History & Impact

The vast Eurasian region which connects Asia with Europe belongs to the disadvantaged side of the ‘divide’ lacking a modern infrastructure to advance faster. It’s been a long story. Already in 1992, the Ministry of Posts and Communication of China, realizing the problem, proposed to construct the Trans Asia Europe fiber-optical cable system (TAE) between Shanghai and Frankfurt am Main with the link’s total length of some 21,000 km. In 1993, the Agreement for the construction and organization of TAE was signed by telecommunication administrations of China, Germany, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Ukraine and Uzbekistan (with more countries joining later). Each participating country was responsible for the construction of its own TAE segment. It was built and modernized as long as new services and technologies (such as ADSL, MPLS) have been emerging over time; originally, the TAE’s bandwidth was planned to be around 140Mbit/s. In 2006, to reflect upon the fast Internet development, it was decided to upgrade TAE to DWDM technology up to 10Gbit/s in certain segments. The TAE system offers modern telecommunication services: high speed circuits, telephony traffic, data transmission, private leased circuits, video, Internet, ISDN. At the moment, it is one of the most important international cable systems, connecting Asian and European continents with the entire world, as shown in the figures below.

At the TAE’s 21th TAE Management Committee Meeting held in November 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan, the future of the TAE System was discussed. It’s become obvious that while the TAE has been highly important in connecting Eurasia to the world in the 1990s, it’s not been to maintain its viability in the rapid spread of more affordable digital technologies in the 2000s.

One of the lessons that one can learn from the TAE experience has been its inability to adapt to the fast-changing technology is its primary focus on infrastructure, without addressing the needs of the end–user beyond and above the natural interest of telecom companies. Its focus on technical administration was its strength, yet at the same time it’s been its weakness that has not lead to the formation of strong intra- and inter-regional alliances and partnerships which would also include the growing importance of content and services (in addition to infrastructure) that have become an integral part of the industry’s business model. The TAE business model has become not sustainable from this point of view and could not be maintained any longer under the existing arrangements. From this perspective, Azerbaijan’s initiative to move forward with a new connectivity model which would prioritize more the socio-economic side of infrastructure development was the right and timely decision.