The second free Internet access test from mobiles, carried out by ETECSA, Cuba’s state telecommunications monopoly, on Wednesday, was received by city residents with enthusiasm, but also confusion.
"It's a big breakthrough to be able to connect to the Internet from home, and not under the sweltering sun of Wi-Fi parks, or via the sluggish Connectify," said Rosaura Martínez after several attempts to access the 70MB package to test Internet access via mobile data by dialing *133#.
Her husband, engineer Ricardo Pomares, reported that for the first time he managed to make a video call to his family in Europe.
"But I suspect that a connection mode based on time, and not MB, would work out better," he said.
Employees at the ETECSA sales office located in Panorama and San Pedro said that users' most frequent questions are related to the fact that "Cubans do not have a culture of measuring consumption and Internet traffic based on MB, but rather time."
Agreeing with this conclusion was Manolito, an appliance mechanic who knocked off early "to enjoy free Internet" from the comfort of his home.
"The problem is that those of us who are not expert Internet users do not know whether it will be economical or not to acquire a package of MB, when it is no longer free, for a given amount of money. We do not know how many things we can do on the Internet with X number of MB," explained Manolito.
Liliana Santos Álvarez, a resident of La Víbora, thought that the connection during this test run by ETECSA was faster than during the previous one conducted on 14 August.
"I was able to make video calls without any interruptions, download music and several videos, but around noon the service was interrupted, and I could not verify whether that was because I had used up the 70MB allotted for the test."
In its announcement of the test ETECSA indicated that the 70MB package could be consumed at any time within the defined window between 8:00 AM and 12:00 AM, and that once the total amount of the package was used up, it could not be renewed.
The service's price: the 64,000-dollar question
A tour of several Havana areas revealed that at 6:00 PM the test package could not be acquired by dialing *133#. The alert "your request cannot be processed now, please try again later", was the response received by users who were trying to acquire the 70MB for the first time.
A source from ETECSA told DIARIO DE CUBA that at 6:00 PM the test had been completed.
"Thousands of customers called to ask why they could not access the Internet," said an ETECSA official. "Technically, the test was chaotic, and completed before the announced time," the source added.
"It would be great to have Internet on phones. It would make life a bit easier. I connected early, but I know many friends were unable to," said Raidel, a young college student from the town of Mantilla.
"I spent all day trying, but I was unable to access it. The connection was terrible. I hope that when it really arrives, it will not be like that," said 24-year-old Naima.
"The question is what the service’s price will be when ETECSA decides to make it official," said Saúl Castresana, a resident of Plaza, who complained that ETECSA, far from explaining things, sows doubts instead.
"One gets all excited about these tests because Internet service via phone is really something to celebrate, but then the letdown will come when they announce the real price, because calls and SMS are already quite expensive," he predicted. "Would the MB package be bought with the credit on one’s phone, or with coupons, like with Nauta?" asked Castresana.
In the press release issued by state media, ETECSA said that "those customers who use Nauta e-mail from their cell phones should keep in mind that if they have an active Nauta account, when they use e-mail, their credit will be reduced."
This is a clarification that only generates more confusion among users who decide to acquire SMS, voice or data plans.
"When you buy a voucher to recharge your cell phone account, and you have already bought a voice plan, they first start subtracting from the newly-received voucher," noted Erick Quesada, a worker at the Parque Central hotel.
"Both the plans and the Bolsa Nauta (credit) last for one month, which means that if you had 10 days to consume them, and you get additional credit with a bonus, you lose what was left of the plan. How can we juggle so many plans, when they all expire after 30 days? These are the questions ETECSA must clear up," Quesada said.
Like others, he wonders how the mobile internet service will work in this system, which forces users to manage carry several accounts in their heads.
Another question is whether the test service will have the same speed in different areas of Havana. The residents of Los Sitios confirmed that weeks before the first test, on August 14, access to mobile data was affected and irregular.
"It is only stable in the mornings and at night, and you have to move several blocks to get it," complained Gabriela López.
"I could not get access during either of the two tests. I feel frustrated because if ETECSA does not guarantee that access to mobile data will be stable, then how can they talk about Internet via cell phone?"
* Journalist Manuel Guerra Pérez contributed to this report.