Archive for the ‘Communications’ Category

North Korea accelerating modernization of postal and communication sectors

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-9-27

North Korea is promoting the development of its postal and communication sectors.

North Korea recently held the “National Communications Workers’ Rally” on September 16, 2013. The First Chairman of the National Defence Commission Kim Jong Un sent a letter addressed to the participants titled “Time for a New Shift in the Communications Industry.”

At the event, Deputy Premier Jon Sung Hun delivered a speech emphasizing that “(communications sector officials) must work with the mission and duty to raise the national communications business up to the state-of-the-art level.”

The dedication of technicians working at the mobile communication base station, research of scientists and technicians at the communications sector, and modernization of information and communications in Pyongyang were acclaimed for achievements.

In the North, letters and parcel delivery as well as land-based and mobile phones, and intranets are considered a part of the communications sector. The Ministry of Communications under the Cabinet oversees this entire industry.

During his life, former leader Kim Jong Il also showed great interest in the communications sector. At the national rally for communications workers on August 25, 1993, Kim sent a letter encouraging the participants: “Let’s push forward toward modernization of the communications sector.” In North Korea, this text is regarded as the bible of the communications industry.

North Korea has been holding the National Communications Workers’ Rally once every ten years, with the last event held in October 2003 at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Korean Workers’ Party, devoted the entirety of page four to introducing the achievements of the International Satellite Communication Bureau and the fiber-optic cable factories. It covered extensively the successes of the postal and communications industries.

The newspaper stated, “The workers and technicians of the communication sector successfully finished the fiber optic cable construction in the provincial, city, and district levels in a short period.” The news also boasted that “They realized the high-speed and large-capacity of communications based on state-of-the-art technology and high-tech facilities.”

In addition, Rodong Sinmun reported the advancement of the speed and accuracy of communications, high-speed data network and exchange capacity, making positive contribution in distance learning and remote medical system.

The news also acclaimed, “The fiber-optic cable communication and communication facilities and operation has reached the level of modernization,” and “Most of all, the high-tech mobile services is contributing greatly to ensuring the convenience of people’s daily lives.”

Recently, North Korean mobile communications has made great progress. Reportedly, North Korea has over 200 million subscribers (as of April 2013). About 1 in 12 North Koreans have mobile phones. The younger generation is also reported to be reading mobile news, multimedia message (MMS), and sending and receiving video calls via 3G.

Mobile phones in North Korea are spreading rapidly and mobile games are also growing in popularity.

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Ruediger Frank on the DPRK economy

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Ruediger Frank writes in the East Asia Forum:

After decades of being divided into a population of a small and mostly invisible elite and everyone else, a middle class of about 2 million people is on the rise. These are the people who have mobile phones, use taxis and show a remarkable diversity in clothing and accessories. The local 7-inch tablet computer, ‘Samjiyŏn’, sells for US$180 and comes with the Android operating system and a number of apps such as a dictionary, changgi (Korean chess), and a collection of the works of the two deceased former leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

The quality of life in the capital differs significantly from the rest of the country. Some observers believe this will increase discontent; but it also smartly diverts attention away from the shiny examples of foreign metropolises spread on pirated DVDs and USB sticks, and offers the population a domestic Xanadu. The key question for social stability is thus not what peasants in the countryside dream about, but what middle-class Pyongyangites aspire to. Meanwhile, the number of solar panels and small windmills is rising, which is the countryside’s solution to having less privileged access to power.

Despite all the changes, many of the old problems remain unsolved. Prices rise, speculation is rampant and frustration grows in sync with corruption and an ever-more obvious gap between the poor and the new middle class. It would be unrealistic to imply that Kim Jong-un even theoretically had the chance to improve the lives of the majority of his people significantly within a year of taking over. But he has not been idle. Inequality in North Korea is a sign of deepening change. A growing income and welfare gap between individuals indicates that the economy is on the move away from socialist egalitarianism towards capitalist diversity.

Read the full report here:
North Korea’s rolling economic reforms
Ruediger Frank
East Asia Forum
2013-9-24

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DPRK to import 500,000 smartphones from China this year

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

North Korea plans to import about 100,000 smartphones from China this year, a report said Tuesday.

China is planning to export a total of 500,000 mobile phones to the North and 100,000 of them will be smartphones, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia report said, referring to a Chinese government official’s posting on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website.

Chinese smartphones sell for about 1,000 Chinese yuan (US$163.27) per unit in China, but the price tag comes to 2,800 yuan per unit in North Korea, the report said, adding profits from the price difference will go into the pocket of the North Korean regime.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea to import 100,000 smartphones from China this year
Yonhap (via Global Post)
2013-6-18

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KoryoLink reportedly reaches 2m customers

Friday, May 31st, 2013

According to Yonhap:

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
2013-5-31

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KoryoLink nears 2m subscribers

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

According to Martyn Williams in PC World:

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.

More information available at North Korea Tech.

 

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North Korean use of Bittorrent

Friday, April 12th, 2013

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.

DPRK-bittorrent-1

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.

DPRK-bittorrent-2

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.

DPRK-bittorrent-3

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KoryoLink offers internet access to foreign users

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-3-22): Koryo Tours employee, Hanna Barraclough, has been posing Instagram photos from her most recent trip to the the DPRK. You can see the photos here. She also wrote this blog post about her most recent trip. In the report, she dropped some notable information in the last paragraph:

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:

UPDATE 1 (2013-3-4): Koryo Tours has posted all the details about mobile phone use in the DPRK.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-2-26): In January the DPRK began allowing foreigners to bring mobile phones into the country. These cell phones were not compatible with the DPRK mobile  network (Previously, foreign VIPs could only make mobile phone calls through the old Loxley network).  However, it later emerged that visitors could buy SIM cards which would allow compatible mobile phones to make international phone calls–but not domestic calls.

Last week, Jean Lee (Assiciated Press) reported that international visitors/expats will soon have access to the internet through their mobile phones with KoryoLink SIM cards:

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.

It now appears that the service has been activated. Jean Lee, who wrote the article above has been tweeting and using Instagram (and here)and Loopcam. She may be the first customer to use the service.  Dennis Rodman may be the second.

Xinhua (Via North Korea Tech) has some financial details on the new project:

“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.

The Xinhua article also claims the number of domestic mobile phone users has increased to 1.8 million. The Daily NK offers interesting information on how all these users are able to power their phones.

Choson Exchange first reported on the development of this technology back on 2011-10-16!

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Foreigners now allowed mobile phones in the DPRK

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

UPDATE 1 (2013-1-28): The Koryo Tours Facebook Page has an image of the KoryoLink poster at Sunan Airport:

Koryo-link-for-foreigners

ORIGINAL POST (2013-1-22): According to NK News:

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”.

Xinhua reports some additional details:

“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:

NK News reports the new price structure:

1. Purchase: These cards will be valid indefinitely and can be used for repeat visits. The cost for these will be 50 euro with a nominal amount of prepaid call money included.

2. Two Week SIM Card “rental”: Costing 50 euros, these cards can be used for two weeks before becoming invalid. They include 30 euro of prepaid service.

3. One month rentals: These cost 75 euro and include 55 euro of prepaid service.

Call rates:

– China and South East Asia- 1.43 Euro a minute

– Russia- 0.68 Euro a minute

– France and Switzerland- 0.38 Euro a minute

– UK and Germany- 1.58 Euro a minute

Other rates including the U.S have yet to be confirmed

UPDATE: A friend sent in a picture of the rates (2014). the rates do not appear to have changed:

Koryolink-intl-rates-2014

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DPRK launches cooking web site

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

According to KCNA (2013-1-16):

Cooking Website Opened in DPRK

Pyongyang, January 16 (KCNA) — The Korean Association of Cooks opened a website “Korean Dishes”.

In this regard, KCNA met An Song Il, an official at the Sojae Cooking Information Exchange Company.

He said:

“The number of website visitors is on a steady increase, most of them being housewives.

The website offers cooking knowledge, experience and techniques. It also gives information and multimedia about Korean and foreign cuisines kitchen utensils and nearly 8 000 cooking methods.”

Kim Un Sim, a technician at the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex, said:

“I had needed to read cookbooks when I had to make a special dish.

But I can easily get cooking information through the website and learn a lot of cooking techniques.”

Ri Won Hui, a cook at the Ansanjong Restaurant in Pyongyang, said:

“The website is very helpful to upgrading cooking techniques and improving quality of dishes.”

The website was awarded the certificate of best software products at the 23rd National Software Contest and Exhibition.

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Friday Fun: DPRK cards, inside Air Koryo, images, and more

Friday, December 7th, 2012

NK News gets creative: The innovative and informative NKNews.org is selling goodies this holiday season to fund its operations (I wish I had thought of that).  When I saw these playing cards, I laughed out loud:

I think I need these. You can order them here.

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.

Here is a flickr set put up by another member of the group.

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.

 

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