Thursday, July 22, 2021

Internet Access In Support Of The Cuban People

I was in Cuba four years ago. The government had tight control of just about everyone and everything including Internet access back then so I’m not at all surprised they’ve been able to shut communications down amid the protests. I’ve been reading a lot about alternative access for Cubans lately. Satellite has been getting a lot of questions but the network and mobile devices are still a ways out. 

Today, balloons probably offer the best solution. Google actually has them ready to go with project Loon. Loon has been proven in collaboration with Telecom Kenya and used in Puerto Rico in partnership with AT&T and T-Mobile after Hurricane Maria. Each Loon balloon is made of polyethylene and has solar panels for electricity. They float between 60,000 and 75,000 feet which is above commercial airline height and provides 4G cell service to an area about the size of a tennis court. The problem – Loon requires network integration with a telco to provide service along with some equipment on the ground. Loon also requires permission from local regulators — something that the Cuban government surely would not grant.

Marcell Felipe, founder of the Inspire America Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting democracy in Cuba and the Americas has been discussing a slightly different balloon idea without a lot of detail. Felipe claims he has been talking for a couple years with a contractor (not named, but could it be….??) that could deploy balloons that provide mobile phone connectivity without the participation of a ground provider. In comments to The Associated Press, Felipe has claimed it wouldn’t be feasible for the Cuban government to block these balloon-delivered signals “in any significant manner.″

Pic: Telecommunications Building, Revolution Square Havana. G Snyder 2017

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