The Business Year

HE Prof. Dr. Ali M. Abbasov

AZERBAIJAN - Telecoms & IT

Star Man

Minister, Communications and High Technologies

Bio

HE Prof. Dr. Ali M. Abbasov has been the Minister of Communications and High Technologies of the Republic of Azerbaijan since 2004. He has a long career in academia, education, and the public sector. His recent experience includes positions as the Director of Institute of Information Technologies of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Azerbaijan (1991-2000) and the Rector of Azerbaijan State Economic University (2000-2004). He lectures and researches in the fields of digital economy, network design and application, artificial intelligence, and other topics. He did his PhD in Microelectronics at the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. He serves as a full member of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan, as a fellow of the IEEE and the World Academy of Sciences. He was a member of the National Parliament (2000-2004), Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (2001-2004), the Strategy Council of the Global Alliance for ICT and Development (2008-2009) and is a Commissioner of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development (since 2010).

TBY talks to HE Prof. Dr. Ali M. Abbasov, Minister of Communications and High Technologies, on the National Nuclear Research Center, the country's space program, and the diversification of the economy.

Azerbaijan has recently started to prioritize scientific research. How can this influence the development of the economy?

The share of technological and science-based products as a part of a country’s total exports constitutes 45% in Singapore, 26% in China, 25% in France, 22% in the UK, and 18% in US. These figures are not so high in Post-Soviet states, meaning the government of Azerbaijan has taken measures in developing science, defining new priorities, and commercializing scientific findings. Along with the reforms that are reflected in the National Strategy, there are various science funds, including the Science Development Fund that operates in order to support and stimulate fundamental, applied, and innovative scientific researches. The State Fund for the Development of Information Technologies provides low-interest loans and grants for science-based projects in order to expand scientific research and innovation. It is important to strengthen the cooperation between scientific-research institutions, institutions of higher education, and corporations and industry.

It was announced in May 2014 that Azerbaijan would establish a National Nuclear Research Center under the Ministry. What are the goals of this initiative?

Research in nuclear energy started in Azerbaijan in the 1970s; however, due to the lack of infrastructure, nuclear research did not meet modern requirements. The National Nuclear Research Center was established in order to develop nuclear technologies for the peaceful meeting of today’s requirements and national demands. Our first goal is to create a nuclear research reactor in Azerbaijan that is implemented together with the State Agency for Regulation of Nuclear and Radiological Activity of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and other related entities. With the technical support of IAEA, a multi-purpose gamma radiation complex is being established in Azerbaijan. Dosimetric and microbiological laboratories will also be established, while agricultural products, medical equipment, and other materials will be sterilized in the complex. Adding nuclear sciences and technology majors to the priority list of the education-abroad program has been requested. At the same time, we are cooperating with global nuclear research centers on the training of personnel.

Azerbaijan has adopted the State Program on Establishment and Development of Space Industry in 2009. What are the results achieved and future plans?

In 2013, Azerbaijan launched Azerspace-1 in cooperation with Orbital Sciences Corporation (US) and Arianespace (France). Azerbaijan entered a new phase of development in becoming a recognized brand in the regional telecommunications sector. To date, 55% of the Azerspace-1’s satellite capacity is under commercial use. Over 150 TV channels are being broadcast over the satellite; and 90% are foreign. Currently, Azercosmos is providing services to a customer base of 24 countries from Europe, Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. In 2014, we entered into the commercial business of Earth observation services, including geo-information services. We signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Airbus Defence and Space (France) and took over the rights to operate and commercialize Azersky (Spot 7) high-resolution (1.5m imagery products) optical Earth observation satellite, which was successfully launched on June 30, 2014. This satellite has a broad range of applications including defense and security, emergency response, exploration of natural resources, maritime surveillance, sea faring, environmental protection, urban planning, and cartography. Cooperation with Airbus Defence and Space has allowed for advanced education in the field of satellite imagery and geo-information services. Our plans also include enhancing the coverage area by launching Azerspace-2, the second telecommunications satellite. In 2015, we will sign contracts regarding the manufacturing and launching of the satellite. We have reached an initial agreement with Intelsat on a long-term lease of the satellite’s capacity. Azerspace-2 will enhance our capacity and service offerings for customers in terms of reliability and coverage.

Azerbaijan has recently adopted a new ICT Development Program in the frame of the national strategy from 2014-2020. What are the primary objectives of this news program?

Systematic works have been carried out over the past 10 years in the direction of development of information society. The National Strategy on information and communication technologies for the development of the Republic of Azerbaijan (2003-2012) was the first document declaring the development of information society in the country. The new National Strategy demonstrates successive policy of the government in the development of an information society, as well as purposefulness of its further continuance. The newly adopted National Strategy attaches great importance primarily from the standpoint of determining the development priorities of information society in the country. Being a future oriented document, the National Strategy provides for the overall activity allowing for technological innovations, development trends and most importantly, demands of the society. The development of an information society in the country will create favorable conditions for the government, society, businesses, and citizens to benefit from the contributions of IT. In its turn, it will serve the overall development of Azerbaijan, since in international experience the development of an information society is proven to be the driving force behind enhancing changes in society and economy, as well as increasing competitive opportunities in industry. We are planning to attract state bodies, business entities and public organizations for implementing actions proposed in the National Strategy. Favorable conditions will be created for joint civil and public initiatives and their realization.

What efforts have been made by the Ministry to support education?

The State Program on education of Azerbaijani youth abroad in 2007-2015 is a prime example of the attention given to education by the country’s leadership. Many people now study at international universities, and among them many students are studying ICT. Works to support the State Program are carried out by the Ministry as well. Signed MoUs with a number of reputable foreign universities and the Ministry’s Human Recourses Fund for ICT Development have supported more than 200 young people to receive undergraduate and graduate education in ICT at leading universities throughout the world. We closely cooperate with university departments that provide ICT training in Azerbaijan. For the provision of high-speed internet connections in institutions of higher education, fiber-optic cable networks were set up through Azerbaijan Research and Education Networks Association. In addition, financial support is provided to research carried out in high-tech fields at universities.

How effectively has Azerbaijan encouraged entrepreneurs in the ICT sector and supported national efforts to diversify the economy?

The World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology 2014 reported that Azerbaijan was sixth among 148 countries for the importance of ICT to the government vision, and eight for government success in ICT promotion. Our innovative policy is based on the golden triangle concept that focuses on three columns. The first column is capacity building, the development of human resources and knowledge potential. Second is the creation of a favorable economic and business environment. The last is facilitating access to financial resources for the implementation of innovative projects. The State Fund for Development of Information Technologies has successfully credited entrepreneurs on preferential terms and supported projects. It allocates support in a form of grants to start up projects on basis of competition. Two competitions were announced by the Fund last year: 194 projects were submitted at the first grant competition and funding was allocated to 25 projects. It prioritizes the establishment of close cooperation with countries that support SME entrepreneurship in ICT. The Ministry established the High Technologies Park, and beginning entrepreneurs who start their activities at the Hi-Tech Park are exempt from income, property, and land taxes, as well as VAT for imported equipment for seven years. The creation of a suitable investment and business environment, support for the sale and promotion of companies’ products, and the simplification of procedures for starting a business are some of our priority policies.

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