Central Asia & Caucasus

Azerbaijan transforms into regional digital center

Vestnik KavkazaIn the coming years, Azerbaijan will launch a communication project, which will eventually transform Baku into a large regional digital center covering the South Caucasus, the Middle East, Central and South Asia with a total population of about 1.8 billion people. It’s about the Azerbaijan Digital Hub program, within which Azerbaijan is laying fiber-optic backbone cable line along the bottom of the Caspian Sea.

At the same time, the Azerbaijani project will contribute to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – Azerbaijan will provide the BRI a telecommunications corridor.

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have launched this grandiose project last November. The Trans Caspian Fiber Optic (TCFO) project will allow the countries to reach a higher level of development of a high-speed and secure data transmission infrastructure, entering the number of leading Europe-Asia trunk routes. It is expected that the cable will be commissioned by late 2021 to transmit data with a capacity of at least 4-6 terabits per second.

As for cooperation with Turkmenistan, the interstate agreement on laying the fiber-optic cable line with the total length of 300 km along the bottom of the Caspian Sea with a capacity of 2-3 terabits per second will provide high-speed Internet traffic not only to Turkmenistan, but also to Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

In general, Baku will be added to the global Internet map as a new Internet exchange point along with cities such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Sofia, London, Istanbul or Dubai.

The economist, leading analyst of the Baku-based Center for Analysis of International Relations Orkhan Bagirov told Vestnik Kavkaza about this project’s prospects and its impact on the country’s economy in the future.

“The implementation of this program will make it possible to reduce Azerbaijan’s dependence on Internet traffic from other countries,” Bagirov said, adding that Azerbaijan will not only provide for itself, but will also become a digital service provider, raising the level of its telecommunications infrastructure to international standards.

In economic terms, this will lead to the digitalization of a number of economic areas, the development of the non-oil sector and the creation of jobs; the IT sector’s economic weight will grow in Azerbaijan. In political terms, this will provide significant dividends: if soon after gaining independence the republic began to actively implement energy projects, becoming one of the regional centers in this area, and then joined the Trans-Caspian routes in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, turning into a major transport center, now there’s a new era, which will transform Azerbaijan into a digital service provider, will strengthen the state’s position in the system of international relations.

This project will strengthen the region’s stability, make processes more predictable. In particular, Bagirov drew attention that relations with Central Asian countries will become closer. “Azerbaijan has traditionally developed relations with Central Asia, in particular, in transport projects, we have a system of constant contacts between the ports. After Azerbaijan becomes a digital hub, our relations will be even more strengthened, as it will open up new areas of cooperation – IT and information telecommunication technologies.

In addition, the project will contribute to the implementation of another China’s project – the Digital Silk Road – its route will run from Frankfurt to Mumbai via Azerbaijan, which, of course, will enable the republic to cooperate with all countries along this global communication line.

The success of the project, according to Bagirov, will make it possible to profit by creating the largest DATA center in the region, presenting its resources on the foreign market. Thus, the largest content providers will be able to open their representative offices in Azerbaijan.

Answering the question of how new projects combining East and West with digital routes can influence the resolution of conflicts, in particular, whether this initiative can make Armenia abandon its occupation policy, Bagirov noted that all projects implemented by Azerbaijan influence processes in the region. “In particular, this also concerns the issue of Armenia’s occupation policy. As Azerbaijan increases its energy and transport power through global projects, Armenia realizes that its occupation policy is leading nowhere, while it could use the benefits from these projects. Armenia will face the same fate in the case of Azerbaijan’s new digital initiative. This will also happen because nationalist ideas are very strong in Armenia: even if the government tries to change something, it will not be able to do it,” the leading analyst of the Center for Analysis of International Relations summed up. 

Vestnik Kavkaza
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