Cuba has begun rolling out mobile internet access to a handful of citizens, with plans to introduce the service to the general population by the end of the year.
Journalists at state-run news outlets are among the first to gain mobile internet, and some companies and embassies have been purchasing mobile data plans since December, reports Reuters.
The country’s 3G mobile network is managed by ETECSA, Cuba’s incumbent state-run operator, which holds the monopoly on telephony services. As part of this new development, ETECSA plans to expand mobile internet to 5 million customers, around half of Cuba’s population, by the end of 2018.
The move comes after the operator revealed that it was testing a mobile banking service that would allow citizens to pay their utility bills via their mobile.
Cuba is very late to launch the service. Most Latin American countries have already rolled out 4G-LTE networks, with a few of them even testing fifth generation (5G) data services.
The communist government has a long history of restricting internet access, as it believes that such a move would lead to a loss of control over communications and online content.
However, Cuba’s new President, Miguel Diaz-Canel, seems to have successfully convinced his party colleagues of the need to allow everyone access to the web. He said recently that internet can help the island boost the economy in addition to defending the revolution.
Moreover, Diaz-Canel is in talks with Google, which has proposed to connect Cuba to submarine cables.
Until now, Cubans have only had access to the web through Wi-Fi hotspots or internet cafes.