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Virtual Silk Highway

The Great Silk Road was historically not only a trading route, but also an important route for transfering information and exchanging knowledge resulting in the mutual enrichment of cultures between the major regions of the world. The new international telecommunication project "The Virtual Silk Highway" sets as its purpose to increase information exchange between academic communities in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Europe on the basis of advanced satellite technology, effective access to the Internet and to European scientific and educational networks. Thusly, this telecommunication project will allow for the creation of a Virtual high-speed Silk Road of information and to integrate the academic computer networks of our countries into global information space.

Due to a lack of financial investment, last year's development of the Internet in Kyrgyzstan within the sphere of education and science was hindered of satellite channels, access to the Internet, and an absence of a sufficient number of fiber-optic cables connected to the Internet. Therefore data speed for internet access for universities was highly limited and did not satisfy growing requirements. In January Kyrgyzstan will begin the "Virtual Silk Highway" project, of NATO's Scientific Program. This will allow for high-speed access to information resources on the Internet for the academic community of Kyrgyzstan, resulting in a greater development of education and science in the country. This will occur as a result of expanded Internet access which will eventually help to reduce the "digital divide" between the industrially developed and developing countries.

1. The concept of the project

The academic communities of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia) will be connected to the Internet, and to European scientific and educational networks via a unified satellite channel. This technology allows for each country to have a minimal bandwidth of frequencies on the satellite and at the same time allowing for the shared use of collectively unused capacity in the satellite channels of all participating countries in the project. For example, using time zone divisions, the countries of Central Asia can use the capacity of the satellite channels of Transcaucasia in the morning, and in the evening the countries of Transcaucasia can take advantage of unused capacity of the satellite channels of Central Asia. In addition, the loads on satlitle channels will be reduced via the use of modern techniques of caching on cache-servers with high capacity memory.

The configuration of the Silk Highway project consists of satellite aerials and communication equipment in the eight countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, connected through the satellite EurasiaSat via a central hub in Western Europe (Hamburg, Germany) consisitng of a satellite aerial, communication equipment and access to the Internet, is shown in fig.1.

Fig.1 A schematic display of satellite communication between VSATs in each country and the Operational Center of the Network in Hamburg, Germany

The Silk Highway project is highly cost effective reducing the cost of internet access for the academic communities of participating countries. Compiling the satelite channel capacity for access to the Internet for all eight countries will lower the cost on data transmission for 1Mbs/s during the period of the grant. The Scientific Program of NATO spent 2.5 million dollars to purchase the equipment and the satellite channel capacity until the end of 2004. The SISKO corporation provided the communication equipment for the participanting countries, and the German center for syncronizing data and communications (DESY) is incharge of the Operational Center network in Hamburg (Germany). The capacity of the satellite channel under the project will increase through each half-year along with the gradual connection of new participating countries (fig.2).

Fig. 2: Growth capacity for the satellite data link under the Silk Highway project for six months

The diameter of the downlinking satellite dish for tracieving in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is 3.8 M and it is installed on the main building for the National Academy of Sciences (Fig.3).

Fig. 3 Photo of the downlinking satellite dish for tracieving in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. It is 3.8 M and is installed on the main building for the National Academy of Sciences. This idsh communicates with the satellite EurasiaSat which in turn communicates with the operational center in Hamburg, Germany.

From the beginning Kyrgyzstan has supported the idea of the Virtual Silk Highway project and has actively participated in the preparation and realization of this international project. The project officially began in Issyk-Kul in September 2001 during an international seminar on advanced computer networks. It is necessary to note that the Silk Highway project is an embodiment of ideas from the Doctrine "Diplomacy of the Silk Road," established a precident for new information and communication technology. In 1999, the Doctrine established the logical and imperative necessity for the revival of the "Great Silk Road" on the qualitatively new basis of high tech communications. At the present stage, revival of the "Great Silk Road" allows for the transformation of this region into a zone of stability, safety, friendship, cooperation and equal partnership.

2. Kyrgyz Research and Educaton Network

Maintenance of high-speed access to the Internet is important for the dynamic development of Kyrgyzstan and the participating countries. In addition, the creation of a modern communication infrastructure for the academic community within these countries is vital. Without the creation of a high-tech information network infrastructure the educational and scientific development in Kyrgyzstan will be hindered. Since 1998, the construction of the Kyrgyz Research and Educational Network (KREN) using high-tech infrastructure has been supported by the Scientific program of NATO. Currently, Kyrgyzstan has the best research and educational computer network in Central Asia. This network connects research institutes within the National Academy of Sciences and the leading universities of Bishkek in a singular high-tech information network. The main lines of this Academic Network are built upon high-speed fiber-optic connections with a link speed of up to 100 Mbs/s, and with the potential of up to to 1Gbs/s. Since 2003, the connection of universities to the main network has been accomplished via copper cable lines with use of DSL-modems for the speed up to 2Mbs/s; however, the current plan for universities is to convert the copper lines and build any additional connections with fiber-optic technology. Dedicated connections to universities give high quality use of the Internet, an opportunity of the organization of remote training and to carry out videoconferences. The Academic Network possesses great potential for the organization of remote training and the distribution of high-quality multimedia teaching materials. Many universities in Kyrgyzstan already have developed their own curriculums focused on interactive application of Internet technology.

In January 2002, the Kyrgyz Research and Educaton Network Association which includs the leading universities of the country and the National Academy of Sciences was created and legally registered. The primary objective for this association is the integration of science and education, development of remote training, management and the further development of a computer network. The Kyrgyz Research and Educaton Network Association will, has already begun connecting universities, research institutes and libraries to the network of Silk Highway project. The commercial organizations will not be connected to the networks of the Silk Highway project because the use of Internet for commercial purposes is not one of the project's objectives.
In conclusion, the rapidly developing information technology is highly valuable for young people. Developing information technologies for the younger generations is proper patronage for our future. It is important to stop the indemic "brain drain," the loss of skilled workers to jobs abroad; the internet allows for the provision of interesting work for our youth. Beginning in Kyrgyzstan, the Virtual Silk Highway project along with the recently created Kyrgyz Scientific and Educational Network will become catalysts to develop the high-tech sector of the economy and the construction of a greater information society in our republic.

[This document used materials from the Development Group of the Virtual Silk Highway project, within which scientists and experts from many countries have contributed, including: Professor Kirstajn (Great Britain), Dr. Robert Jants (Holland), Dr. Hans Freze (Germany), Dr. Walter Kaffenberger (Scientific Committee of NATO), Dr. Zita Ventsel (USA), Dr. Rolf Nordhagen (Norway), Dr. Ramaz Kvatadze (Georgia), Proffessor Askar Kutanov (the Kyrgyz Republic), Dr. Ruben Mktyrchan (Armenia), Dr. Jane Butler (corporation SISKO) and Sergey Berezhnev (Russia).]