Koryolink mobile services

UPDATE: Excellent information in the comments

ORIGNAL POST: Last week many press reports claimed that the DPRK’s newly launched 3-G mobile phone service includes limited Internet access.  To take one example from the Associated Press:

North Korea has begun limited Internet service for mobile phone users, a government Web site reported, months after launching an advanced network in cooperation with an Egyptian telecoms company.

The service allows North Koreans to access a Web site through their phones to see news reports carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency as well as news about the capital Pyongyang, according to the government-run Uriminzokkiri Web site.

Uriminzokkiri did not give any further details in its report Thursday on whether the service is restricted to the capital Pyongyang or is available elsewhere.

The number of mobile phone users had reached 20,000 by the end of March, including some foreigners, Tokyo-based Choson Sinbo newspaper, considered a mouthpiece for the North Korean regime, said earlier this month.

I have not yet been able to locate the story on Uriminzokkiri, but according to a follow up story in the AP:

The Korean-language Web site as seen on an ordinary computer screen also allows viewers to listen to North Korean music, get information about books, art and investment opportunities in North Korea and even engage in Internet chatting. It was unclear, however, if those services were available in the mobile version.

So the “Web site” is actually a portal, and I am 99.99% sure that  it is not connected to the Internet at all but to either the DPRK’s intranet network, called “Kwangmyong,” or to a newly built self-contained computer network.  As an aside, however, many North Koreans (in Pyongyang anyhow) are aware of the internet

Strangely, here is an advertisement of sorts about the DPRK’s mobile network which several readers have sent to me.  I believe this was produced by the Chongryun, but this is merely a guess:

koryolink.JPG

Click on image for You Tube video

Here is a little history on the DPRK’s experiences with mobile networks (via teleography):

Mobile phones are tightly controlled in North Korea and were banned until November 2002. Two months later incumbent fixed line telco Northeast Asia Telephone and Telecommunications (NEAT&T) launched GSM-900 services under the banner SUN NET. However, cellular devices were once again banned following an explosion on a train in June 2004, which was thought to have been triggered remotely by a wireless handset. In January 2008 Egypt-based telecoms operator Orascom Telecom announced to the surprise of most that CHEO Technology, a joint venture between itself (75%) and Korea Post and Telecoms Corp (25%), had been awarded a licence to operate 3G wireless services by the government. Under the terms of its licence, CHEO is permitted to provide mobile telephony services for 25 years, the first four of which on an exclusive basis. The company launched the country’s first 3G network in the capital in December 2008 under the name Koryolink. By April 2009 CHEO had reportedly signed up 20,000 subscribers and its 3G network had been expanded to include the main road running up to the northern city of Hyangsan, with national coverage expected by 2012.

Read more here:
NKorea opens limited Internet cell phone service
Associated Press (via Forbes)
5/21/2009

NKorea allows limited Internet cell phone service
Associated Press (via Yahoo)
Kwang tae Kim
5/22/2009

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  • Werner

    “I have not yet been able to locate the story on Uriminzokkiri …”,

    they refer to:

    http://www.ryomyong.com/main.php

    see: 손전화용웹페지 (mobile phone web page) …

    the North Koreans call the mobile phone: “son chon hwa”;
    for web page, they obviously could not find proper Korean words, so they keep the English expression 웹페지

  • http://my-korea.info/ Opaquit

    Make sure you also check out this website:
    http://pyongyang.news-site.net/
    That’s where that Koryolink launch video actually comes from and it has a couple other nice ones.

  • Gavin

    I wonder what measures that have put in place to stop smuggled SIM cards being used in these phones in border areas to connect to unrestricted networks. Maybe the SIM is hard wired into the phone or something.

  • Werner

    the uriminzokkiri article (from May 21st) shows three cell phones:
    Philips, Motorola and Sony Ericson;

    http://www.uriminzokkiri.com/Newspaper/uri_gisa/2009/2009-05-21-D09.htm

    do the North Koreans really use those brands ?

    The keypads of the phones have only Latin letters, no Chosungul ㄱㄴㄷ, …
    that would make it quite tricky for 조선사람들 to send text messages …

  • http://my-korea.info/ Opaquit

    I guess these phones are for illustration only, the actual cell phones sold by Koryolink are likely to be just some cheap Chinese OEM models. And about those SIM cards—according to some articles Koryolink is not a GSM network, it’s a CDMA network, and most CDMA carriers don’t use phones with SIM cards.

  • Gag Halfrunt

    One report I’ve found says that Koryolink uses “localized Korean versions” of Huawei phones, implying that text messaging in Korean is supported.

    Orascom, Koryolink’s Egyptian parent, states that the network is “3G” (third generation) . From what I can gather on Wikipedia, this means that it uses either UMTS or CDMA2000 (not the older CDMA used in the US and South Korea, which is classified as a second generation standard). UMTS phones have their own type of SIM card, called USIM. Some UMTS phones can work on GSM networks.

    UMTS uses various frequency bands, depending on which ones are available in each country, and no one phone supports all of them. If Koryolinkuses UMTS it might have been able to take advantage of this to ensure that its phones would not be compatable with UMTS networks in China or South Korea.

  • http://my-korea.info/ Opaquit

    Thanks for the info, my guess is that they’re using CDMA2000 at some unusual frequency like 400 MHz… well, I’ll try to find out more about this, I’ve been always curious about these cell phones in the DPRK.

  • http://my-korea.info/ Opaquit

    This article has some info about the technology used:
    http://blogs.computerworld.com/motorola_wins_next_gen_mobile_contract_in_china

  • Michael Madden

    If I made add a morsel to the institutional background of the Koryolink service; Kim Jong il’s point man on Koryolink is current NDC Councilor Pak Myong Chol. Prior to Mr. Pak’s NDC affiliation he was the President of the Korea Post and Telecommunications Company. For many years Pak Myong Chol was chair of the cabinet-level Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, where one of his major tasks was running the DPRK’s Olympic Games’ programs and participation.

    Pak Myong Chol is part of Jang Song Thaek’s constituency among the KWP elite; Pak was suspended and seemingly disappeared from North Korean public life, along with Mr. Jang, from about 2003/4 to 2005/6. Mr. Pak’s later father was Pak Jong Ho, who served in Kim il Sung’s Partisan unit in Manchuria and one of the first KWP Central Committee members.

  • Werner

    And …

    according to a news release from Sep. 2005 (!) Australian PRIME LAND Group Pty Ltd contracted a mobile spectrum licence with the North Korean government for a period of 25 years and appointed ORASCOM as operator !

    http://www.plgroup.com.au/default.asp#article2

    The Gallery of PL Group’s web page shows several photos of PL Group managers with North Korean government officials (including Pak Myong Chol)

  • http://www.koryogroup.com Simon

    they can definitely send sms in Korean on those phones, I’ve seen them do it, sorry I don’t know much about the technological aspect of it, but texting in Korean is definitely doable on those handsets

  • http://www.koryotours.com Brian

    Our visit happened to coincide with the NY Symphony’s planning and negotiations trip and the producers stayed at the Koryo Hotel in October 2007. In the bar one of them showed me a working cellphone that had been lent to them for the duration of the trip. I don’t remember the brand, I was just surprised, given the fact that I had heard that service that had been started a few years earlier, had been suspended.

    Most North Koreans want to catch up with the rest of the world’s obsession with consumer electronics. The 2007 Mass Games featured a presentation of the 21st Century being the “IT Century” and our guide shared how he hoped to get a laptop and IPod.

    Also interesting, a trendy local college girl we met in the hotel bar told us that she used to have Internet at home and that in the 2004-2005 timeframe she had been doing Internet dating. She would find a boy online and have him show up at a public place near her apartment block. Spying on him from above, if she didn’t like the way he looked, she would not come out to meet him. The Internet service was suspended in the 2005-2006 time-frame and she was very unhappy about that. She liked the Internet, regardless of the limited and NK-specific services that may have been available.

    Do you think they allow North Koreans to access the lotto and gambling websites designed to generate revenue from the external world???

  • Werner

    Does anyone know the prefix of Koryolink ?

    I couldn’t find it anywhere …

  • RPB

    I worked in Corp. Fin. for Orascom Construction a few year back when we bought the cement plant in NK. That deal, while I was not privy to all the details, was a royal pain in the ass to get done. The finagling over the amount of payment and what was to be exchanged was never ending. Anyhow, point being, I sincerely doubt the Sawiris’ brother (Nageeb, who owns Orascom Telecom, the Egyptian Telecom company) would risk pouring that much capital to build even a limited 3 g network in NK. There are too many doubts to even building a regular mobile network and I would be quite surprised if that even exists in any significant capacity. Status of the cement plant we bot? I believe its now owned by LaFarge (French cement company we sold the cement portfolio to) so I don’t know how that panned out. But I doubt it went well.

  • Gag Halfrunt

    If you mean the international dialling code, North Korea’s is +850.

  • Klaus

    No, I guess he means the prefix which is set between country code and subscriber number.

    SUN NET, the GSM 900 network, seems to use +850 193 801 plus a 4 digit subscriber number (when being called from abroad).

    When calling from SUN NET to SUN NET, 850 plus 4 digit subscriber number has to be dialled.

    When calling from landline-numbers in Pyongyang beginning with 381: to reach a SUN NET subscriber, 193 850 + 4 digit subscriber number has to be dialled.

    From landline numbers beginnging with 382, SUN NET subscribers cannot be reached.

    This information would be interesting to have to Koryolink.

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  • Brad

    I was wondering how Orascom can deploy network in NK while this country has still been suffered by sanctions & embargo? and what happened to the NEAT&T network after it had been suspended in 2004?

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  • Ashen

    Hi everybody. I’m the one who owns a SUN NET sim card in PyongYang.
    What can I say? Thay ask 30 euro for the SIM, and one minute to SUN NET cost’s 0.3 euro for outcoming and 0.1 for incoming.
    First, I’ll comment this:

    >> SUN NET, the GSM 900 network, seems to use +850 193 801 plus a 4 digit subscriber number (when being called from abroad).

    absolutely right

    >> When calling from SUN NET to SUN NET, 850 plus 4 digit subscriber number has to be dialled.

    No, 193 plus 4 digit subscriber number has to be dialed

    >>When calling from landline-numbers in Pyongyang beginning with 381: to reach a SUN NET subscriber, 193 850 + 4 digit subscriber number has to be dialled.

    Same thing. You should call 193 + 4 digits

    >> From landline numbers beginnging with 382, SUN NET subscribers cannot be reached.

    Yes, but they can still reach 381

    >> This information would be interesting to have to Koryolink.

    Koryolink can be reached from SUN NET, but only the foregn numers (starting with 192 250). korean numbers (192 260) can’t be reached. Tried on my own handset :)

    Greeting from DPRK~~
    p.s. I’m a foreign russian student studying in Kim Il Sung University, just to let you know

  • Ashen

    Oh, sorry. My last post:

    “No, 193 plus 4 digit subscriber number has to be dialed”
    is not right.
    “193 801 plus 4 digit …” is right

  • Tamer Rezeika

    I just have a comment concerning koryolink, as you should dial 191 – 25+5 digits to call koryolink number

  • Anonymous

    Sad that it needed to be said, but very appropriate in my opinion. I’ve posted about manners as well on my blog, as well as added my own little manner list.
    I have a Q007 cell phone watch with Bluetooth & Camera, 1.6 inch touch screen and many common useful functions form etech.com.

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