Azerbaijan Furthers Regional Telecommunications Initiative
Oct 26, 2021
Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan furthered their commitment to bolster the Digital Silk Road project at the CIS GCCM (Global Carrier Community Meeting) 2021 Conference in Nur-Sultan. AzerTelecom, Azerbaijan’s primary wholesale telecommunications operator and its Kazakhstani counterpart, Transtelecom, inked two memorandums of cooperation stipulating that they would coordinate with telecom operators in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to boost the Trans Caspian Fiber Optic (TCFO) project. The initiative was fully launched in November 2019 between the two Caspian littoral countries to tie the Caspian region into the Eurasian Information Super Highway (TASIM) linking Europe and Asia through Azerbaijan. A component of the “Azerbaijan Digital Hub” program, the TCFO cable will stretch 249 miles across the Caspian Sea and carry four to six terabytes per second. The completion of the fiber-optic cable will boost global Internet capabilities, make the region a digital hub, and augment efforts by a number of Caspian states to foster IT innovation and start-ups as part of their overall economic diversification and development efforts.
The Caspian region today lacks an internet exchange point. These Internet exchange points are physical locations that allow Internet providers to exchange Internet traffic. These points accelerate Internet access by shortening the route required for other Internet providers to connect with each other. Due to its reliance on international bandwidth to supply its growing domestic internet usage, problems with latency and download speeds hinder Azerbaijani economic activity. Moreover, Azerbaijan’s distance from intercontinental fiber-optic submarine cable systems means that total Internet capacity in the country is low. Reliable and high-speed Internet capabilities are inextricably linked to economic growth. Without reliable Internet connection, businesses – including small and medium enterprises – are unable to grow their consumer base or connect with suppliers. This point has especially been driven home during the COVID19 pandemic when firms turned to e-commerce to make up for lost in-person transaction as well as for virtual meetings and other communications. Azerbaijan is aiming to recast itself into a regional telecommunications hub and locus for new IT enterprises and innovation.
The idea of the TCFO project was inaugurated in 2018 with a tripartite agreement among AzerTelecom, Transtelecom, and KazTransCom to advance Azerbaijan’s digital hub and TASIM ambitions. Proponents of TASIM envisaged a network stretching from Frankfurt to Hong Kong that would allow telecommunications to bypass Russia.
The region has long prioritized constructing physical pipelines to for the secure shipment and delivery of oil and natural gas. The addition of a fiber optic cable, together with the development of new surface transport infrastructure, expands on this concept. Azerbaijan’s Science, Industry and Technology Minister, Ali M. Abbasov, praised the project claiming that an additional facet to the Azerbaijan-Turkey bilateral relationship with the implementation of the TCFO would strengthen business opportunities and foster economic development of the Greater Caspian Region. In addition, the Turkic Council hailed the initiative, saying that its completion will improve sustainable development for all of its member states.
Turkmenistan has also looked to join Azerbaijan’s TASIM initiative. In 2020, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan signed an MoU to advance the construction of a 186 mile-long fiber-optic cable along the Caspian Sea floor. The project will be implemented by AzerTelecom and its Turkmen counterpart Turkmentelekom and would increase Turkmenistan’s internet capacity, vital for economic development in the 21st century.
The fiber optic cable will likely augment Azerbaijan’s standing in the global digital space. Nearly all business and government operations demand secure and high-speed internet capabilities. Azerbaijan’s initiative in advancing telecommunications demonstrates its means to serve as the regional facilitator for digital development. The Caspian region suffers from a lack of connected networks that obstruct trade, energy exports, and annual migration. However, often absent from the discussion is the establishment of reliable fiber-optic cables. The region will benefit from Azerbaijan’s expansion of fiber-optic cables, which have proved to be essential elements for promoting economic development.