not defined. Given its magnitude, I assume that it combines users with access to the internal Cuban intranet and those with access to the global Internet. Furthermore, it is not clear who they are counting as a "user." Does it include anyone who has purchased access time once during the year, people who theoretically have access to the intranet at work or school, etc.? It is customary for statistical agencies to publish appendices with definitions of their indices, but I have not seen one for these statistics. (I'd love a copy of the index definitions if someone has it).
Note that the user increase is only a little over half the increase during the previous year. My guess is that is because a large portion of the first-year WiFi users were highly motivated "early adopters" who continue to use public access points. They were joined this year by people who did not log on until a location opened up near them, they heard about the Internet by word of mouth or perhaps only got a WiFi equipped device this year.
The number of computers increased by 7.6% with 15.1% more of those on the network. "Computer" is not defined, but this increase might reflect laptops, tablets and perhaps phones which people have acquired in order to use the WiFi hotspots.
The number of mobile accounts increased sharply, but, as with network users, the rate of increase was substantially lower than the previous year. The percent of the population with mobile coverage is unchanged, so the total number of mobile base stations has probably remained abourt the same as it was last year. That being said, we know that there are 879 mobile base stations in Cuba and 358 of them have been upgraded to support third generation communication. The number of users with 3G compatible phones is unknown.
The number of names registered under the .cu top-level domain actually decreased, an inidication that new enterprises are registering under top level domains like .com or .co.
The announcement said that, as in Havana, access would be limited to homes within a limited area -- probably within a specified distance from the central office(s) that are equipped for DSL. I have heard about similar projects underway in Santa Clara and Las Tunas, so we can expect the service to eventually be rolled out to limited areas there as well.
The first thing that struck me about the memorandum was that it was a "national security" memorandum. Does Trump think Cuba poses a threat to our national security and how does his policy improve the situation? That is a topic for another discussion, but what does the memorandum say about the Internet?
The memorandum addresses the Internet in its purpose, policy and implementation sections.
The purpose section states that in Cuba "the right to speak freely, including through access to the internet, is denied, and there is no free press." One of the purposes of the memorandum is to restore the right to speak freely on the Internet. The Cuban government censors and sometimes punishes dissent and uses the Internet for propaganda, but it is not clear that Trump's policy and attitude will improve the situation. Furthermore, freedom of speech online is often abused and it is ironic that Trump should lecture anyone on this issue.
In the policy section, Trump says he will "amplify efforts to support the Cuban people through the expansion of Internet services, free press, free enterprise, free association, and lawful travel." This sounds good, but, at best, it is inconsistent with the policy he outlined last month in Saudi Arabia when he promised that "America will not seek to impose our way of life on others but to outstretch our hands in the spirit of cooperation and trust." At worst, he could be considering actions like the failed smuggling of satellite equipment into Cuba, Zunzuneo or the Alan Gross affair.
The implementation section says he will "support the expansion of direct telecommunications and Internet access for the Cuban people" by having the Secretary of State convene
a task force, composed of relevant departments and agencies, including the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and appropriate non-governmental organizations and private-sector entities, to examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba, including through Federal Government support of programs and activities that encourage freedom of expression through independent media and internet freedom so that the Cuban people can enjoy the free and unregulated flow of information
I contacted the State Department to see if they could tell me more about the task force, but they offered no details at this time. I'll follow up on this.
I cannot end this post without commenting on the writing style of the memorandum. It is written in the first person, implying that Trump actually wrote it. I am sure it was drafted and revised by staff, but gratuitous adjectives as in "dissidents and peaceful protesters are arbitrarily detained and held in terrible prison conditions," sounded Trumpian to me and the call for the establishment of a task force, quoted above, reminded me of James Joyce. I also found the organization confusing in places. Some policies seemed more like goals and one of them is to "not reinstate the 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot' policy." One wonders why he did not also vow not to reinstate limits on the value of rum and cigars travelers are allowed to bring back from Cuba.
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