KJI and JST meet with Orascom president

Pictured above (L – R): Jang Song-thaek, Naguib Sawiris, and Kim Jong-il

According to Martyn Williams:

The CEO of Egypt’s Orascom Telecom has been given a rare honor during his current trip to Pyongyang: an audience with Kim Jong-il and dinner hosted by the reclusive leader for the businessman whose firm owns a majority of North Korea’s only 3G cellular network.

Naguib Sawiris arrived in the North Korean capital on Friday and was received on Sunday by Kim Jong-il, the Korea Central News Agency reported on Monday.

Kim Jong-il, “warmly welcomed his DPRK visit taking place at a time when Orascom′s investment is making successful progress in different fields of the DPRK, including telecommunications,” the report said.

Orascom holds a 75 percent stake in Cheo Technology, which operates North Korea’s only 3G cellular network.

The network, the remaining stake in which is held by the government, uses the Koryolink service name. It has seen fast growth in subscribers and currently claims more than 300,000 accounts in just the two years since its launch.

After starting first in Pyongyang, the network has been expanded to cover provincial capitals and smaller cities and a 3G signal is now within reach of 75 percent of the population, the company said in November last year.

The Orascom group has made several other investments in the country. In 2007 it invested in a cement factory and in late 2008, at around the same time it launched the 3G network, it opened a local bank. The company has also been tied to renewed construction work at Pyongyang’s pyramid-shaped Ryugyong Hotel. The iconic building was halted in 1992 and has remained vacant ever since.

According to the AFP:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has met the head of an Egyptian company that provides a mobile phone service in the impoverished communist nation, state media reported Monday.

Naguib Sawiris, chairman and CEO of Orascom Telecom Holding, has been visiting the North since Friday. His company has provided a mobile phone service in the North jointly with a local firm since late 2008.

Kim “warmly welcomed his DPRK (North Korea) visit taking place at a time when Orascom’s investment is making successful progress in different fields of the DPRK, including telecommunications,” the North’s state news agency KCNA said.

Kim had “a cordial talk” with Sawiris and hosted a dinner for him, it added.

Orascom said last year that mobile phone subscriptions in North Korea had more than quadrupled in the space of a year — to 301,199 by the end of September 2010 from 69,261 a year earlier.

However, it said overall “mobile penetration” remains at one percent in the country, which has an estimated per-capita GDP of 1,700 dollars and a population of 24 million.

North Korea strictly controls access to outside information and fixes the tuning controls of radios and televisions to official stations.

It began a mobile phone service in November 2002 but shut it down without explanation 18 months later and began recalling handsets.

But in December 2008 the country introduced a 3G mobile phone network in a joint venture with the Egyptian firm.

The Egyptian group in 2007 sealed a 115 million dollar deal to invest in a North Korean cement plant. It is also reportedly involved in completing construction of the 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel in the capital.

Martyn has more at North Korea Tech.

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