Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are taking a major step towards digital connectivity within the Caspian region, thanks to a new subsea fiber optic backbone cable line that will be laid across the world’s largest lake and better connect Europe and Asia.
Last week the Turkmentel International Exhibition for Telecom and IT held in Turkmenistan resulted in officials from the two countries signing an intergovernmental agreement that provides for joint activities by communication operators of the two countries and includes the construction of fiber optic lines, as well as their ownership and exploitation.
According to the document, AzerTelecom, Azerbaijan’s backbone internet provider, and its counterpart Turkmentelekom will lay a fiber optic backbone cable line that extends from Azerbaijan’s eastern Siyazan district to the port city of Turkmenbashi in western Turkmenistan.
AzerTelecom is hoping to create the Digital Silk Road that bridges Asia with Europe and brought prosperity to the region. The ancient trade route has been revived in recent years through various logistics, transportation – and now digitization – projects, including China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The subsea fiber optic backbone cable line will ultimately benefit not just Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, but Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as well. Azerbaijan is expected to be the primary hub for the transmission of internet traffic from Europe to South Asia and back, forming a wide digital telecommunication corridor.
The project is just part of AzerTelecom’s bigger plans. Under the Azerbaijan Digital Hub program, the company is working to transform Azerbaijan into a regional digital hub that will facilitate Eurasian data transmission. As a digital hub, Baku is hoping to act as the epicenter of digital services for roughly 1.8 billion people residing in the Caucasus, the Middle East, Central, and South Asia regions.
Last month, Azerbaijani backbone internet provider, AzerTelecom and Kazakhstan’s Transtelecom and KazTransCom with the participation of government officials from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan launched the construction of a fiber optic line that stretches from Baku to Kazakhstan’s port city of Aktau. The 400 km (249 mi) cable will be operational sometime in late 2021 and is expected to transmit data with a speed of at least four to six terabytes per second.
Officials in AzerTelecom, which is the subsidiary of the country’s first mobile operator - Bakcell, believe that the program will strengthen Azerbaijan’s telecommunication system and domestic digital market. In addition, the project will boost the economy by attracting investments in the non-oil sectors, as well as develop capacity within e-services and cybersecurity.
At the same time, the program may help Azerbaijan anchor within China’s mega-logistics project known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The route will cover over 60 countries stretching from the Pacific Ocean to as far away as Portugal and leverage roads, railways, and maritime routes.