Cuba - Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Digital Media - Statistics and Analyses

Executive summary

Cuba prepares for 3G services launch

Cuba’s telecom sector remains a peculiarity, with state control having stymied rather than promoted the development of all sectors. The country has the lowest mobile phone and internet penetration rates in the region, while fixed-line teledensity is also very low. Fixed-line and mobile services remain a monopoly of the government-controlled Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETESCA Cubacel).

Although there remain substantial state controls over the right to own and use certain communications services, including the right to access the internet, a thawing of relations between the US and Cuba has encouraged the government to improve access to services. Since 2015 Wi-Fi hotspots have been put in place, numbering some 317 by the end of 2016. Connectivity is slow, and in many public areas a thriving black market has emerged in which connections are duplicated using software or nano routers. This allows a greater number of people to access the internet, given the high price imposed by ETESCA, though low connectivity means that accessible services are often basic.

The cost of internet access was reduced to CUS1.50 per hour in December 2016 though it is still prohibitively expensive for most Cubans. Access to sites is also tightly controlled and censored. A nascent DSL service is being developed in areas of Havana, though again with costs set too high for most Cubans. Similarly, 3G services are being prepared for launch, perhaps by the end of 2017. To this end ETESCA has installed a number of base stations while a US-based telcos have signed interconnection and roaming agreements to facilitate services, aimed at US tourists.

The ongoing normalisation of relations with the US promises to have considerable economic benefits for Cuba. This is particularly important given the dire economic difficulties of the country’s chief sponsor, Venezuela. In January 2016 the FCC allowed US firms to do business directly with the Cuban telecom sector. In addition, the government has looked favourably on proposals for a new subsea cable to link Cuba directly with Florida, which would supplement the only direct international cable access, via the ALBA-1 cable from Venezuela.

Market penetration rates in Cuba’s telecoms sector – 2016 (e)

Penetration of telecoms services: Penetration
Fixed-line telephony 11.9%
Internet users 32.4%
Mobile SIM (population) 36.3%

Key developments:

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