Cuba tests mobile broadband with free access

State-run telecommunications company tests 3G service

By Hatzel Vela - Reporter, Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

HAVANA - Cuban smartphone prepaid users nationwide rushed to access mobile wireless internet for free on Wednesday, as it became temporarily available for the first time on the island's history. 

ETECSA, the state's telecom monopoly, aims to provide broader access to some 5 million Cubans, as part of the ongoing testing phase of MiCubacel.

ETECSA has been selling 4G data plans to private companies and embassies for about $45 a month. During the day of testing, ETECSA offered some 70-megabyte download capacity for free.

"Just like Cinderella to whom the chariot was turned into a pumpkin at midnight, Cubans' mobiles will be offline again when the clock mars 12 p.m. today," Cuban journalist Yoani Sanchez tweeted in Spanish. "We will return to our normal state: disconnection."

The third generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology, or 3G service, makes video calls and live streaming possible. 

During a limited testing phase of the service earlier this year, ETECSA reported about 800,000 users had access to the 3G service. They also released Todus, a free messaging application that is similar to Whatsapp, which is owned by Facebook.

The service, which wasn't reliable for users like Daryl Plasencia, isn't available to the public yet. ETECSA has yet to release the pricing or information about data plans. While Cubans earn an average of $30 a month, the hundreds of public hot spots are available nationwide for about $1 per hour. 

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