Archive for the ‘Email’ Category

Sawaris second DPRK trip and KoryoLink subscription data

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

The CEO of Egypt’s Orascom Telecom, Naguib Sawiris, has made his second visit to the DPRK. You can read about his first visit in January 2011 here.

Pictured above (KCNA): Naguib Sawiris meets with Kim Yong-nam.

KCNA reported that Mr.Sawiris arrived on February 1 (video here):

Pyongyang, February 1 (KCNA) — Naguib Sawiris, executive chairman of the Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holdings SAE, and his companion arrived here on Wednesday.

On February 2, KCNA reported that Mr. Sawiris met with Kim Yong-nam (video here):

Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, met and had a friendly talk with Naguib Sawiris, executive chairman of the Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holdings SAE of Egypt, and his companion who paid a courtesy call on him at the Mansudae Assembly Hall Thursday.

KCNA reported that Sawiris left on February 3, however, before leaving he praised Kim Jong-il and offered a gift to Kim Jong-un. Accoridng to KCNA:

Naguib Sawiris, executive chairman of the Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holdings SAE of Egypt, was interviewed by KCNA before his departure from here.

Expressing profound reverence for leader Kim Jong Il, he said:

The Korean people lost a great leader. I also lost the most friendly man. General Kim Jong Il was a great father of the people.

I can never forget the day when I had the honor of being received by him.

While meeting him, I was totally attracted by his humanity.

He was the greatest man possessed of the noblest virtue.

His untimely passing was a great loss not only to the Korean people but to progressive humankind.

He devoted his all to his people with ardent love for the people.

While staying in the DPRK I was deeply moved to visit the Pyongyang Children’s Foodstuff Factory honored with the leadership provided by Kim Jong Il.

He paid deep attention to the operation of the factory.

The tireless efforts made by him for the happiness of the people will be conveyed to posterity for all ages.

The Korean people are energetically pushing forward socialist construction under the sagacious leadership of supreme leader Kim Jong Un.

I sincerely rejoice over the achievements made by the Korean people.

I wish the Korean people greater progress.

I would like to make a positive contribution to boosting the exchange with the DPRK.

His gift to Kim Jong-un remains unknown for now:

The dear respected Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the Korean people, received a gift from the executive chairman of the Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holdings SAE of Egypt.

Chairman Naguib Sawiris handed it to an official concerned on Thursday.

While in the DPRK, Orascom holding announced that it had reached 1 million mobile phone subscribers in the DPRK. According to Bloomberg:

Orascom Telecom Media & Technology Holding SAE, an Egyptian mobile-phone operator headed by billionaire Naguib Sawiris, said its subscribers in North Korea exceeded 1 million.

The Cairo-based company made the annoucement in a regulatory filing today.

The Economist offers some business statistics:

Koryolink earns a gross margin of 80%, making North Korea by far the most profitable market in which Orascom operates. The company has worked hard to court the regime, its chairman travelling to Pyongyang last year to meet the late supreme leader, Kim Jong Il.

North Korean mobile-phone users spend an average of $13.90 a month on calls and text messages, and they tend to pay in hard currency. According to a foreign diplomat, many customers turn up at Koryolink shops with bundles of euro notes. There are even incentives for paying in euros, such as free off-peak calls. This provides foreign currency for a government that craves it.

Mobile-phone customers obtain the hard currency from the informal private trading on which many North Koreans depend. Such business is forbidden, but the government has failed to feed its people, forcing it to turn a blind eye to some capitalist practices. Many insiders benefit: Pyongyang’s “golden couples” consist of a government-official husband and an entrepreneur wife.

Mobile usage now appears to be spreading beyond Pyongyang. The gadgets are a common sight in other cities such as Nampo, not far from the capital, and increasingly are owned by non-officials. As yet, though, only a sixth of the country has a mobile signal.

Martyn Williams has specifics on the corporate structure of the service and service statistics:

The company is operated by Cheo Technology, which is a joint venture between Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media And Technology Holding (OTMT) and North Korea’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. OTMT holds a 75 percent stake and the North Korean government owns the remaining 25 percent.

Koryolink’s service has popularized cell phones and visitors to Pyongyang say they are now a common site on the city streets. The Koryolink network covers the capital city in addition to 14 major cities, 86 smaller cities, and 22 highways. That equals 14 percent of the landmass but about 94 percent of the population, according to Orascom.


Apple iPads spotted in Pyongyang

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): Changwang street runs north from the Pyongyang Central Train Station to the Potonggang Gate–straight through the Workers’ Party Leadership Compound (AKA the “Forbidden City”)

According to the Daily NK:

As the use of multimedia devices continues to spread among wealthy kids from the Pyongyang elite keen to ride the ‘Korean Wave’ of South Korean cultural influences, it appears that ownership of an Apple i-Pad tablet computer has now also become one symbol of ‘cool.’

The most common and popular multimedia devices used by younger generations in Pyongyang are still MP4 players and DVD playback devices with USB compatibility, of course; however, on Changgwang St. in the very heart of Pyongyang a few people have recently been witnessed wielding the popular Apple machines.

“Notebook computers are pretty common in Pyongyang,” one Chinese businessman who visits Pyongyang 2 to 3 times a year told Daily NK on the 6th, “But i-Pads are now a symbol of wealth; someone in Pyongyang requested one from me for their child.”

“I also witnessed a person using an i-Pad on Changgwang Street and PSM officers did not stop this, while the user did not seem to care about getting in trouble,” the source went on, adding, “There are many foreigners in that area so they are probably trying to adopt a sophisticated image.”

One Orascom official also previously reported witnessing the use of an i-Pad in Pyongyang. However, it is not possible to use the product’s 3G cellular facility in the city as yet.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA) on the 8th, an official with the Egyptian company stated, “We are planning to develop a SIM card so that I-pads can be used in North Korea by the end of this year,” explaining “There is a 3G network for cell phones in North Korea, so as long as you insert a SIM card you’ll be able to use it.”

Naturally, the internet is not available to domestic users of phones in North Korea either, while the i-Pad is renowned worldwide for its lack of USB ports, too, much less a DVD drive, so while the elite may be obtaining the devices one way or another, only those lucky enough to live abroad can really use them.

iPods have been popular in the DPRK for some time. More than once have tourists been propositioned to give up their portable music devices.

Read the full story here:
Even i-Pads Are in Pyongyang Now
Daily NK
Park Jun Hyeong


North Korea on the Cusp of Digital Transformation

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

The Nautilus Institute has published a new paper by Alexandre Mansurov on the DPRK’s communication and technology sectors.  The press release and a link to the paper are below:


The DPRK mobile communications industry has crossed the Rubicon, and the North Korean government can no longer roll it back without paying a severe political price. The most the authorities can do now is probably to manage its rapid expansion in such a way that will ensure that the interests of the political regime and state security are taken care of first.

While traditionally, the State Security Department monitored most communications on a daily basis, the implication of this explosion of mobile phone use is that communication in North Korea has transitioned from a panopticon of total control to a voluntary compliance system where the government makes an example of a select group to try and force the rest of the country to stay in line.

Alexandre Y. Mansourov, a Nautilus Institute Senior Associate, comprehensively examines information technology in North Korea. As of 2008 the regime launched a world-class 3G mobile communications service, which gained almost 700,000 users in less than three years of operation, revealing an insatiable demand for more robust and extensive telecommunications services among the North Korean general population.

Download the report here

About the Nautilus Institute: Since its founding in 1992, the Nautilus Institute ( has evolved into a thriving public policy think-tank and community resource. The Institute addresses a myriad of critical security and sustainability issues including the United States nuclear policy in Korea and energy, resource and environmental insecurity in Northeast Asia. Over the years, Nautilus has built a reputation for innovative research and analysis of critical global problems and translating ideas into practical solutions, often with high impact.

For more information, contact the Nautilus Institute at [email protected] or at 415 422 5523.

Here is Yonahp coverage of the report.


Orascom plans to offer mobile Internet service in DPRK

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Via Geoffrey See at Choson Exchange:

On my last trip to Pyongyang, I had the opportunity to catch up with some Egyptian expatriates from Orascom Telecom Holding over popcorn and whiskey. They were also kind enough to bring our team clubbing into the wee hours of morning.

Orascom Holdings is three companies each headed by a different brother of the Orascom family. Orascom Telecoms is headed by Naguib Sawiris, while the resorts arm Orascom Development is run by Samir Sawiris, and the construction arm Orascom Construction by another brother. All three brothers have stakes in different assets in North Korea, with the infamous Ryuggyong Hotel owned by Samih Sawiris. As of May 2010, when I had met Samih Sawiris in Switzerland, he had yet to visit Pyongyang. Recent pictures from Pyongyang indicate that this has changed.

The most exciting development to us was Orascom’s 3G Internet service which was still under the testing phase. The plan is to roll out this service in the near future, although the service will only be available to resident foreigners in the initial phase. Approval for this service to be provided on a larger-scale to North Korean citizens, in any censored form, has yet to be given although the infrastructure to do so is in place. For foreign residents in Pyongyang, the service could offer cost-savings of up to 60-80 percent over current satellite internet offerings. There is no information on what security trade-off such a service might entail.

We also discussed text advertising and the current mobile service business. While text advertising is possible, there has yet to be approval for the company to run such a service. Currently, handsets cost Euro 50 each and there is a monthly subscription fee of 900 Won (we are not sure how this cost scales with usage). For reference, the unofficial exchange rate has fluctuated around 2500 to 3500 Won to 1 Euro this year.

Click here to see previous posts about Orascom and cell phones in the DPRK.


Int’l Press Gets Glimpse of N.Korea’s Daily Grind

Monday, October 12th, 2009

The Choson Ilbo recently posted an article which contained several interesting facts.  Quoting from the article:

A W35 million price tag for the Internet connection to transmit a five-minute piece of footage is only one of the endless list of inconveniences that make up daily life in North Korea (US$1=W1,163). Kristine Kwok, a reporter for Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post who accompanied Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on his visit to North Korea on Oct. 4 to 6, recounts them in a story titled “Life in the Hermit Kingdom.”

“Accessing the Internet is a distant dream for North Korean citizens and an expensive luxury for visiting foreigners,” Kwok wrote. “Filing a news report of Wen shaking hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il would cost a TV station the equivalent of HK$233,472. The North Korean Foreign Ministry eventually decided to pay all the Internet fees for the reporters –much to their relief.”

The report said North Korea’s 24 million people are barred from the Internet, with connections available only in some hotels, where sending a picture costs around W68,000 and a single email W3,400. North Korea has set up road blocks along the information super highway and is committing “robbery,” Kwok added.

The last time I visited the DPRK, I recall that emails and phone calls from the Yangakdo Hotel are exorbitant–also, there are no phone books available and switch board operators (yes, they still have them) are of no help. If you don’t know the number you need to call you have to get creative.  But, with prices like that you would think the DPRK would like more journalists to visit!

Also mentioned in the article is Pyongyang’s new fast-food Samtaesong Restaurant, which I blogged about here when it opened.  According to the article “Samtaesong” translates to “three big stars”.  I am going to go out on a limb and guess that those three stars are the “Three Stars of Paektu: Kim il Sung, Kim Jong Suk, and Kim Jong il.”  now you can show your loyalty to the three stars while eating a burger, which is much more pleasant than standing silently in line formation under the hot sun for hours on end while political leaders you have never met read long speeches to you.

Also, “The most expensive item on the menu is ‘crispy chicken,’ which costs 3 euros, while a hamburger costs between 1.2 to 1.7 euros. That is high given the fact that North Korea’s per-capita GDP was US$1,000 last year, but AFP said Samtaeseong sells 300 burgers each day.”

Read the full article here:
Int’l Press Gets Glimpse of N.Korea’s Daily Grind
Choson Ilbo


Koryolink mobile services

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

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:


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)

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


Wireless Comms, Internet in Kaesong Industrial Complex and Kumgang Mountain Tourist Resort

Monday, December 17th, 2007

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 07-12-17-1


North and South Korea are poised to allow Internet, telephone, and cellular services to be available in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and at the Kumgang Mountain Tourist Resort beginning next year. The 7th Defense Ministerial Talks opened on December 12 at the ‘Peace House’ on the South Korean side of Panmunjum, and at the meeting, North and South Korea reached an agreement regarding communications, transportation, and customs.

According to the agreement, Pyongyang has given permission for the use of Internet landlines and cellular phones in the two largest inter-Korean cooperative projects. However, while the South Koreans pushed for the inclusion of “mobile phones” in the agreement, the North insisted on “wireless telephone communications”, suggesting that they hope to use dual-use wired telephones rather than mobile cellular phones.

In addition, under the agreement, North and South Korean rail and road traffic will be allowed to cross the border daily from 7:00am to 10pm, with the exception of Sundays and official holidays. Currently traffic in the area is limited to 7am~6pm in the summer, and 8am~5pm in the winter months.

The two sides also agreed to new procedures aimed at simplifying customs inspections and reducing delivery delays. From now on, the two sides will exchange lists of goods being moved, after which time any specific good that is flagged will be inspected. Currently, both sides are required to supply a list of goods to be pass through the area three days in advance, and every piece is individually inspected, complicating customs procedures.

The agreement was signed ROK Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo and Kim Il-chul, minister of the DPRK People’s Armed Forces, and went into effect on December 13. With this agreement, exchange and cooperation in the KIC and Kumgang Mountain resort are expected to even more actively grow.


North Korea Google Earth (Version 7)

Friday, December 14th, 2007

The most authoritative map of North Korea on Google Earth
North Korea Uncovered v.7
Download it here

koreaisland.JPGThis map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the sixth version.

Additions to the latest version of “North Korea Uncovered” include: A Korean War folder featuring overlays of US attacks on the Sui Ho Dam, Yalu Bridge, and Nakwon Munitians Plant (before/after), plus other locations such as the Hoeryong Revolutionary Site, Ponghwa Revolutionary Site, Taechon reactor (overlay), Pyongyang Railway Museum, Kwangmyong Salt Works, Woljong Temple, Sansong Revolutionary Site, Jongbansan Fort and park, Jangsan Cape, Yongbyon House of Culture, Chongsokjong, Lake Yonpung, Nortern Limit Line (NLL), Sinuiju Old Fort Walls, Pyongyang open air market, and confirmed Pyongyang Intranet nodes.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.


Surfing Net in North Korea

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

Kim Jong-il loves to surf the net. In 2001 he asked the U.S. Secretary of State for her e-mail address, and in 2002 he told a visiting North Korean dignitary that he spent much time going through South Korean sites. He repeated this statement during the recent summit describing himself as ”an internet expert.”

Despite his relatively advanced age, Kim Jong-il takes the IT industry seriously. He obviously believes that the IT industry might become a wunderwaffen (super weapon) which one day will save the ailing North Korean economy (Kim Jong-il has always believed in simple, one-step, technology-based fixes for problems).

Now and then, news agencies report on North Korean efforts to train software specialists, or on a technology firm established by the North Koreans, or even on Kim Jong-il’s plans to create a large industrial complex which would become the North Korean reply to the Silicon Valley.

Efforts to create a computer industry go back to the late 1970s. In those days, the U.N. Development Program helped the North build a small pilot integrated circuit plant. Its history was plagued by one misfortune after another: the plant’s building proved to be badly insulated, the electricity supply was unreliable, and the engineers who were sent overseas for training arrived too late (most of them did not speak English, anyway). However, by late 1985 the plant was operational, producing ICs, an essential component of a computer.

By the early 1990s, the North was producing some 20,000 computers a year. Not much, but enough to provide for the military and even earn some money from export (over 60 percent of them were said to be exported).

In the early 1990s the North Koreans developed their own software, including a word processor. The latter had, among others, a peculiar function: it could automatically insert the names of the Great Leader and Dear Leader through a specially designated hot key.

In the North the PC was never meant to be a personal computer. It is reserved for office or industrial use, not for home – not least because the Internet is unavailable. For a regime which (correctly) assumes that its survival depends on its ability to keep the populace ignorant about outside world, the internet presents a mortal danger. Matters are further exacerbated by the unique success of the South Korean internet. If North Koreans were allowed to surf the numerous Southern sites at will, the carefully constructed picture of the world would instantly fall apart.

Thus, the internet is outlawed – but not completely. In recent years, foreign embassies have been allowed to connect to Chinese internet providers, but they have to pay the exorbitant fee for an overseas call (currently, $2 a minute). The connection is unreliable, but if your bills are paid by your country’s taxpayers, you probably can check your email… Access to email through business centers and even Internet cafes is becoming possible as well _ as long as one is a foreigner and is willing to pay exorbitant prices.

Only the privileged few have unlimited high-speed access to the Internet. But these trusted people are numbered in the hundreds or, perhaps, count a few thousands. Access is provided for the military, intelligence, and few privileged research centers only. Rooms where the internet-connected computers are installed are considered off limits for the North Korean personnel, and only people with proper security clearance can access this source of dangerous knowledge.

Less privileged institutions have access to local networks with limited connections to the World Wide Web. Their task is to let scientists and engineers retrieve the data they need without unduly exposing them to the dangers of overseas decadence.

There have been attempts to make money through IT. None of the grand plans for selling locally developed software on the international market have come to fruition, but there are easier ways to make a buck. In 2002 the North Koreans started an on-line gambling site in cooperation with a South Korean company. It targeted South Koreans, since gambling is illegal here. Its message board attracted much popularity since it was a place where the Southerners could exchange messages with the North Korean staff. The ability to chat with the Northerners was exciting (even though the largely young participants probably did not realize to which extent their interlocutors were controlled). The combination of gambling and propaganda obviously terrified Seoul, and the site was closed down.

Another area where North Koreans are trying their luck (and obviously not without moderate success) are game development and computer animation. Indeed, even major studios are sometimes inclined to outsource their animation work to North Korea.

The Internet remains a hot potato for the North Korean leaders. They understand its importance, but they do not know what to do about its political dangers. While facing such a choice, they have always opted for political security.


Efforts Redoubled to Build Economic Power

Thursday, February 8th, 2007


Redoubled efforts are being made to build a socialist economic power in the DPRK. The people are turning out in the grand march for perfecting the looks of a great, prosperous and powerful nation, full of confidence in sure victory and optimism.

The DPRK has consolidated the foundation for building an economic power over the last years.

The Workers’ Party of Korea has developed in depth President Kim Il Sung’s idea on economy as required by the developing revolution and thus provided unswerving guidelines for building an economic power.

While implementing the revolutionary economic policies of the WPK such as the line on economic construction in the Songun era with main emphasis on the development of the munitions industry and the policy of putting the national economy on a modern footing and IT, the Korean people have been firmly convinced that they will certainly build an economic power in this land when they work as indicated by the Party.

The army-people unity has developed as the oneness of army and people in terms of ideology and fighting spirit in the Songun era. It constitutes a powerful impetus to the construction of the economic power.

The Kanggye spirit, torchlight of Songgang and the Thaechon stamina have been created while the whole society following the revolutionary soldier spirit. The efforts have brought about a great change in the overall socialist construction.

Through the heroic endeavors, the people replete with faith in the future of prosperity have put industrial establishments, once stopped, on normalization of production and erected many monumental edifices including the Thaechon Youth Power Station No. 4.

An importance has been attached to science. A large army of intellectuals are paving the shortcut to the construction of an economic power with an extraordinary revolutionary enthusiasm.

A solid material and technical foundation for the construction of an economic power has been laid in the country.

All the sectors of the national economy have pushed ahead with the work of perfecting production structures, renovating technique and putting them on a modern footing, with the result that the number of such model factories in technical renovation and modernization as the Pyongyang 326 Electric Wire Factory is increasing as the days go by.

Production bases such as foodstuff factory, chicken farm, catfish farm, beer factory and cosmetic factory, which are directly contributing to the improvement of the people’s living standard, have mushroomed in different parts of the country.

The DPRK, with all the conditions for leaping higher and faster, will demonstrate the might of an economic power in the near future.