The number of mobile phone owners in North Korea has exceeded the 2 million level, a report said Friday, indicating that one out of every 12 North Korean citizens are using wireless telephone services.
Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported the information, citing a statement released on Wednesday by Naguib Sawiris, the chairman of Orascom Telecom Holding.
The number of wireless phone users stood at around 100,000 in 2009 and 500,000 in mid-2011 before jumping to the 1 million level in February 2012 and the 1.5 million mark in November of the same year.
The Egyptian firm currently provides third-generation wireless service covering 15 major North Korean cities, including Pyongyang, as well as 100 other smaller cities in the communist country with a population of about 24 million.
Read the full story here:
Number of N. Korean mobile phone users tops 2 mln: report Yonhap
North Korea’s sole 3G network operator has managed to double its subscriber base in a little over a year and is about to hit 2 million users.
Koryolink launched service in the final days of 2008 and has become one of the most visible foreign partnership success stories in the country.
The network operator is jointly owned by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding (OTMT) and North Korea’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. Orascom holds a 75 percent majority stake with the remainder in the hands of the government.
Before Koryolink’s service began, mobile phones were an unusual sight in Pyongyang, but that has changed in recent years. Visitors speak of seeing scores of citizens talking and texting from mobile handsets.
2 million subscribers is approximately 8.3% of the North Korean population. The majority of subscribers are likely to be in Pyongyang but we do not have any data on the internal distribution of subscriptions. All subscribers are paying in hard currency, though none of it has been repatriated from the DPRK.
A researcher for Torrenfreak has used a database system called Scaneye to track the DPRK’s use of BitTorrent (peer-to-peer file sharing). Here are his results:
One of the titles that jumps out immediately is “Net Monitor for Employees Professional,” which seamlessly fits the country’s profile. Ironically, the downloader in question did very little to cover his or her own tracks.
There are also other needs for which BitTorrent can give a helping hand, on the adult entertainment front for example. The screenshot below shows a selection of the adult clips, including the work of Japanese porn actress Marica Hase and her U.S. colleague Alice Frost.
Aside from spy tools and porn there are plenty of less controversial titles listed as well. “The Complete Home Decorating Idea Book” for example, which may have been out of stock at the local book store.
American movies and TV-shows are also hard to obtain in North Korea it seems, but the pirated editions are easily accessible online.
“The Following” for example, a TV-show about a psychotic serial killer who leads a cult of serial-killing followers. Or the horror film Death From Above, which features several pro-wrestling stars in the cast.
In other news from the trip – the 3G access for foreigners has now been restricted to long term visitors/residents of Pyongyang only and tourists are not permitted to use this service. They can still buy simcards to make calls but no internet access available.
Hanna, Jean Lee, and David Guttenfelder are the only individuals of whom I am aware that have used Instagram/Twitter from inside the DPRK. Since they regularly enter and DPRK, they might get a pass as “long-term visitors”. It looks like the idea of thousands of tourists instantly uploading images to the web was a little more than Pyongyang could handle for the time being. Still, we know the capacity is there, we just have to wait for them so flip the switch again.
UPDATE 2 (2013-3-7): Here is CCTV (China) coverage (in English) of the new cell phone policy:
North Korea will soon allow foreigners to tweet, Skype and surf the Internet from their cellphones, iPads and other mobile devices in its second relaxation of controls on communications in recent weeks. However, North Korean citizens will not have access to the mobile Internet service to be offered by provider Koryolink within the next week.
Koryolink, a joint venture between Korea Post & Telecommunications Corporation and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding SAE, informed foreign residents in Pyongyang on Friday that it will launch a third generation, or 3G, mobile Internet service no later than March 1.
The announcement comes just weeks after North Korea began allowing foreigners to bring their own cellphones into the country to use with Koryolink SIM cards, reversing a longstanding rule requiring most visitors to relinquish their phones at customs and leaving many without easy means of communication with the outside world.
The two changes in policy mean foreigners in North Korea will have unprecedented connectivity while living, working or traveling in a country long regarded as one of the most isolated nations in the world.
However, wireless Internet will not yet be offered to North Koreans, who are governed by a separate set of telecommunication rules from foreigners. North Koreans will be allowed to access certain 3G services, including SMS and MMS messaging, video calls and subscriptions to the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper — but not the global Internet.
Chinese-made Huawei cellphones sold by Koryolink are not cheap, with the most basic model costing about $150, and the governments restricts North Koreans from phoning abroad or foreigners from their cellphones. Still, mobile phones have become a must-have accessory among not only the elite in Pyongyang but also the middle class in cities such as Kaesong and Wonsan.
Foreigners, meanwhile, can now purchase SIM cards at the airport or at Koryolink shops for 50 euros ($70). Calls abroad range from 0.38 euros a minute to Switzerland and France and more than 5 euros a minute to the U.S. Calls to South Korea remain prohibited.
Starting next week, foreigners will be allowed to purchase monthly mobile Internet data plans for use with a USB modem or on mobile devices using their SIM cards. Prices for the service haven’t been announced yet.
“We will provide both a USB modem and your current own SIM card to get access to Internet, respectively costs 75 euro and 150 euro upon registration, with different levels of charge standard, from 400euro/10G, 250euro/5G, to 150euro/2G for USB and 10 euro for SIM card per month,” he said.
According to Richie Fenner, a tour manager at China based Young Pioneer Tours who reported the news today, explained that GPS enabled devices are allowed in the country. He told us:
“When we were coming in on the train, they asked us to show us our phones. The customs official asked if the first one he looked at had GPS, which it didn’t, so he handed it back. But then with the iPhones and other modern phones when we told them they had GPS, he just handed them back and gestured that we just put them in our bag.”
Thinking that the phones might just be sealed upon the group’s arrival to Pyongyang, Fenner explained that to his surprise the local guides explained a new policy meant that foreigners can now keep their cell phones in their possession. But that didn’t mean they could be used. Fenner explained, “Wthout a North Korean sim card, the phones are useless. I asked if we could get North Korean SIM cards and our guide said that it might be possible in the future”.
American tourist Sato Shi who joined the tour group by plane (U.S. citizens may not take the train) confirmed that the policy has been applied to the airport, too. “When we went to the customs they were checking our bags, saw my cellphone and then just gave it back to me and said “Hey, just keep it with you”.
Smartphones such as the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy are a rare commodity in North Korea. Fenner explained that his North Korean colleagues were very interested in trying them and playing games throughout the tour. “It’s all very new for them, I don’t think they’ve seen iPhones and Smartphones before”.
Given the lack of SIM cards and network access, the Young Pioneer tour group explained they could only really use their phones to take photos, play games, and use as an alarm. Young Pioneers today explained on their website that the news shows North Korea’s intent to “make tourism easier and a larger part of the economy”.
“Just fill a registration form at the Customs with your phone’ s IMEI number, you can bring your own phones to DPRK,” said a unnamed Egyptian technician.
“If you want to make international calls, the WCDMA 3G mobile phone owners can purchase our Koryolink SIM card, which costs 50 euro,” the technician said.
For decades before, foreigners visiting the DPRK must leave their cellphones at the Customs and can pick them up on departure.
“We have tried hard to negotiate with the Korean security side, and got the approval recently,” said the Egyptian, noting that “it has nothing to do with the Google trip.”
In fact, foreigners still can not really use the Koryolink 3G network, with no internet access allowed yet. The Koryolink staff said that the mobile internet service for foreigners will be opened soon. “It is not a technical problem, we just wait for the DPRK authority’ s approval.”
There are 1.8 million Koreans using 3G cellphones across the country since 2008, which supports MMS and video call. But their mobile phones can neither make international calls nor connect to the Internet. Furthermore, Koreans and Foreigners can not make calls between each other due to their SIM cards set by different segments.
Kyodo offers video of people purchasing the KoryoLink SIM cards:
UPDATE 18 (2013-5-15): Kenneth Bae has been transferred to a prison. According to KCNA:
American Citizen Begins His Life at “Special Prison”
Pyongyang, May 15 (KCNA) — Pae Jun Ho, an American citizen, started his life at a “special prison” on Tuesday.
Pae was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for his anti-DPRK crime, an attempt to topple the DPRK, at the trial held on April 30, according to Section 60 (an attempt at state subversion) of the DPRK Criminal Law.
DPRK Supreme Court Spokesman Exposes Crimes of American Pae Jun Ho
Pyongyang, May 9 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the Supreme Court of the DPRK gave the following answer to a question raised by KCNA Thursday as regards the assertion made by the U.S. government and media about the alleged unreasonable legal action taken against American Pae Jun Ho who committed crimes against the DPRK, claiming that he was not tried in a transparent manner and it was trying to use this issue as a political bargaining chip:
Pae set up plot-breeding bases in different places of China for the purpose of toppling the DPRK government from 2006 to October 2012 out of distrust and enmity toward the DPRK. He committed such hostile acts as egging citizens of the DPRK overseas and foreigners on to perpetrate hostile acts to bring down its government while conducting a malignant smear campaign against it. He was caught red handed and prosecuted while entering Rason City of the DPRK, bringing with him anti-DPRK literature on Nov. 3 last year.
Pae visited different churches of the U.S. and south Korea to preach the necessity and urgency to bring down the DPRK government. He was dispatched to China as a missionary of the Youth With A Mission in April, 2006. After setting up plot-breeding bases disguised with diverse signboards in different parts of China for the past six years, avoiding the eyes of its security organs, he brought together more than 1 500 citizens of the DPRK, China and foreigners before whom he gave anti-DPRK lectures. He invited even south Korean pastors hell-bent on the moves to escalate confrontation with compatriots to give lectures for malignantly slandering the Juche idea of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the socialist system in the DPRK and instigating them to the acts to bring down its government.
He planned the so-called “Jericho operation” to bring down the DPRK through his anti-DPRK religious activities from December 2010 to March 2012. In order to carry out the plan he infiltrated at least 250 students who had been educated at the plot-breeding bases operated by him into Rason City under the guise of tourists. He failed to set up an anti-DPRK base at Rajin Hotel in Rason City.
He collected and produced several anti-DPRK videos to make the false propaganda sound plausible and showed them many people in a bid to egg them onto activities to bring down the DPRK government. He bribed Song Je Suk and other citizens of the DPRK on foreign tours in an effort to get them involved in activities to topple the DPRK government. He dared commit such hideous crime as hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK.
The DPRK Supreme Court held a trial of Pae at its court behind closed doors on Apr. 30, 2013 at his request in accordance with Section 270 of the DPRK Criminal Procedure Law.
As he refused pleading, the court did not allow the presence of a counsel, pursuant to Section 275 of the above-said law.
In the course of hearing Pae admitted all his crimes and they were clearly proved in an objective manner by evidence and testimonies made by witnesses.
The court sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor in consideration of candid confession of his crimes though they are liable to face death penalty or life imprisonment for an attempt at state subversion according to Section 60 of the DPRK Criminal Code.
Pae will be fully guaranteed the right as a prisoner according to the DPRK law while in jail.
Pyongyang, May 2 (KCNA) — A trial of Pae Jun Ho, an American citizen, took place held at the Supreme Court of the DPRK on April 30. He was arrested while committing hostile acts against the DPRK after entering Rason City as a tourist on Nov. 3 last year.
The Supreme Court sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labor for this crime.
Pyongyang, April 27 (KCNA) — The preliminary inquiry into crimes committed by American citizen Pae Jun Ho closed. He entered Rason City of the DPRK on Nov. 3 last year for the purpose of tour and was arrested for committing crimes against the DPRK.
In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it. His crimes were proved by evidence.
He will soon be taken to the Supreme Court of the DPRK to face judgment.
UPDATE 11 (2013-1-28): In the Korea Herald, Namkung refers to serious charges leveled against Mr. Bae:
“My understanding is that he has been accused of serious crimes including plotting to overthrow the regime and assassinating the leadership,” Namkung said in an email interview.
“Richardson’s hope was to see the detainee, Kenneth Bae, and if possible, bring him home. However, North Korea was not cooperative in this regard.”
For weeks, North Korea has refused to allow the United States government to contact a Korean-American man detained in the communist nation, the State Department said Friday.
“As we said about three or four weeks ago, we had contact through our Swedish protecting power. We have not been able to have another contact since then. We continue to ask,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.
She was responding to a question on Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour operator who was arrested by North Korea’s security authorities in early November.
UPDATE 9 (2013-1-11):Retuers reports that Richardson delivered a letter for Bae:
Richardson was unable meet with Korean-American Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old tourist who was detained in North Korea late last year, but he said he was able to give a letter from Bae’s son to authorities.
“I delivered the letter to North Korean officials,” Richardson told Reuters on Friday. “They said they would provide that to him.”
UPDATE 8 (2013-1-10): KCNA reports that the Richardson delegation has left the DPRK:
Delegation of Google Inc. of U.S. Flies Back
Pyongyang, January 10 (KCNA) — The delegation of the Google Inc. of the U.S. headed by Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico State, left here on Thursday.
No reports of any meetings were reported while the delegation visited the DPRK.
The delegation did hold a press conference at Beijing Capital Airport. Bloomberg reports:
“As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world,” Schmidt told reporters today at the Beijing airport after the visit to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. “The government has to do something — they have to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government in North Korea has not yet done. It is time now for them to start or they will remain behind.”
Schmidt said that North Korea’s existing mobile-phone network, operated in a joint venture with Orascom Telecom Media & Technology Holding SAE, could be retooled to offer Internet access. There are about 1 million phones on the network, Schmidt said.
“It would be very easy for them to turn that on,” Schmidt said.
Mr. Richardson said he told North Korea’s top vice minister for nuclear negotiations that Pyongyang should temper its nuclear-development efforts. “We need dialogue on the peninsula, not confrontation,” he told reporters. He also said he pushed Pyongyang for a moratorium on ballistic-missile tests, and that officials responded by insisting that the recent satellite launch was for peaceful reasons.
“I must say I personally disagree,” he said.
Mr. Richardson also said he pressed North Korean officials about an American who is being detained there, and was encouraged by their statements that judicial proceedings will begin soon and that the detainee’s health is good. It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Richardson’s delegation met with the detainee, 44-year-old Kenneth Bae, held since late last year on unspecified charges.
UPDATE 7 (2013-1-9): The Richardson delegation visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun. There are no photos or videos of this trip. No doubt Gov. Richardson would be nervous about pictures of him paying homage to the memories of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
UPDATE 6 (2013-1-9): KCNA reports that the Richardson delegation is touring Pyongyang:
Delegation of Google Inc. of U.S. Tours Pyongyang
Pyongyang, January 9 (KCNA) — A delegation of the Google Inc. of the U.S. headed by Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico State, Wednesday visited the Grand People’s Study House here.
The guests went round several reading rooms and lecture rooms, being briefed on the fact that people and students acquire knowledge about modern science and technology and improve their cultural attainments at the study house.
They also visited the E-library of Kim Il Sung University, Korean Computer Center, etc.
The visit to Kim Il-sung University was featured on the 1-8 evening news. See it here.
The visit to the Grand Peoples Study house was featured on the 1-9 evening news. See it here.
Schmidt and Cohen chatted with students working on HP desktop computers at an “e-library” at the university named after North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. One student showed Schmidt how he accesses reading materials from Cornell University online on a computer with a red tag denoting it as a gift from Kim Jong Il.
“He’s actually going to a Cornell site,” Schmidt told Richardson after peering at the URL.
Cohen asked a student how he searches for information online. The student clicked on Google — “That’s where I work!” Cohen said — and then asked to be able to type in his own search: “New York City.” Cohen clicked on a Wikipedia page for the city, pointing at a photo and telling the student, “That’s where I live.”
Kim Su Hyang, a librarian, said students at Kim Il Sung University have had Internet access since the laboratory opened in April 2010. School officials said the library is open from 8 a.m. to midnight, even when school is not in session, like Tuesday.
While university students at Kim Chaek University of Science and Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology also have carefully monitored Internet access — and are under strict instructions to access only educational materials — most North Koreans have never surfed the Web.
Computers at Pyongyang’s main library at the Grand People’s Study house are linked to a domestic Intranet service that allows them to read state-run media online and access a trove of reading materials culled by North Korean officials. North Koreans with computers at home can also sign up for the Intranet service.
But access to the World Wide Web is extremely rare and often is limited to those with clearance to get on the Internet.
At Kim Chaek University, instructors and students wishing to use the Internet must register first for permission and submit an application with their requests for research online, Ryu Sun Ryol, head of the e-library, said.
But he said it is only a matter of time before Internet use becomes widespread.
“We will start having access to the Internet soon,” he said in an interview last month. He said North Korea is in the midst of a major push to expand computer use in every classroom and workplace.
UPDATE 5 (2013-1-7): Even though this delegation is run by Bill Richardson for “humanitarian” purposes, KCNA is emphasizing the business angle. Here is the KCNA report of the delegation’s arrival:
Delegation of Google Inc. of U.S. Arrives
Pyongyang, January 7 (KCNA) — A delegation of the Google Inc. of the U.S. headed by Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico State, arrived here on Monday by air.
Here is KCNA video that has been ripped and uploaded to You Tube:
UPDATE 4 (2012-1-5):Wired published a statement from Richardson’s office which details who is in the delegation:
Governor Bill Richardson will travel to North Korea next week on a private humanitarian mission. The delegation will consist of former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Dr. KA Namkung, Director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen; as well as some staff members.
Since no media is accompanying the delegation, Gov. Richardson will have a press availability at the Beijing Airport on Thursday, January 10th.
UPDATE 3 (2013-1-3): According to Reuters, the US Department of State has criticized the Richardson delegation to the DPRK. According to the article:
The State Department said on Thursday the time was not right for Google Inc Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and former diplomat Bill Richardson to visit North Korea, which drew international criticism for a rocket launch last month.
State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said Schmidt and Richardson would be traveling as private citizens, not representatives of the U.S. government.
“Frankly, we don’t think the timing of this is particularly helpful,” Nuland told reporters, citing North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket in December. “They are well aware of our views.”
“We are obviously aware of the trip that has been announced,” [Nuland] said, later correcting herself to say that the department was aware of media reports about the trip.
“They are private citizens. They are traveling in an unofficial capacity,” she said. “They are not going to be accompanied by any U.S. officials. They are not carrying any messages from us. They are private citizens and they are making their own decisions.”
On Wednesday, Google did not respond directly to a question about whether Schmidt was going to North Korea, although a spokeswoman’s response suggested a visit would not be for company business.
UPDATE 2 (2013-1-2): According to the Associated Press, Bill Richardson is reportedly headed to the DPRK. Though the article does not mention it, he will likely be working for the release of Mr. Bae. The news of Mr. Richardson’s visit is overshadowed by his travel companion, Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt. According to the article:
Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea on a private, humanitarian mission led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that could take place as early as this month, according to two people familiar with the group’s plans who asked not to be named because the visit had not been made public.
The trip would be the first by a top executive from U.S.-based Google, the world’s largest Internet search provider, to a country considered to have the most restrictive Internet policies on the planet.
UPDATE 1 (2012-12-21): The DPRK announces it has arrested another American. According to KCNA:
American Arrested in DPRK for Committing Crime
Pyongyang, December 21 (KCNA) — The Korean Central News Agency released the following report on Friday:
American citizen Pae Jun Ho who entered Rason City of the DPRK on Nov. 3 for the purpose of tour committed a crime against the DPRK. He was put into custody by a relevant institution.
In the process of investigation evidence proving that he committed a crime against the DPRK was revealed. He admitted his crime.
Consular officials of the Swedish embassy, which look after interests of the U.S. in the DPRK, visited him Friday.
Legal actions are being taken against Pae in line with the criminal procedure law of the DPRK.
Original Post (2012-12-13): The DPRK is allegedly holding another American citizen. According to the New York Times:
A 44-year-old American citizen has been held in North Korea for a month, a human rights activist in Seoul said Thursday, addressing unconfirmed reports that had circulated in the South Korean news media for several days.
The American, Kenneth Bae, runs a travel company that specializes in taking tourists and prospective investors to North Korea. He had visited the North several times without incident before being detained in early November, according to the activist, Do Hee-youn, who heads the Citizens’ Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees, based in Seoul. Mr. Do said he had learned of Mr. Bae’s detention through a mutual friend in China.
South Korean news reports on Thursday said that Mr. Bae, a naturalized United States citizen born in South Korea, was detained after escorting five European tourists into North Korea through the city of Rajin on Nov. 3. The Europeans were allowed to leave the country, the reports said. North Korea operates a free-trade zone in Rajin, which is near the Russian border, but it has had difficulty attracting foreign investors.
Mr. Do said he had few details about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Bae’s reported arrest. The South Korean daily newspaper Kookmin Ilbo cited an unnamed source as saying that Mr. Bae was detained after North Korean security officials found a computer hard disk in his possession that they believed contained delicate information about the country. Mr. Bae was later transferred to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, for further investigation, according to that report.
Mr. Do said that Mr. Bae was interested in helping orphans who beg for food in North Korean markets. “The most plausible scenario I can think of is that he took some pictures of the orphans, and the North Korean authorities considered that an act of anti-North Korean propaganda,” he said.
Inside Air Koryo:Martyn Williams notified me of this web page put up by tourists that took an aviation tour in the DPRK. Some incredible photos to be seen. Here is just one:
The photo set also includes interior pictures of the “famous” Ilyushin-14 given to Kim Il-sung. UPDATE: The source claims that Stalin gave the plane to Kim Il-sung in 1955, however, as a reader points out, Stalin died in 1953.
Mobile phones: A few days ago, NK News posted a link to these photos taken by Russian tourists to the DPRK. Among the lot was this great photo of North Koreans filming/photographing fireworks in Pyongyang with their mobile phones:
Rodong Sinmun photoshop: Perhaps it is unfair to hold Rodong Sinmun to the highest standards of professional journalism, but if you are going to photo-shop a picture, at least put some effort into it:
Click picture for larger version.
I am unsure why Rodong Sinmun felt compelled to badly photoshop what would otherwise have been a lovely photo. Is it really so hard to get a photo of a girl playing a violin in front of her (very loyal) family?
Rodong Sinmun has inspired me to coin a new word: Frankenphoto. Here is a working definition: When all of the compositional elements of a single photo were originally copied from separate pieces and painfully (badly) rendered together into a new image that at times seems to violate the laws of nature.
Just weird [revised]: Below is a very strange act that appeared on North Korean television. I did not understand it at all. After posting it, however, a reader informs me that is is a knock off of an act that appeared on Soviet Television. The original Latvian actor was named Arkady Raikin (Аркадий Райкин). See video of Raikin here. Wikipedia page here.
In this North Korean version, skip to the 3:26 mark. New characters emerge at 5:26, 7:08, 8:17, 10:06.
Sawiris has a 75% stake in Koryolink via his Orascom Telecom Media & Technology (OTMT) unit, with the remainder held by a company under the Ministry of Post & Telecommunications. He says revenues in 2012 should reach around €186 million ($145 million), with an average revenue per user of €8.6. The network only permits domestic calls and locally hosted data services. A separate cell network is available for foreigners in North Korea.
FORBES: How many subscribers does Koryolink have? How extensive is your coverage in DPRK?
NAGUIB SAWIRIS: Koryolink currently has more than 1.5 million subscribers. Coverage includes the capital Pyongyang in addition to 15 main cities, more than 100 small cities, and some highways and railways. Territory coverage is around 14%, and more than 90% population coverage. The subscriber base has been increasing at a very healthy rate from 950,000 at [year-end] 2011 to an estimated 1.7 million at [year-end] 2012.
FORBES: Under your joint venture with the Ministry of Telecommunications, when will Koryolink lose its exclusivity? What will happen after this period ends?
NS: Exclusivity was granted for a period of 4 years from launch. After the expiry of exclusivity in Dec. 2012, Koryolink received written confirmation that for an additional period of 3 years (until 2015) no foreign investors will be allowed in the mobile business. However, we are continuing to expand our network and services to further solidify our position [in order] to be ready for any possible competition.
FORBES: What is your role in the construction of the Ryugyong Hotel? What other real estate interests do you have in DPRK?
NS: This is a special investment that we are maintaining through our banking subsidiary in the DPRK, where Orascom has the right to operate this facility. The construction, repair and facade installations have all been completed last summer. We are planning to relocate Koryolink headquarters into the tower very soon to bring life to the building. There are no other real-estate investments in the DPRK, however, Orabank, our banking arm in DPRK, is actively working towards developing mobile-related businesses and projects.
First, the individual wishing to obtain a cell phone must go to his or her local Communications Technology Management Office (통신통화관리국 or CTMO; in provincial capitals only) or a subordinate arm of the same (in smaller cities) to obtain a three page application form. This form, once filled in, must be stamped by the Ministry of Public Security officer assigned to the individual’s workplace or, for those without official workplaces, attached to his or her local people’s unit.
Having paid off the public security official in cigarettes or cash (more often the former, according to this author’s sources, because it arouses less friction) he or she must submit the stamped form to the CTMO or equivalent, whereupon it is sent, with all the speed one would expect of the North Korean transportation network, to the Ministry of Communications in Pyongyang. At this point there is little else to be done but go away and pitch the proverbial tent, because at best it takes a month for the staff in the revolutionary capital to process the application.
Assuming, and it should not be assumed, that those checks done in Pyongyang don’t yield any incriminating evidence of wrongdoing (don’t forget, the North Korean legal system makes every adult a criminal in one way or another, something which can come back and haunt any individual whenever “rents” are desired), the individual will eventually be ordered back to his local communications office, whereupon he will be handed a payment form. He or she must then take this form to a bank, and engage with the separate, and no less inefficient, bureaucracy therein in order to pay the majority (though not all) of the cost of a phone and Koryolink network activation fee.
The payment form, duly stamped by a functionary at the bank, must then be taken back to the CTMO or equivalent, whereupon it can be exchanged for half the stamped application form originally sought from the ministry in Pyongyang. Here, finally, the individual reaches a watershed moment: this form can actually be exchanged for a cellular telephone!
However, the pain is actually quite a long way short of being over. In a moment of uncharacteristic efficiency, the actual cell phone shop is often directly outside the communications office, but in a moment of karma-balancing inefficiency, it doesn’t open much, carries a limited amount of product and is pitifully understaffed. As a result, queues are long, as are waits. Assuming an individual lives long enough to reach the front of such a queue, he or she is finally offered the opportunity to hand over another $70-$100 and depart the scene with a brand new phone.
Therefore, the source said, “Middlemen in larger cities are getting multiple phones activated in random people’s names and then taking them to smaller cities to sell. Alternatively, households that don’t have any problem getting that kind of approval are mobilizing the names of their entire families to get phones, which they are then selling on to the middlemen.”
“The end users are buying these cell phones for $300 to $500 from the middlemen or from private sellers. This saves them having to go to the trouble of applying to Koryolink,” he added.
A basic Koryolink phone can be purchased officially for roughly $270- $300, excluding bribes and extraneous costs. The price of one of these semi-legal phones depends on duration of use and model. The best product, the T1, a clamshell design, is the latest and costs more than $500. The next mid-range model is the T3, another clamshell; there is also a similarly priced phone with a slide design. The budget offerings are the T95 and T107. Differences in price are mostly attributable to differences in sound quality rather than the designs, sources assert.
In addition, there are also phones available for use within individual provinces. These products, which are similar to the so-called “city phones” that were briefly permitted in the late 90s but soon got withdrawn, cost just $70 at the time of writing.
Geoffrey See of Choson Exchange also offers some insight on Ora Bank’s mobile-related business projects:
However, it appears that Naguib, Chairman of Orascom, might have other ideas. In his words, “Orabank, our banking arm in DPRK, is actively working towards developing mobile-related businesses and projects.” The 3G network provides a platform for a range of other services that emerging market economies would need including remittances and payments through mobile banking and mobile payments. Given the primitive development of the services sector, mobile provides an opportunity for Orascom to upend the services industry in North Korea.
This was something I was originally looking at in North Korea. Payments are currently messy in the country. On a previous trip, I remembered an account of a North Korean trying to pay the handphone bill. Apparently the payment went to the wrong account, and the North Koreans spent the morning calling and shouting at some people to make the mistaken beneficiary return the money so that the payment could go to the right account. For what mobile banking and payments could potentially look like in North Korea, check out M-pesa.
Read the full story here:
Pyongyang Calling For Egyptian Telecoms Tycoon Naguib Sawiris Forbes
According to the Northeast Asian Broadcasting Institute (NABI), the authorities made their first move in March this year, replacing the shortwave transmission equipment at Kanggye Transmission Station in Jagang Province with modern equipment made by Beijing BBEF Electronics Group Co. Kanggye Transmission Station is one of three high output shortwave transmission facilities in North Korea, with the other two being at Pyongyang and in Gujang County, North Pyongan Province.
The measures come pursuant to a June 2011 agreement signed between the North Korean Ministry of Communications and BBEF, under which the latter is required to provide North Korea with modern radio and television transmission equipment and training in its use.
North Korea has two shortwave broadcasters; Chosun Central 1st Broadcast and Pyongyang Broadcast. The first is for the domestic and international audience while the latter serves the international audience only, leading to the assumption that North Korea is replacing its existing transmitters in order to improve its broadcasts targeting South Korea. With the sort of modern equipment arriving from BBEF, North Korean broadcasts will be receivable anywhere in South Korea, no matter where in the North they are broadcast from.
According to NABI, North Korea’s shortwave broadcasting capacity was previously very weak due to worn out and broken equipment. Signal strength was particularly weak, meaning that listeners tended to receive a different channel even when tuned directly to the intended broadcast frequency. According to one defector from Pyongyang who arrived in South Korea in June 2011, the signal strength of Chosun Central 1st Broadcast was so weak at times that it was even unlistenable in most regions of North Korea.
However, the quality has recently improved dramatically, as Park Sung Moon of NABI explained to Daily NK, saying, “Recent analysis of North Korea’s shortwave Chosun Central 1st Broadcast and Pyongyang Broadcast reveal that they are being broadcast clearly and consistently, without interference or signal shifting.”
“In particular, Pyongyang Broadcast is much better than it used to be, but the overall broadcast situation has gotten a lot better,” Park added, going on, “It looks like they have imported the Chinese transmission equipment to improve their South Korea broadcasting.”
Professor Choi Hyung Jin of Sungkyungwan University Information and Communications Department agreed, adding, “If a transmitter is old and worn out then it either takes excessive power to function or the signal strength weakens. Either way, the effect of the broadcast system itself is detrimentally affected. Notably, listeners often cannot hear the broadcast. If you want people to listen, you have to improve your transmitters.”
The other side of the coin is that improved shortwave transmission strength stops incoming signals from reaching listeners.
According to one defector who used to be a part of the Party Propaganda and Agitation Department, “They know that when the Chosun Central 1st Broadcast signal strength is weak, it regularly arrives with outside broadcasts mixed in. I think they want to stop this happening.”
Though I have located many communications towers on satellite imagery of the DPRK, I have yet to definitively identify any of the DPRK’s short wave radio broadcast towers (Pyongyang, Kujang, Kanggye). If you have any information on them, please let me know.