AFP: Armenia pushes to revive tech sector

Armenia is hoping the launch of its first tablet computer and smartphone that could kickstart a comeback for the country’s technology sector.

Designed – and soon set to be constructed – in Armenia, the ArmPhone and ArmTab devices are seen as a key steppingstone as the landlocked state seeks to overcome crippling trade blockades from its neighbours to become an unlikely industry hub.

“The high-tech sector in Armenia already has a long existence and now we need to take it back to an international level,” Vahan Chakarian, president of the joint Armenian-US company Minno, told AFP.

“By building an Armenian tablet computer we’ll create a brand that will make Armenia more recognizable on the world market,” Chakarian said.

Compared to major international brands, funding and production targets for the start-up are modest.

The firm is spending some $6.5-million over its first three years and aims to get manufacturing levels up to some 100,000 items annually.

While the devices are designed by Armenian experts, production has been taking place in Hong Kong and the US.

But those behind the project hope that will change soon.

“We’ve been spending a lot of funds sending our Armenian specialists to China to conduct quality tests where the tablets were being assembled,” Chakarian said.

“Given the engineering capabilities in Armenia, we plan in the near future that all the work on the exterior and motherboard design and software implementation will take place exclusively in Armenia.”

The company already has a contract with Armenia’s education ministry to supply all first graders in the country with a tablet computer by 2015.

Armenia though faces considerable challenges if it is to compete on the international level.

Festering disputes with its two neighbours Turkey and Azerbaijan – including over  Nagorno Karabakh – mean that much of its borders are sealed off.

Those in the IT sector remain bullish about the prospects for development and point to steady growth rates of over 20-percent despite Armenia’s flagging overall economic performance.

“Our predictions show that by 2018 the IT sphere will become the dominant sector in the country’s economy and will bring in around $1-billion,” said Vardanyan.

Some 500 tech firms are now working in the country and international giants such as Microsoft have started getting involved.

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