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Cuban Internet Update


On Tuesday, Fidel Castro turned 87 years old and an article this week about his birthday states that he surfs the Internet from Cuba for “personality profiles and maps” among other things. But at US$4.50/hour, the Internet is still out of reach for average Cubans, despite recent developments that have brought another provider to the island.

Internet in Cuba




It has been an eventful year so far for the Internet in Cuba. From the activation of long dormant submarine cable to Venezuela ALBA-1 on 14 January (and its later activation to Jamaica on 13 May), to the opening of 118 new Internet cafes around the island nation. More recently, the Cuban government has gone on to announce the introduction of residential DSL service starting next year. etecsa_logo

Disappearance of C&W Jamaica service

On 2 August, Cable & Wireless Jamaica disappeared as a provider to Cuban state-owned monopoly ETECSA. We theorized when it  was activated on 13 May that it was likely a back-up:

When we look at our recent traceroute measurement data into Cuba, we can see that the 13 May activation of ETECSA’s link to Jamaica followed some connectivity problems on 10 May…

So perhaps this activation is to help alleviate some minor connectivity issues experienced recently by ETECSA.

With those connectivity problems resolved, the Cable & Wireless Jamaica connection may have returned to a dormant back-up state. However, we cannot rule out the possibility of a technical issue that has disrupted this service.

Below is an Internet transit shift plot for ETECSA based on BGP routing data showing the appearance of Telefonica (grey) in January when ALBA-1 was activated and the appearance (and disappearance) of Cable & Wireless Jamaica (orange):



The plot also shows traffic engineering in late June which results in a higher amount of transit through Tata Communications at the expense of Telefonica.

Change in Service from Tata

For years, Tata Communications has been one of the three satellite providers to ETECSA in Cuba. However on 25 June, we observed a distinct change in the distribution of latencies to Cuba via Tata, suggesting that Tata service is now coming over the ALBA-1 cable in additional to Telefonica. On that day we observed a brief service outage from  Telefonica followed by a gradual reduction in share of Internet transit that Telefonica is providing to Cuba over the following weeks.

In the graphic below, traceroutes from our servers around the world reveal a brief Telefonica outage followed by a greater share of transit by Tata:



Not only were more traceroutes traversing Tata to reach ETECSA after 25 Jun, they started doing so faster than they ever had before (at least for Tata service). For example, in the graphic below, we isolate measurements from New York City to Cuba via Tata. On 25 June, they drop from latencies consistent with asymmetric satellite (inbound satellite, outbound ALBA-1 cable) to latencies only achievable from symmetric submarine cable communications (~130ms):



From Miami, this new Tata connection shows up as faster than Telefonica in reaching Cuba:



The symmetric satellite (~580ms) and asymmetric satellite (~330ms) bands are also evident in the plot above.

The addition of another Internet provider for ETECSA that makes use of Cuba’s newly activated submarine cable capacity is a positive development for the Internet in Cuba: it has shifted additional Internet transit away from expensive and slow satellite connections over to faster surface-based connections. The result should be a significant improvement for communications paths that use Tata to connect to the island, but still does not imply widespread Internet access to average Cubans anytime soon.

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Doug Madory
Whois: Doug Madory

Doug Madory is a Director of Internet Analysis at Oracle Dyn where he works on Internet infrastructure analysis projects. Doug has a special interest in mapping the logical Internet to the physical lines that connect it together, with a focus on submarine cables.