Bilateral trade between the mainland and India is expected to receive a big boost as China Telecom Corp and Reliance Communications begin operating a new kind of Silk Road - the first direct terrestrial cable link between the two countries. The fibre-optic cable system, which was constructed separately on each end by the two carriers in a span of 15 months, was opened yesterday to bring high-capacity, enterprise-class connection to both countries' major cities and rural areas. Han Yihu, managing director at China Telecom, described the terrestrial link as 'a landmark' that would 'improve opportunities for international business development' in India and the mainland. Neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh are also expected to benefit in the long term, due to the increased communications network bandwidth and global connection options. 'India and China represent the largest growing economies in the world, and the current global economic environment requires ever increasing high-bandwidth, converged applications to be run between these markets,' Reliance Communications president Punit Garg said. Bilateral trade last year between India and China was up 34 per cent year on year to US$51.8 billion. In the first half this year, bilateral trade was down 32 per cent year on year to US$19.61 billion due to the economic slowdown. Owen Best, president at Reliance Globalcom, the international business unit of New Mumbai-based carrier Reliance Communications, said the new cable system has an initial capacity of 20-gigabit per second. But it is designed to ramp up to the multi-terabit per second range. One terabit per second is a unit of data transfer rate equal to 1,000 gigabits per second. The China Telecom-Reliance cable crosses the Himalayan mountain pass of Nathu La, linking the Tibetan border town of Yadong on the mainland to the city of Siliguri in the Darjeeling district on the Indian state of West Bengal. Nathu La, part of the ancient Silk Road trade route, was re-opened in 2006 following a series of trade agreements between Beijing and New Delhi. The pass had been sealed by India since 1962 after the Sino-Indian border conflict. Previously, the only available option for high-bandwidth network connection between the two countries was via undersea cable routes through Hong Kong or Singapore. The disruption to major communications services in the Asia-Pacific due to recent typhoons and earthquakes has clearly exposed the risk of depending on those cables without redundant links on land, Mr Best said. The Reliance side of the terrestrial cable system stretched about 250 kilometres from the border pass. The length on the China Telecom side was not known. The project was part of a December 2005 deal between the two carriers to provide direct telecommunication services between India and the mainland. Calls between the two countries were routed via the United States or Europe.