Juventud Rebelde - Diario de la Juventud Cubana

The new light of the 4G Internet in Cuba

How is the deployment of the fourth generation mobile data network going? Do you know if your equipment supports this technology? In search of these and other responses, a Juventud Rebelde team spoke with Etecsa officers


Yurisander Guevara

At the end of  February Etecsa officials explained to Granma newspaper that users of mobile telephony and 3G data connection presented problems of slow service and difficulties to establish calls and send SMS, due to instability and high levels of network congestion, which exceeded the permissible values to maintain an adequate quality of service.

This situation was presented, mainly, in provincial capitals, with more emphasis in Havana, especially in the municipalities with the highest population density.

Already in March, Etecsa announced the start of the deployment of fourth-generation or 4G radio bases, which until last Monday totaled 94 in the territories of Mariel, Havana, Varadero and Cárdenas. The idea with this service is to decongest the 3G and 2G networks, and thus provide a better experience to all users of mobile telephony, both in navigation and in calls or sending text messages.

In the case of the capital, it was first "illuminated" with 4G all along the northern coast, but already the "LTE spot" has begun to spread to other areas. And it is that Etecsa in recent days installed new base stations in municipalities such as Regla, Cerro, Guanabacoa and Diez de Octubre. This reporter can confirm the existence of the technology after a tour of those municipalities.

As explained to this newspaper Frank Pavón Carbonell, central director of the Division of Mobile Services of Etecsa, until last Monday there were about 70,000 people provisioned to use the service. The figure exceeds 30,000 to what had been registered just two weeks before.

“Etecsa is involved in deploying a 4G base station infrastructure to provide a better mobile data browsing service”, declared the executive. In this regard, he clarified that these devices are used for data traffic, but calls and SMS are maintained through 3G and 2G networks. That is, if you are using  4G service  , when you make or receive a call / SMS, the mobile will switch to 3G mode, and then it will return to 4G for the use of the data.

According to figures provided by Pavón Carbonell, although there are some 70,000 people already able to use the 4G network -provided, as they call it technically in Etecsa-, today they use the data in this way every day about 5,000. The number  is not so high compared to the 221 000 users that do it through the 3G network every day throughout the country.

Since the launch of the mobile internet service in Cuba on December 6, Etecsa has registered mobile browsing by more than 2.3 million users. The growth, on average, has been about 5 000 people every day. The 3G network, explained Pavón Carbonell, registers 1.4 million people daily who can "make data".

Etecsa takes into account some parameters in order to sum users to the underway  test with the 4G such as: that the user spends more than one hundred megabytes on average every month, that he has a USIM card in his terminal and that he resides in a covered area of this type of technology.
But, what is a USIM? Etecsa explains on its website that USIM responds to the acronym  of the Universal Subscriber Identification Module, and basically it is the chip that, like the SIM, is inserted into the mobile phone to carry out the communication.

Traditional SIM only allows connection to 2G and 3G networks. The USIM arises from the need to guarantee the connection to the 4G network, and is intended as a resource with sufficient capacity to incorporate applications that allow handling all existing protocols and those that arise due to the evolution of cellular networks. With respect to a SIM, the USIM is more secure, since it contains an algorithm to prevent unauthorized access to the telephone line, encodes calls and Internet traffic with stronger encryption keys.

More speed, more data?

In a test conducted by this reporter outside the Ministry of Communications, the 4G network reached a speed of 43 MB / s, a parameter that far exceeds the 7 or 8 MB / s achieved in the 3G network. Indeed, the fourth generation of data transmission is faster, and around it I have noticed comments related to increased data consumption.

The reality is that everything depends on the use made of them. Theoretically, if on your cell phone you have a firewall that only allows you to use, let´s say, Facebook and WhatsApp, and it consumes 20 megabytes per day, it should be the same in 4G. The difference is that the multimedia in the latter network is reproduced more easily, so, although you can cancel a video that is "loading" under the 3G network, in 4G you will see it at the moment and with quality. In other words, the loading time is considerably reduced and, with that, you can browse more, so you will consume more data if you do not take that into account.

The recommendation, then, is the same as I have already addressed in other installments of this section: make sure that in your terminal only navigate what you allow after installing firewalls and configure the applications so that they do not download multimedia without your permission, in addition of the use of "lite" versions, lighter for the consumption of data.

What to expect

This year Etecsa expects to “illuminate” with 4G most of Havana, the city with the highest population concentration in the country. Likewise, one of its priorities is to take this technology to the provincial capitals and tourist centers.
At the same time, the company has deployed 3G microradiobases designed to decongest traffic in places with a high concentration of people. An important space in the strategy is occupied by this technology inside buildings -such as shopping centers, for example-, since cellular coverage decreases significantly when physical barriers are encountered.

These microradiobases, expressed Frank Pavón Carbonell, operate in the 2100 MHz and 900 MHz bands.
Until  June 10, Etecsa had installed more than 2,500 mobile telephone base stations throughout Cuba. Of these, 1 255 are 3G. Of the 94 with 4G technology, 66 are in Havana, 19 in Matanzas and 9 in Mariel.

The contrast between the different data networks shows the long road that still needs to be traveled. In this regard, Pavón Carbonell is emphatic: the priority is to deploy the 4G network so that it contributes with data traffic, since it has greater capacity, and to the extent that it expands, it will help the mobile network as a whole in the management of traffic loads.

How the users can know if their mobiles have a USIM? There are two ways. The first one is to identify the moblile´s IMEI using the USSD code *#06#. Then, the users  can send a cost free SMS to 2266 with the first eight numbers of the IMEI and they will receive a response that will allow them to know if the device can use 4G networks. The second way is to text the word SIM to 2266 in order to receive the response.

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