Mobile Infrastructure

Cubans gather around a WiFi spot in Havana. Photo by: Mariela Machado

Facts: Mobile Infrastructure in Cuba

  • Mobile service penetration is 21.4 %.
  • There are now 3.3 million mobile users.
  • The year 2015 saw 71% of the sales of all Nauta accounts, both permanent and temporary. Five million accounts were active in 2015, a considerable number for a county with 11 million people.
  • According to Granma, almost 2,000 Nauta accounts and 1,200 mobile services are activated each day.
  • Price of mobile services (voice) is 35 cents per minute.
  • According to the Ministry of Communication, in 2015 the mobile coverage (voice and SMS services) reached 74.35% of the national territory,
  • The prices have been reduced considerably for International mobile voice and SMS services:
    • International SMS has decreased from 1.00 CUC to 0.60 CUC
    • International voice call per minute has decreased to 1.10 CUC (to the whole American continent except to Venezuela), 1.00 CUC (to Venezuela), and 1.20 CUC (to the rest of the world).

Mobile Services

ETECSA operates the only mobile network in Cuba—Cubacel. The most extensive network is a 2G GSM system (900 Mhz and 850Mhz), which extends to nearly all of Cuba's national territory. This 2G network has limited data services, similar to the networks that developed countries had in 2006 and 2007. The only 3G network present is in the Northern Cays, but only for international carriers through roaming services. Thus, these mobile Internet services are not currently available for the Cuban public, but cater instead to visiting tourists.
In order to access the wireless network, users need to have a Nauta account. These accounts can be acquired either permanently or temporarily. A temporary account can be bought at ETECSA stores for the price of about $2/hour, and is most common for tourists and visitors. When an account is bought, the user is provided with a card that has an account number and a password. The user then enters the account number and password into the login screen that appears when connecting to a WIFI_ETECSA network at any publicly available WIFI hot spot.
Front of an ETECSA WIFI card. Photo by: Mariela Machado
Instructions in the back of an ETECSA WIFI card. Photo by: Mariela Machado

The second option is a permanent account, under which a user is provided with a permanent email address. Hourly prices for a permanent account are similar for navigating the Internet. Permanent accounts also give users the option of refilling their account online, by way of an electronic transfer or at an ETECSA office.

Mobile Penetration

Since the ban on cellphones was lifted on April 1, 2008, cell phone usage has increased rapidly, as shown in the chart below. By 2014, Cuba had 2,636,700 mobile phone subscribers. It has now reached 3.3 million and is still on the rise.
mobile subscriptions.png
The growth of mobile phone customers from 2009 - 2014.
Source: ONEI, 2015: Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2014, Capitulo 17: Tecnología de la Información y las Comunicaciones, p.7

Cubans typically acquire cellphones through the 'suitcase economy', by which Cubans or foreigners bring cellphones and other electronic equipment into the country from the exterior. Any unlocked cell phone with 2G capabilities that work on frequencies of the Cuban spectrum will function on the Cubacel network. Cubans also have the option to buy a phone from an ETECSA store, but the equipment sold there tends to be expensive and of lower quality, so most Cubans acquire their cellphones through informal channels.
Mobile subscriptions are entirely pre-paid, and customers do not have the option to subscribe to monthly plans. Customers typically refill their minutes and messaging by visiting an ETECSA store and buying a card, which can provide 5, 10, or 20 CUC worth of phone credit. It can also be done online, giving foreign relatives the ability to refill the accounts of family members who remain in Cuba. This guide explains how to buy pre-paid mobile services in Cuba on the Internet.
Although prices for mobile usage have fallen since the services were first offered to the public, they remain quite high, especially when considering that the services are priced in convertible currency (CUC), which many Cubans cannot access. The following rates are the prices for the use of Cuba's mobile network:
Daytime Domestic Incoming Calls*
0.35 CUC/min
Daytime Domestic Outgoing Calls
0.35 CUC/min
Nighttime Domestic Incoming Calls
0.10 CUC/min
Nighttime Domestic Outgoing Calls
0.10 CUC/min
Outgoing Domestic SMS message
0.09 CUC/msj
Outgoing International SMS message
0.60 CUC/msj
Incoming SMS message
1.00 CUC/MB
0.20 CUC/min
Account Balance Transfer Between Prepaid Mobile Accounts
0.30 CUC/transfer
*daytime rates apply from 7:00 a.m. to 10:59 p.m.
*nighttime rates apply from 11:00 p.m. to 6:59 a.m.
*General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is only available for multimedia messaging (MMS) and email services

Cubans have adapted to these prices by limiting the extent to which they use mobile services. Phone calls are usually kept short and to the point, with long-winded conversations left for home visits and street chatter. Another common practice is to use a mobile phone essentially as a pager, by not answering incoming calls, taking note of the number, and calling back from a landline or a street phone, which offer better rates.

Please refer to the article on Future plans for more information on foreseeable improvements for the mobile network.

Written by: Mariela Machado Fantacchiotti and Gary VerburgEdited by: Emily Sylvia