Archive for the ‘Telephones’ 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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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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KoryoLink update

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Although KoryoLink’s corporate performance no longer appears in Orascom shareholder reports, Naguib Sawiris has given an interview in Forbes in which he offers some business details:

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.

Chris Green offers some great information (about which I have long wondered)  on the process required to acquire a cell phone:

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.[1]

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.

Writing in the Daily NK, Kim Kwang-jin explains how people are getting around this burdensome regulatory process:

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
Simon Montlake
2012-11-18

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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.

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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:

PRESS RELEASE

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 (www.nautilus.org) 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 nautilus@nautilus.org or at 415 422 5523.

Here is Yonahp coverage of the report.

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DPRK IT product management borrows from the past

Monday, April 4th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has begun to demand that every personal and electronic storage device in the country be registered in an apparent effort to crack down on outside information that may contain sensitive news about Middle East uprisings, a government source said Friday.

The measure took effect early this year and has led to the confiscation of a considerable number of electronic devices, the South Korean source said, declining to be identified.

The communist country is also allowing its notoriously harsh policing organ to have the right to approve the use of a mobile phone by an individual, the source said.

More than 300,000 mobile phones are believed to be in use in North Korea, which strictly controls the flow of information in and out of its territory in an effort to keep its 24 million people brainwashed and make them conform to the regime.

And according to the Straits Times (Singapore):

Pyongyang has ordered institutions and households to report on how many computers and even portable data storage devices such as USBs and MP3 players they own, early in 2011, according to a Seoul government source.

The North Korean police agency is in charge of keeping track of the IT gadgets possessed by everyone, presses criminal charges against those who failed to report and even confiscates many of the gadgets, the source said.

The reclusive communist state has been running a unit of authorities for years to crack down on North Koreans watching South Korean soap operas or foreign movies, which they call ‘non-socialist video’.

Pyongyang is also reinforcing a crackdown on use of cellphones and the Internet. It is estimated that more than 400,000 mobile phones are being used in North Korea. North Koreans are required to get government permission to use cell phones. They are also banned from bringing them into the country or using cell phones bought overseas.

Foreign members of international non-governmental organisations working in North Korea were also told to follow domestic regulations on cell phones.

It appears that the DPRK is attempting to treat these products the same way it has treated radios for decades.  Lankov writes in his book, North of the DMZ:

Certainly, a person with some technical knowledge can easily make the necessary adjustments and transform such a receiver into a real radio. To prevent this from happening, the police undertake periodic random inspections of all registered receivers. Controlling the correct use of radio receivers is also an important duty of the heads of the so-called people’s groups or inminban. The head of an inminban can break into any house at any time (even in the dead of night) to check for the possible use of a non-registered receiver.

If a North Korean has access to foreign currency, he or she can buy a foreign-made radio set in one of the numerous hard-currency shops. However, after purchase the radio set was subjected to minor surgery in a police workshop — its tuning had to be fixed, so it could only receive official Pyongyang broadcasts (it appears this practice is declining in recent years).

The control was never perfect…

Of course it is questionable as to whether the inminban play a reliable role in “law enforcement” these days.  Instead, individuals in these positions seem to play an increasing role in shielding their residents from Pyongyang’s dictates rather than assuming a pure-exploitation position.  In the past we have seen how inminban effectiveness can affect local real estate prices.  Also, when the government needed to apologize for the disastrous “recent” currency reform, they did so in person to the inminban representatives.

Given the proliferation of electronic devices, particularly in Pyongyang, in combination with the capacity of local police to carry out this mission, I believe the actual result of this policy will be the registration of “some” electronic devices along with the hiding and bribing required to keep others off the books.  So inspection police just got a raise!

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KJI and JST meet with Orascom president

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

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

According to Martyn Williams:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the AFP:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martyn has more at North Korea Tech.

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Russian blog debuts DPRK PDA device

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

UPDATE: Martyn Williams writes in PC World (11/5/2010):

A new PDA (personal digital assistant) has hit stores in North Korea, according to a student who writes a blog from the secretive state.

The device, which doesn’t appear to carry any branding, has a color touchscreen display that occupies its entire front, according to photos published on the “Pyongyang Show and Tell” blog. The Russian-language blog is maintained by a Russian student who is studying in the country.

Installed software includes a Korean dictionary and translation dictionaries pairing Korean to and from Russian, English, Chinese and German, the blog report said. There are several basic utility programs and an electronic map of the country although the PDA does not feature GPS (global positioning system).

There is also no wireless networking so data transfer has to take place via a USB connection to a Windows or Linux computer. Data can also be transferred via MicroSD card, which is the same as used in domestic cell phones.

“Comparing it to modern things like, let’s say, the iPad, it’s nothing,” the blog’s author, who didn’t wish his name to be used, told IDG News Service via email. “It’s still good as a dictionary, except I don’t see any other advantages.”

It’s not the first PDA in North Korea.

In 2003 the country’s media said “Hana 21,” a PDA developed by the Samilpo Information Center, had been put on sale. The device included English-Korean and Korean-English dictionaries as its main function and also had several games and a basic word processor. Input was by pen and touchscreen.

According to published images of the Hana 21, the two devices are different.

At the time the Hana 21 was said to cost around 200 euros (US$182 at the exchange rate of the time).

The new PDA that hit stores recently costs around US$140.

“It’s still hard to buy for a Korean, but there are many people who keep their money for years and can afford it,” the student said via email.

PDAs have long been out of fashion in many countries after their features and functions were duplicated by smartphones. North Korea has a 3G cellular network, but most cell phones have only basic features.

ORIGINAL POST: Show and Tell Pyongyang introduced the world to the DPRK’s version of Linux: Red Star.  Now he has introduced us to the DPRK’s new Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).

Here are pictures from the Russian web page:

According to the Russian-language web page (via Google Translate):

A few weeks ago in North Korea has started selling the first PDA. In all the computer shops you can see the advertising of the new items. [I] offer a small review of this device.

On sale are a few options. The difference between them – is the amount of internal memory and a built-in slot for the stylus. The most feature-rich [costs] $ 140 and has 8 gigs of internal memory and a slot for the stylus, so you do not accidentally lose it.

In addition, there is a slot for MicroSD memory cards – the same as in the local mobile phones.

The main function of which is worth noting (and more generally for which there is a fly sabzh), an electronic dictionary Samhyn (삼흥) with the Russian language. It is no secret that South Korea produced electronic translators, but, according to eyewitnesses, the Russian language is absent in them as fact. And in this case, Russian-Korean and Korean-Russian dictionaries most voluminous in the number of vocabulary words. Besides, there are English, Chinese and German. Also has a large Korean Wiki Grand Korean Dictionary.

So for me personally, the main value of the PDA – is an electronic dictionary, which can carry with them always and everywhere. And the rest is not so important.

So what else is there? There is a map of Korea’s system of teaching foreign languages (English, Chinese). By the way, about a month ago there was an opportunity to put maps on your mobile phone. Application free of charge and requires activation. Put it on a large computer center of the city. []

Device has access to TV, headphones and a USB-slot. Possible to connect devices to both Windows, and Linux (in this case, Red Star)

On the whole – everything is simple and works quite well. At the moment, the firmware needs some work, not all features fully implemented, but the Korean comrades promise to update and refine.

If anyone else has more information, please let me know.

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How digital technology gets the news out of North Korea

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Martyn Williams writes in IT World:

The girl in the video looks like she’s about 12 years old. Thin, dirty and with a vacant look on her face, she tells the cameraman that she’s actually 23 and she survives by foraging for grass to sell to wealthier families for their rabbits.

The sobering footage was shot in June this year in the province of South Pyongan, North Korea, and provides a glimpse into the life of one person who lives far from the military parades and fireworks last month marking the 65th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

It was shot on a cheap camera by a man who goes by the pseudonym Kim Dong-cheol, a North Korean with a double life. In addition to his job as a driver for a company, Kim also works as a clandestine reporter for AsiaPress, a Japanese news agency that’s taken advantage of the digital electronics revolution to get reports from inside North Korea.

AsiaPress works with six North Koreans they’ve trained as journalists. They’re given instruction in operating cameras, using PCs and how to use cell phones so they don’t attract the attention of authorities. Then, every few months, they meet with AsiaPress representatives just over the border in China to hand over their images.

“When we started training journalists in 2003 or 2004, getting cameras into North Korea was a real problem,” said Jiro Ishimaru, chief editor of the news agency, at a Tokyo news conference on Monday. “Nowadays, within North Korea you are able to have your pick of Sony, Panasonic or Samsung cameras.”

The material they produce is often startling and documents a side of the country the government doesn’t want the world to see.

In another clip also captured by Kim, a North Korean woman argues with a police man. Asked for a bribe, she screams at him and pushes him. “This cop is an idiot,” she shouts.

For most journalists, getting into North Korea is a tough task. Getting outside of the capital Pyongyang to see the lives of average people in the countryside is very difficult. Seeing the sort of poverty or disagreement with authority that Kim caught on camera is impossible.

Most of the shots are recorded surreptitiously and the small digital cameras make smuggling images easier than from older tape-based models.

“You used to have to tape video cassettes to your stomach,” he said. “But it’s very easy to hide an SD Card somewhere on your body.”

AsiaPress isn’t the only media working with reporters or informants in North Korea. Outlets including Open Radio for North Korea and Daily NK also receive reports from correspondents inside the country that add additional information, understanding and sometimes rumor to what’s happening inside the country.

The reports are typically sent via cell phones connected to a Chinese mobile network. Signals from Chinese cellular towers reach a few kilometers into North Korea and are difficult to monitor by the state’s telecom surveillance operation.

Recently, North Korean authorities have woken up to the flow of information across the border and are trying to stop it.

“The greatest headache I face is telecommunications,” Ishimaru said.

Mobile detection units patrol the border looking for signals from within North Korea and, if found, attempt to triangulate their source.

“The number of these units has been increasing, so if you spend a long time on the phone the police will come and search your house,” said Ishimaru. “People have become frightened of using the phone.”

If caught the punishment can be severe. Earlier this year a man faced a public firing squad after he was caught with a cell phone and admitted to supplying information to someone in South Korea, according to a report by Open Radio for North Korea.

The risk such reporters face leaves their agencies open to criticism that they are putting people in unnecessary danger, but Ishimaru said his reporters all want to provide a true picture of life inside North Korea to the rest of the world. He pays them between $200 and $300 per month.

The digital media revolution isn’t one way. It’s estimated that half of all young people in major cities have watched pirated South Korean TV dramas.

“Media around the world has gone digital and that’s also happened with North Korean propaganda,” said Ishimaru. “But even the wealthy and those in authority don’t want to watch propaganda films and movies about Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. They want to watch something that’s more entertaining.”

The shows are recorded from South Korean satellite TV broadcasts in China and burned onto DVDs or Video CDs that soon make it over the border and into North Korean markets.

There are occasional crackdowns, but even the police want to watch the dramas.

“Although there are crackdowns and things are confiscated,” he said, “I don’t think there is anyway the leaders can put a stop to this.”

Read previous posts about Rimjinggang here

Read the full story here:
How digital technology gets the news out of North Korea
IT World
Martyn Williams
11/2/2010

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ROK Red Cross seeks hotline with DPRK

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Accordign to Yonhap:

South Korea’s Red Cross is pushing to set up its own communications channel with its North Korean counterpart so that it can carry out humanitarian missions independent of cross-border political tensions, the organization’s chief said Thursday.

“We’re talking with the government on the need to work with the North Korean Red Cross through an independent means of communication,” Yoo Chong-ha, president of the Korean National Red Cross, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

“Government-level dialogue is between governments. The role of the Red Cross has to be separate,” Yoo said.

The Red Cross, although tasked with non-political projects such as relief aid and family reunions, has at times served as an alternative track for contact and talks between the two Koreas, who are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.

“The Red Cross is not a subsidiary agency to the Unification Ministry. It is not appropriate for all concerned that the Red Cross should work on behalf of the government,” Yoo said in the interview. The chief will be heading to the North to oversee a round of family reunions that begin on Friday.

Currently, there is no channel linking the Red Cross chapters of the two Koreas. Their sole hotline at the truce village of Panmunjom was severed as part of Seoul’s package of punitive measures announced in May after holding the North responsible for the deadly sinking of a warship that killed 46 sailors.

Yoo said he would tell his North Korean counterpart, Jang Jae-on, of the importance of resuming humanitarian exchanges, regardless of political tensions, when he visits North Korea.

In Red Cross talks this week that reopened for the first time in a year, the North asked Seoul to provide tens of thousands of tons in rice and fertilizer aid in exchange for expanding family reunions.

“This is not an issue for the Red Cross” to deal with, said Yoo, with skepticism on whether such aid draws results.

Read the full story here:
S. Korean Red Cross seeks independent communications channel with Northern counterpart
Yonhap
10/28/2010

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