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Page Updated: 04-May-2007
SPS Homepage > NATO-funded Studies & Projects > Virtual Silk

Virtual Silk Highway

A computer networking project for the Caucasus and Central Asia

The Virtual Silk Highway

The ancient Silk Road was not only a trade route but also an all-important road for the transfer of information and knowledge between major regions of the world. A new multi-year NATO computer networking project plans to bring highly cost effective, global Internet connectivity to the Caucasus and Central Asia through state-of-the-art satellite technology, thus creating a modern information network.

Consequently, the project has been called the 'Virtual Silk Highway', and for short - the 'SILK Project'. The aim of the SILK Project is to increase significantly the exchange of information with, and between, academic and educational institutions in the Caucasus and Central Asia regions. The Science Committee's Advisory Panel on Computer Networking has taken the initiative to launch the project, and the Science Committee gave general approval at its autumn meeting in Georgia.

Since 1994, the NATO Science Programme, advised by the Panel, has been one of the major supporters of academic networking in these regions, helping to create an appropriate infrastructure for the communication needs of the scientific community. Now that the terrestrial infrastructure has been improved, it has become imperative that the regions have basic and reliable Internet connectivity for research and education. Connection to the Internet is the most effective tool available today to access and release the research potential of talented, highly educated people, trained in science and technology. Additionally, Internet access can contribute to open societies and democratic processes, and closing the gap between information-rich and information-poor societies is expected to promote peace and security.

During recent years the Panel's main areas of support for computer networking infrastructure have been the eight countries of these two regions - the Southern Caucasus countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. These countries are located on the fringe of the European Internet arena and will not be in reach of affordable optical fibre connections for a good number of years.

However, the alternative, of Internet connectivity via satellite, is an expensive and therefore a scarce resource for the science and education community in these countries. As a result the bandwidth available for the whole research and educational community of the region ranges from 64 Kbps to 384 Kbps (Kilobits/second). For comparison, an average West European home connection to the Internet is at least 56 Kbps for one person, and many are an order of magnitude faster. The proposed project will increase the average rate for each country to 3 Mbps (Megabits/second) by 2004.

Concept of the Project

The academic and educational communities in the eight countries concerned will be connected to the Internet by way of a common satellite beam. New technology makes it possible for each of the countries to have its own minimum bandwidth capacity and at the same time make use of unused bandwidth of other participating countries. In addition, the use of modern data caching techniques, enabled by the choice of satellite technology, should allow further improvement in the effective bandwidth achieved.

The configuration necessary to achieve this goal consists of satellite dishes and network equipment in the eight countries, a central distribution point (hub) with a dish and network equipment in Western Europe, a contract with a satellite vendor, and Internet access.

Additional support will come from a number of sources, including the multinational electronics company Cisco Systems which will donate equipment, and also DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-SYnchrotron) of Hamburg, Germany, which has offered to host the European hub. DESY has had long experience in providing satellite services to several countries of the former Soviet Union, a number of which were (co)-funded by NATO grants.

Progress of the Virtual Silk Highway

Since the first delivery of Silk Project satellite equipment and the successful link-up to Uzbekistan in August, work has been underway to establish links in four more countries.

President Askar Akaev of the Kyrgyz Republic launched the network in Bishkek on 17 January, when he attended the first video link-up between Bishkek and the network hub in Hamburg, Germany. To mark the occasion and to show the appreciation of the Kyrgyz Republic for NATO's role in the development of this project, the President also presented a Certificate of Appreciation to the NATO Programme Director, Dr. Walter Kaffenberger.

Speech of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic Mr. Askar Akaev on the opening ceremony of the International Project "Virtual Silk Highway" in the framework of the NATO Science Programme.