Eight-hundred years and a few decades have passed since Marco Polo left China to return to Italy via the sea-route. On his way he touched the shores of India. And trade between Asia and Europe hasn’t been the same since.
Now, a submarine fibre-optic cable system, stretching 16,650 km from China to Italy and embracing India, is nearly retracing the homeward journey of the epic traveller. And trade and communication in the digitised world of the future will not be the same ever again.
The hark back to Polo’s maritime silk-route will be India’s answer to China’s New Silk Road. The EAGLE system, as the sub-sea link is called, is India’s return volley against China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) offensive. India has boycotted the OBOR – a brainchild of Chinese president Xi Jinping – as the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) which passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is a part of the mega road project. China is building CPEC without India’s permission and the issue has led to a diplomatic discord between the Asian giants.
Marco Polo's return route to Venice (Red) vs the EAGLE sub-sea cable (Indigo)
The OBOR Initiative connects China with Europe via land as well as via sea. It encircles India with China dominated roads, ports and transport hubs. The EAGLE sub-sea system, meanwhile, will connect Hong Kong to Italy via Mumbai, and potentially champion India’s agenda to build better connectivity and cooperation within Asia and beyond.
Expected to be ready for use by 2020, the EAGLE will allow businesses to lease and own sub-sea capacity from speeds of 10 Gbps to several hundreds of Gbps between India and key technology centres across Asia, Middle East and Europe. GCX, which owns the world's largest private undersea cable network spanning over 67,000 kilometres, will spend $500 million to build this "Cloud and Fiber Initiative" to take on China's Belt and Road Initiative.
"The 'Cloud and Fiber Initiative' levels the playing field for India's tech companies to compete in the new digital order and to play a pivotal role in the anticipated hyper growth of technology expansion across the Emerging Markets Corridor," Bill Barney, Reliance Communications' CEO, said in a statement.