Internet In Cuba: A Brief History & Connecting Today

Sarah Fitzpatrick

16 Mar 2023

Cuba was one of the last countries to gain access to the internet yet advances in new technology and changing attitudes towards digital trends from the government mean the landscape is changing. Until very recently, the internet was only available to a small percentage of the Cuban population, so internet access has never been taken for granted by the locals. 

Take María de los Ángeles for example, a Cuban doctor who retired at age 60 after serving as a neurologist for three decades. María receives around 200 USD per month in remittance from her two daughters to cover expenses for food, sanitary products, electricity, mobile top-up and since recently for internet access. Like many Cubans, she now relies on the internet to stay in touch with her family abroad, something which up until now has remained very difficult. 

However, getting internet access can still be a tricky process for some Cubans. The guide below runs through a brief history of internet access in Cuba. 

When did Cubans first get access to the internet? 

Mass access to the internet is only a recent phenomenon to Cubans. During the late 90s and early 2000’s, while the rest of the world gained exponential access to the internet, Cubans were limited to a Cuban intranet (known as the 'Joven Club') which was only available in public institutions like universities and government buildings. 

During the mid 2000's, a select few were granted limited access to the internet from their home. This connection was only offered to a small number of professionals like doctors, journalists and artists. For those with the internet in Cuba at the time, it was only accessible by installing a dial-up modem, with browsing speeds at a maximum of 64kb/s.  

Internet access for the decade languished, due to limited funding and a challenging political landscape. By the end of 2010, it was estimated that only about 200,000 Cubans had access to the internet, a tiny figure in relation to the 10+ million population of the country at the time.   

However, in 2014 the landscape began to change. The state-owned company ETECSA began installing wi-fi points around Cuba, now known as the ‘Nauta Wi-fi Service’. Since then, the government have continued to build new wi-fi points across the country, slowly allowing access to more and more Cubans. 

In 2016 ETECSA rolled out its 'Nauta Hogar Service', allowing Cubans to access the ADSL network from the comfort of their homes. In 2019, Cuba legalized private Wi-Fi in homes and businesses, although one must obtain a permit to have access. 

The introduction of self-managed email and social media accounts in recent years have allowed Cubans to become more empowered, both as mobile phone and as a population. 

How have ETECSA been helping Cubans with internet access? 

ETECSA has been working to expand access to the internet becoming more accessible to Cubans through different actions: 

  • They have been increasing connectivity by expanding their network coverage in many areas in Cuba while also providing more people with access to mobile phone and internet service. These actions have helped allow people to communicate with their friends and family as well as conduct business and access online information. Click here to purchase Cubacel bundles. 

  • 3G data mobile data was introduced in 2018 followed by 4G services in 2020. This represented an improvement in the speed data services transforming how people in Cuba use the internet and access to online services such as using social media, online shopping, gaming, and video streaming. 

  • Aiming to reduce prices and making ETECSA services more affordable and accessible to more people in Cuba. The reduction of the cost of mobile data and the introduction of Cubacel bundles means more data for less money. 

  • In November 2022, ETECSA introduced for the first time a quintuple bonus for the international Cubacel top-up promotions.  

What is Nauta?  

Nauta gives Cuban residents access to the internet which is available through public Wi-Fi hotspots. Users can have their Nauta account recharged from abroad through top-up providers like Ding, which customers like Maria do with the help of her daughters. 

Mobile internet access in Cuba 

To access 3G in Cuba, the mobile phone must work on the 900MHz or 2100 MHz bandwidth frequency. To enjoy the faster connection on the 4G network, the 1800 MHz frequency is required. 

4G internet access in Cuba is sometimes limited depending on the user’s device and location, with speeds varying between 10-50 MB/sec. 

Fast forward to 2023 and you'll find that due to the high price of the Cubacel plans compared to the average salary of Cubans, having 3G or 4G access isn't possible for some. This is why a large portion of local Cubans rely on remittance from abroad to afford the relatively high costs of the Cubacel data plans. Top-up platforms such as Ding allow those living abroad to top-up Cubacel numbers online.

How to send mobile recharge to Cuba

With Ding you can quickly and easily send top-up to Cuba, no matter where you are in the world. All you need to do is visit our website or download our app, enter the number you want to send mobile recharge to and then complete your purchase with your preferred payment method. Click the button below to get started.

Can tourists access the internet in Cuba?

In December 2019 Cubacel released a SIM card for Cuban tourists, allowing visitors to easily access the internet while on holidays. Known as a 'Cubacel Tur' SIM, they can be pre-purchased online from RecargasACuba and then picked up from Havana Airport as soon as you arrive.

With Ding, you can send more than just mobile recharge to Cuba

Here at Ding, we are glad to be a partner of ETECSA and see all the improvements in the last 14 years. Although, for some the internet access in Cuba remains limited, is not reliable and is still very expensive.  

However, internet and mobile data service developments in Cuba has helped with creating new business opportunities for Cubans as well as keeping Cubans connected to the wider world and their loved ones abroad. One example of this is the Alawao Gift Cards which is another way for Cubans abroad to support loved ones at home. By purchasing an Alawao gift card via Ding, you can send your family and friends in Cuba a coupon which they can use to shop online for groceries and essentials. Purchase your Alawao gift card today by clicking the button below. 


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