Thanks to a concerted focus on improvements in transport and communications infrastructure, Armenia has risen six places in the latest Global Competitiveness Index rankings
As a landlocked country, transport and communications infrastructure provide a literal lifeline for Armenia. As the country embarks on a modernisation initiative, a series of new projects have pushed its World Economic Forum (WEF) competitiveness ranking for infrastructure up to 73rd, from 79th in 2016, and the country is well on its way to regaining prominence as a commercial link between continents.
Until recently, poor road connectivity has held back economic growth in Armenia. This, however, is set to change with the new $1.5 billion strategic North-South Road Corridor initiative. The project will see 556km of highways built linking the southern border of the country with its northernmost point, giving it access to Black Sea ports and connecting it to the Trans-European Transport Network.
A flight from Dubai to Armenia takes approximately three hours. Photo: Armenia International Airports.
Capitalising on its geographic position, Armenia is also seeking to develop into an air transport hub, opening up new markets for both tourism and exporters. Armenia’s two main airports, Zvartnots International Airport in Yerevan and Shirak International Airport in Gyumri, have both have been modernised extensively since 2002, with Zvartnots now undergoing further expansion as part of a 2018-2022 master plan. “We are expecting a large increase in cargo because of our relations with the Gulf countries, Russia and other areas around Armenia,” says Marcelo Wende, general manager of the airports’ operator, Armenia International Airports.
But it isn’t just cargo that is coming in via Armenia’s airports. Inbound passenger numbers have surged from 800,000 in 2002 to 2.5 million today, with this figure expected to reach five million in the next five years, thanks in part to the government’s open-skies policy that removes all restrictions on passengers arriving in the country.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s virtual infrastructure improvements have launched the country to 56th place globally in WEF’s Network Readiness Index – a sharp improvement from the past. “When we started in 2009, everyone told us that what we were doing was crazy – for we were investing too much in fixed broadband and in fibre optics. At the beginning, we were connecting 1 gigabit GPON links, while the speed we were serving was only 128kbps – 8,000 times less internet connectivity than our network can now serve,” says Hayk Yesayan, director general of Armenian telecoms company Ucom, which was ranked as the nation’s fastest mobile service provider in 2017.
The company, which built a quality network that matches that of the most advanced countries, now wants to see Armenia become an international data transit hub. It is already well on its way: since 2015, Armenia has multiplied Iraq’s data transit to Europe by a factor of 10, and talks are underway to provide internet bandwidth transit for Turkmenistan.