As the government’s ‘Azerbaijan 2020’ vision gathers pace, the ICT sector has become one of the country’s leading growth areas and a major recipient of investment as the authorities look to transfer resource wealth to human resources.

Over the past decade the ICT sector has grown by an average of 25-30 percent per year, and although growth figures for 2012 dropped off the pace a little at 17.3 percent, the it is now a US$2 billion industry and the second largest recipient of foreign direct investment after the oil industry.

Indeed the ICT is fundamental for the government’s vision to double GDP per capita by 2020 through the development of a knowledge-based society. So much so in fact, that President Ilham Aliyev declared 2013 the ‘Year of ICT’, launching a raft of measures and programmes for further development of the sector.

“This year will see the improvement of the legal and regulatory framework, ICT capacity building and the development of the information society and human capital,” highlights Dr. Ali Abbasov, minister of communications and information technologies. “The IT University, IT Development Fund and High-Tech Park will all be established in 2013.”

One of the key programmes this year is the national broadband development project that will bring high-speed internet access into every home in the country at a total cost of US$550 million, to be financed by the state oil fund SOFAZ. Through this project the government hopes to provide 100Mbps internet access to all of Baku by 2015.

The ministry also funds around 200 students who have gone to study ICT-related programmes in foreign universities. On their return they should find plenty of work with the construction of a Hi-Tech Park within a ‘special innovation zone’ which aims to link the scientific and production fields of ICT.

To encourage further investment in the ICT sector, the government has established a state fund for the development of information technologies under the ministry. “It supports production-oriented activity in the field of information technology and attracts local and foreign investment to this field,” says Dr. Abbasov.

Azerbaijan is looking to capitalise on this growth and investment by becoming a regional ICT hub through the implementation of projects such as TASIM, EPEG and EuraCA. TASIM (Trans-Eurasian Super Information Highway), which will link Frankfurt to Hong Kong and connect 20 countries is seen as an integral part of Azerbaijan’s vision to become an east-west transport and logistics corridor.

These achievements have not gone unnoticed by international organisations with the World Economic Forum’s network readiness index placing Azerbaijan 56th out of 144 countries while it ranked 20th on the affordability index. In addition, Azerbaijan is looking to bolster its international standing in the ICT world by hosting the inaugural UN global conference on cyber security in Baku in December of this year.

With a 70 percent internet penetration rate, there is still plenty of room for Azerbaijan’s ICT sector to grow further and the government sees it as an integral part of its vision for long-term sustainable development. “ICT in Azerbaijan has become both an independent economic sector and a driver of the overall socio-economic development of the country,” states Dr. Abbasov.

AzerSpace-1

Am Satellites

The AzerSpace-1, run by national satellite operator Azercosmos, will tap into the wholesale satellite lease market serving retail VSAT and other satellite communication service providers in Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa. The satellite’s launch is the latest venture as Azerbaijan seeks to become an ICT hub and information hub between East and West and will soon be followed by further launches.