Four years ago, Alejandro Perez decided that it was time to set up his own business. After almost a decade working in state-owned companies in Cuba, this telecommunications engineer wanted to do something for himself, in a technology-related sector. He analyzed the market and visualized an interesting niche that he could venture into: offering security system solutions linked to data networks for private businesses. This is how Dataplus was born, a business that adapts the Internet of Things in Cuba.

Untangling Dataplus Networks

“I started alone,” Alejandro told PanamericanWorld; but then some friends joined me. “Some came and went. It has been almost three years since Juan José Puerto joined me and became a fundamental part of the business. Then we added Jandel Guevera, who oversees installations. In addition, we have worked part-time with other professionals and I have also managed to link to this project a few telecommunications students from the Jose Antonio Echevarria Technological University of Havana (CUJAE), where I work as a  professor, “he explained.

“We provide data network and security systems solutions. We do not sell equipment. We sell solutions. When we install a piece of equipment it is to solve a problem, a need. Services range from design, installation and maintenance to data network systems, both wired and wireless. Security systems include alarms, cameras and access control. We also have a technical support service for all deployed systems,” he said.

“To these services we have added the remote solution for managing a business. This is what  we offer the most because we work both with clients for whom we have installed the security infrastructure of the business and others who already had it, but they hire us to take care of the remote solution, “he specified.

“We don’t sell equipment, but solutions. When we install a piece of equipment, it is to solve a problem, a need”, said Juan José Puerto and Alejandro Pérez. Photo: Abel Rojas / PanamericanWorld

Controlling the security of your home or business in Cuba from any location

“The remote solution is nothing more than the possibility of controlling your business from any location through the Internet. Basically, what we do is give clients control over their security systems, video surveillance and access from any location to their accounting computer system, if any”.

“In this way, the customer has greater control of the business, both in terms of accounting information, sales, warehouse; it also allows them to see the cameras. For this we use Etecsa infrastructure, for mobile data, because it is the best way to expand the service, “said Alejandro.

“That line of remote business management is also applicable to a home. We have been knocking on many doors regarding what is known as the Internet of Things (IoT). The possibility of remotely accessing your camera system is already part of the IoT, although it goes beyond that,” he acknowledged.

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The Internet of Things in Cuba?

“IoT is a global paradigm. The very evolution of technology has led to this process of everything being connected. It is a global trend and Cuba, which is lagging behind, has already reached out to have access to the IoT, and we will certainly go deeper,” he said.

“IoT is very beneficial, both for startups and for companies and individuals. It makes your life easier. If you can control the lights, the filling of the water tank and the opening of the garage door in your home, from the comfort of a phone or a tablet, that makes your life easier, more so if you can do it from outside your home. This is also the case for a business. For example, it makes it easier for you to save energy because you can automatically turn off equipment, lights, etc. So there are fewer expenses,” he explained.

“One of the limitations of the Internet of Things in Cuba is this: the Internet. Although there has been progress, Internet access is still not stable enough to offer IoT as implemented in other parts of the world, which is done with devices connected directly to the Internet. Although many people access the mobile data network, few have a connection at home and, even then, due to the characteristics of the connectivity service to homes, the connection is by the hour, so we do not have active Internet 24 hours a day, “he clarified.

“The remote solution is nothing more than the possibility of controlling your business from any location through the Internet,” said Alejandro Pérez. Photo: Abel Rojas / PanamericanWorld

It is not the only problem for the implementation of the Internet of Things in Cuba. “Commercial devices include security concerns because many use a private cloud from the manufacturer. In addition, devices employ different applications and that can be cumbersome for the end user who does not want to work with various applications to control their devices,” he warned.

The invention of Dataplus that brings the Internet of Things closer to the Cuban market

“We convinced ourselves that to use the Internet of Things in Cuba, in a massive way, it had to be adapted to the Cuban environment. We don’t choose to develop our own devices. The option we saw was to use the commercial devices and adapt them so that they did not have to have Internet access all the time to work in Cuba,” he said.

“From there we conducted a survey. We saw that we could place an operating system (firmware) that would allow the computer not only to work with the Internet, but to do so locally as well. We took advantage of our work with CUJAE and promoted a thesis. The student showed how to change the firmware of the device and use an alternative one, which would allow us to manage things locally.”

“We are about to launch a smart outlet or socket. All the devices connected to it can be controlled remotely and we can also set it to turn them on and off. All you need is the device and a mobile. The phone connects to the device via Wifi and you can control it.”

Dataplus developed a smart outlet that will make it easier to charge electric motorcycles in Cuba. Photo: Abel Rojas / PanamericanWorld

“The main use and service we are promoting is control over the charging of electric motorcycles. You plug the charger into this smart device and you say “turn off.” You can go to bed without worries knowing that the bike will not be charging all night. You can program everything on the device,” Alejandro said. Another valuable element for the Cuban context is that, if there is a power outage (blackout), the device will charge automatically when the power returns.

“We can incorporate other devices to this line. The first part of the solution is device-mobile phone. The second part or level of the solution is having several devices in the house with the alternative firmware installed. You won’t need the internet to control your devices. You can do it from a mobile application”, he acknowledged.

“The third level is for this controller to the in the cloud, in Cuba, at Etecsa’s data centers. This would allow full control of the devices from anywhere in the world, not by using the manufacturer’s private cloud, but a cloud in Cuba, adapted to the conditions of the country.”

Challenges for a Cuban endeavor in times of change

“With the legal support and the changes implemented by the government, we want, as of 2022, to start providing services to the state sector. It would be a challenge and an opportunity at the same time”, he added.

“In Cuba there is a lot of potential for entrepreneurship in different spheres. From the technological point of view, there is talent and eagerness to develop and propose solutions, to do new things.”

“So far there have been many obstacles restricting such development, both from a regulatory point of view as well as internet access concerns. In addition, import difficulties and restrictions limit development. However, change is coming, and it will allow these ventures to go to the next level”, concluded Alejandro.