Europe and the Middle East will never have been so well connected when the Europe-Persia Express Gateway (EPEG) project is put into operation in May 2012.

The dream to link Europe with the Middle East via a high-capacity fiber-optic cable system is about to become a reality, and Azerbaijan is playing a large role in the development of the network. The Europe-Persia Express Gateway (EPEG) project has been developed by a consortium comprised of Iran's Telecommunication Infrastructure Company (TIC), Oman's Omantel, Rostelecom of Russia, and the UK's Cable & Wireless Worldwide. Although the country is not a part of the consortium, Azerbaijan is represented by Delta Telecom in the EPEG project, which will sell bandwidth to wholesale carriers at a 10 Gbps wavelength. Seen as the next step in making Azerbaijan an ICT hub for the region, the project is set to “play an important role in expanding the capacity of the internet in Azerbaijan and increasing the volume of internet capacities," Ramazan Valiyev, General Director of Delta Telecom, told TBY in an interview. With the possibility to be extended to the India subcontinent, EPEG will pass from Frankfurt, through Eastern Europe, Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and across the Persian Gulf to Barka, in Oman. The network will also pass through Poland and Ukraine on its journey, countries that are not participating in the consortium.

The project boasts a capacity of 3.2 Tbps, although its initial capacity will be at 540 Gbps. The network will stretch 10,000 kilometers in length, and 500 kilometers of the network will be submerged. The cost of constructing the Azerbaijani section of EPEG is estimated at €3 million, and is scheduled to be trialed by Delta Telecom in early 2012. The overall cost of the project is valued at $200 million, and it is expected to enter into operation in May 2012.

With ICT so high on the government's investment agenda, Delta Telecom will give a boost to the sector's dynamism with infrastructure capable of transmitting international internet channels as well as carrying voice and data transmission services. “Azerbaijan is a very suitable place to become a regional hub, both geographically and economically," Valiyev told TBY.

Indeed, it is the export capacity of the sector that the government sees as lucrative, “we are working on increasing the export capacity of the sector through projects such as the EPEG… which will leverage Azerbaijan's export potential," Ali Abbasov, Azerbaijan's Minister of Communication and Informations Technologies, informed TBY. Also participating is Alcatel-Lucent, which is the sole technology supplier to the project “not only in Azerbaijan, but also Russia and Ukraine," Levent Özbilgin, Azerbaijan Country Senior Officer at Alcatel-Lucent, said in an interview with TBY.

Internationally, the EPEG project is seen as an alternative telecommunications transit route to the Red Sea, Suez Canal, Egypt, and Mediterranean sea regions that can provide stability for the flow of information, especially in the event of earthquakes and other natural disasters.