Archive for the ‘Telephones’ Category

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

Share

RoK hung with its own cable

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Vladimir Lenin is often quoted as saying “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”.  This popped into my head this morning when I read this story in the Choson Ilbo:

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek on Tuesday admitted that the fiber optic cables South Korea provided have made it more difficult to spy on North Korea. Hyun was answering a question from a lawmaker at a session of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee. “I understand that there is a problem or a loophole” in South Korea’s intelligence-gathering ability, he said.

Grand National Party lawmaker Chung Jin-suk expressed worries that South Korea’s ability to gather intelligence was weakened by fiber optic cables which the South Korean government supplied to the North in the past. “I suspect that some of the 45 km-long fiber optic cables may have been diverted to lay a communications network between frontline Army units in the North,” he said.

Hyun said Seoul has “no plan as of now to comply with an additional request from the North for more fiber optic cables.”

The South Korean government sent 20 km, 15 km and 2 km-long copper cables to the North in 2002, 2005 and 2007, which were meant to be used for inter-Korean military communications. Last year, the South supplied the North with 45 km-long fiber optic cables, two sets of optical termination equipment, and two sets of optical measuring instruments.

Under an agreement, a 25 km portion was supposed to be laid on the east coast, and another 20 km portion on the west coast. It is difficult to wiretap a network of fiber optic cables, Chung said.

“We haven’t checked yet whether the cables were used simply for the inter-Korean military communications network or for the expansion of a new communications network for frontline units,” Chung said.

He said if copper cables were replaced with fiber optic cables, then that would make intelligence gathering much more difficult in cases like the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, where there is a suspicion of North Korean involvement.

Read the full story here:
Seoul ‘Hampered Its Own Ability to Spy on N.Korea’
Choson Ilbo
4/14/2010

Share

Illicit mobile phone stats

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

According to Business Week:

As many as 1,000 North Koreans use handsets that connect to Chinese networks to tell people in the South about subjects ranging from food shortages to leader Kim Jong Il’s health, said Ha Tae Keung, a South Korean who runs a Seoul-based radio station that broadcasts daily to the North.

Ha’s Open Radio for North Korea is one of several groups gathering information from people on phones that only work near the 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) border with China. The risks are absolute: One caller was executed, Ha’s employees heard, leading Open Radio to curb contact with informants.

“To us, it’s about breaking news,” said Ha, who receives U.S. congressional funding through the National Endowment for Democracy. “To them, it’s a matter of life and death.”

North Korea accuses the U.S. and South Korea of financing such organizations to conduct “a black propaganda campaign,” the Korean Central News Agency said last month. Kim’s government glorifies his achievements as “the great sun of the nation,” who repels “U.S. warmongers and South Korean puppet forces.”

Defection and disclosing “national secrets” are deemed treason under North Korea’s criminal code and are punishable by death, according to a copy posted on the Web site of South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Listening to “anti-state radio” is punishable by up to five years in a labor camp.

Radios are pre-tuned to government programs and owning computers without permission is forbidden, according to the Feb. 17 UN report. Security squads raid homes looking for contraband, it said.

While mobile phones are allowed in and around the capital of Pyongyang, their use is forbidden near the border, the UN said. Legal cell phones in North Korea, many operated by Cairo- based Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, can’t be used for international calls, a U.S. State Department human-rights report released in March said.

SIM Cards
More than 10 North Korean informants for Open Radio use phones with pre-paid SIM cards bought in China that work as far as 10 kilometers across the border, Ha said. Pre-paid cards accounted for 82 percent of all users at Beijing-based China Mobile Ltd., that country’s biggest operator, in 2007.

Illegal phones started appearing as early as 2000, when defectors living in China and South Korea had them smuggled across the border to relatives, said Sohn Kwang Joo, chief editor at Seoul-based Daily NK.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Open Radio Prompts Wonder About Riches Over Border
Business Week
Bomi Lim
3/31/2010

Share

Koryolink reaches 100,000 subscribers

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

According to the Financial Times:

Orascom Telecom, the Egypt-based mobile network operator, says its subsidiary in North Korea, Koryolink, has acquired 100,000 subscribers in its first year and expects to add millions more in the next five years.

The expansion plans come as the isolated country of 24m, which says it wants to be considered a “mighty and prosperous nation” by 2012, steps up efforts to attract foreign investment.

Pyongyang’s economic ambitions come in the face of tough international sanctions on its nuclear arms programme.

“We see that there is a very big plan for an economic boom,” said Khaled Bichara, chief executive of Orascom. “They are really looking to have, by 2012, a much stronger economy. We believe that mobiles and eventually international communication will definitely be part of this.”

Koryolink, a pre-pay system, has been available in Pyongyang and Nampo, the capital’s port, since December 2008. To help expand the network from there, Mr Bichara said North Korea was laying fibre-optic cables in the provinces.

Orascom was installing its most technologically advanced 3G network in North Korea, he said. The 2010 target for user numbers was ambitious but Mr Bichara declined to put a figure on it.

“I think if we achieve the target of this year, that will be a big milestone,” he said. “The number will be big enough to make Koryolink look like a significant company for us because the revenues per customer are interesting and we believe that this business will have customers in the millions within the next four or five years.”

Mr Bichara said the subscription figures showed that mobile phones were not limited to elite members of the military and communist party, as many observers had speculated.

However, the handset price of €140 ($195) put a mobile phone out of most people’s grasp.

So far, Koryolink offers only a basic voice and text messaging service. International calls and roaming services are not provided but Mr Bichara said starting them would be simple given the sophistication of the network being installed.

Koryolink is a joint venture in which Orascom has a 75 per cent stake. The rest is owned by Korea Post & Telecommunications Corp, the state fixed-line provider.

Thanks to a reader for sending this to me. 

Read the full article here:
N Korea operator looks to millions of 3G users
Financial Times
Christian Oliver and Heba Saleh
2/3/2010

Share

Kaesong border communication upgraded

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

According to the Associated Press:

Military officials from the two Koreas communicated through new fiber-optic cables to help facilitate the travel of 330 South Koreans heading to an industrial complex in the North on Wednesday, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.

South Korea has sent fiber-optic cables and other equipment to the North to help its communist neighbour modernize its military hot lines with the South, she said.

The new hot lines replaced outdated copper cable hot lines that will remain as spare lines, said Lee, the spokeswoman.

The new hot lines will serve as a key mode of communication for border crossings for people travelling to and from the joint industrial complex at the North Korean border town of Kaesong, she added.

I assume the upgrade to fiber optic means that the bureaucracy of border crossing has been computerized.  Rather than reading information across the phone line border officials can now send it electronically (including photos) to speed up processing on the North Korean side of the border.

Read the full story here:
Divided Koreas open new, updated military hot lines to facilitate border crossings
Associated Press (via Winnipeg Free Press)
12/29/2009

Share

Koryolink continues to expand customer base

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

At the end of Q2-2009 Koryolink had signed up nearly 48,000 subscribers.  At the end of Q3-2009, this number has grown to more than 69,000.  According to Telegeography:

North Korea’s only mobile operator, CHEO Technology, which offers services under the Koryolink brand, has signed up 69,261 customers as at 30 September 2009. The company was awarded a 25-year licence to operate 3G services in January 2008, with the first four years on an exclusive basis. It is owned by Orascom Telecom Holding of Egypt (75%) and state-owned Korea Post and Telecoms Corporation (25%). Koryolink launched services in December 2008 in the capital Pyongyang, but the network has since been expanded to include the main road running up to the northern city of Hyangsan, with the company currently working on expanding services nationwide. In the first nine months of 2009, the cellco reported revenue of USD18.5 million, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) reached USD9.99 million with a margin of 54%. Average revenue per user (ARPU) for the third quarter of 2009 totalled USD21.6, down from USD22.8 in the previous quarter. With a focus on network rollout and network quality improvement, Koryolink invested USD25 million in the first nine months of 2009.

Thoughts and additional information:

1. For the record, Koryolink is not the only mobile phone operator in the DPRK.  It is the only 3G operator. A little research on this site will turn up plenty of information on the DPRK’s first cell phone provider.

2. See past Koryolink and Orascom posts here.

3. It is interesting that the DPRK and Orascom have expanded 3G service from Pyongyang to Myohyangsan.  Though a popular spot for North Korean elites and tourists, it is not a commercial hub by any means…

Share

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
10/13/2009

Share

North Korea Google Earth

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

North Korea Uncovered v.16
Download it here

laurent-kabila.jpg

The most recent version of North Korea Uncovered (North Korea Google Earth) has been published.  Since being launched, this project has been continuously expanded and to date has been downloaded over 32,000 times.

Pictured to the left is a statue of Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This statue, as well as many others identified in this version of the project, was built by the North Koreans. According to a visitor:

From the neck down, the Kabila monument looks strangely like Kim Jong Il: baggy uniform, creased pants, the raised arm, a little book in his left hand. From the neck up, the statue is the thick, grim bald mug of Laurent Kabila (his son Joseph is the current president). “The body was made in North Korea,” explains my driver Felix. In other words, the body is Kim Jong Il’s, but with a fat, scowling Kabila head simply welded on.

This is particularly interesting because there are no known pictures of a Kim Jong il statue.  The only KJI statue that is reported to exist is in front of the National Security Agency in Pyongyang.  If a Kim Jong il statue does in fact exist, it might look something like this.

Thanks again to the anonymous contributors, readers, and fans of this project for your helpful advice and location information. This project would not be successful without your contributions.

Version 16 contains the following additions: Rakwon Machine Complex, Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory, Manpo Restaurant, Worker’s Party No. 3 Building (including Central Committee and Guidance Dept.), Pukchang Aluminum Factory, Pusan-ri Aluminum Factory, Pukchung Machine Complex, Mirim Block Factory, Pyongyang General Textile Factory, Chonnae Cement Factory, Pyongsu Rx Joint Venture, Tongbong Cooperative Farm, Chusang Cooperative Farm, Hoeryong Essential Foodstuff Factory, Kim Ki-song Hoeryong First Middle School , Mirim War University, electricity grid expansion, Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground (TSLG)” is also known as the “Musudan-ri Launching Station,” rebuilt electricity grid, Kumchang-ri suspected underground nuclear site, Wangjaesan Grand Monument, Phothae Revolutionary Site, Naedong Revolutionary Site, Kunja Revolutionary Site, Junggang Revolutionary Site, Phophyong Revolutionary Site, Samdung Revolutionary Site, Phyongsan Granite Mine, Songjin Iron and Steel Complex (Kimchaek), Swedish, German and British embassy building, Taehongdan Potato Processing Factory, Pyongyang Muyseum of Film and Theatrical Arts, Overseas Monuments built by DPRK: Rice Museum (Muzium Padi) in Malaysia, Statue de Patrice Lumumba (Kinshasa, DR Congo), National Heroes Acre (Windhoek, Namibia), Derg Monument (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), National Heroes Acre (Harare, Zimbabwe), New State House (Windhoek, Namibia), Three Dikgosi (Chiefs) Monument (Gaborone, Botswana), 1st of May Square Statue of Agostinho Neto (Luanda, Angola), Momunment Heroinas Angolas (Luanda, Angola), Monument to the Martyrs of Kifangondo Battle (Luanda, Angola), Place de l’étoile rouge, (Porto Novo, Benin), Statue of King Béhanzin (Abomey, Benin), Monument to the African Renaissance (Dakar, Senegal), Monument to Laurent Kabila [pictured above] (Kinshasa, DR Congo).
Share

Orascom attracting competition

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

According to Telegeography:

Vietnamese military-owned telco Viettel has announced plans to expand its network to North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, according to reports in local paper Thanh Nien Daily. Tran Phuoc Minh, deputy director of Viettel, said the company is hoping to hold negotiations with the three countries in order to gain a foothold in their still relatively underdeveloped wireless markets. The cellco expanded its network to Cambodia last year, where it signed up 100,000 wireless subscribers after two months of pilot operations, as well as Laos, where it hopes to attract 50,000 subscribers this year. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, Viettel had a subscriber base of 28 million at end-2008.

Read the full story here:
Viettel plans network expansion to North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela
TeleGeography
2/6/2009

Share

Some “good” news from North Korea

Friday, January 9th, 2009

On market regulations:  North Korean authorities issued three decrees restricting market activity: 1. Markets may only open once every 10 days  2. Only vegetables, fruits, and meat from private citizens can be sold in the markets.  Imported goods and products of state-owned companies are prohibited  3. To reduce the influence and growth of professional merchants, market booths will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis (no fixed locations).

The “good” news is that the authorities are having trouble implementing these rules:

A Pyongyang source said in a phone conversation with Daily NK on the 7th, “Until now, markets in Pyongyang have been opening at 2 PM every day and operating normally. They are only closed once a week, on Mondays as usual.”

However, the sale of imported industrial goods from China such as clothing, shoes, cosmetics, kitchen utensils and bathing products has become more restricted in the market. Subsequently, street markets or sales of such goods through personal networks have become increasingly popular.

The source noted, “Inspection units regulate the markets with one eye closed and the other eye open, so it is not as if selling is impossible. With a bribe of a few packs of cigarettes, it is easy to be passed over by the units. However, the sale of industrial goods has rapidly decreased and, if unlucky, one can have his or her goods taken, so the number of empty street-stands has been increasing.”

So many North Koreans now buy Chinese kitchen utensils in the same way Americans purchase cocaine!

But even in Pyongyang they are having troubles enforcing the new rules:

“Since December, rations in Pyongyang have consisted of 90 percent rice and 10 percent corn and in the Sadong-district and in surrounding areas, rice and corn have been mixed fifty-fifty percent.”

“It has even been difficult in Pyongyang, where rations are provided, to convert to 10-day markets due to opposition from citizens, so restricting sales in the provinces, where there is virtually no state provision, is impossible in reality. It is highly likely that the recent measure will end as an ineffective decree, like the ones to prohibit the jangmadang or the sale of grain”[.]

On North Korea’s information blockade:  Radio Free Asia published an informative article on the ability and propensity of North Koreans to monitor foreign broadcasts.  The “good” news is that access to unauthorized information continues to grow.  

The whole article is worth reading (here), but here is an excerpt:

North Koreans manage to gain limited access to foreign media broadcasts in spite of increasing government crackdowns in the isolated Stalinist state.

“We clamped down on the people watching South Korean television sets, but it wasn’t easy,” a North Korean defector and former policeman who monitored North Koreans’ viewing habits said. He said channels fixed by the North Korean authorities could easily be altered to catch South Korean programming.

“You could watch South Korean television such as KBS and MBC in Haeju, Nampo, Sariwon, even in Wonsan,” he said, referring to regions of Hwanghae province, just north of the border with South Korea.

“They reach also to the port cities near the sea. But you can’t watch them in Pyongyang because it’s blocked by mountains.”

He said the police themselves used to watch South Korean television “all the time” along with their superior officers.

“We would enjoy what we watched, but outside in public, we would praise the superiority of our socialist system. We knew it was rubbish.”

“According to North Korean defectors interviewed who came to South Korea right after living in the North, educated, intelligent people in North Korea do listen to foreign stations despite the inherent danger,” Huh Sun Haeng, director of the Center for Human Rights Information on North Korea, said in a recent interview.

He said he made good money fixing people’s radios, so they could get better reception of foreign broadcasts.

“I made good money readjusting channels on radios, or upgrading them with higher frequency parts for local people who want to listen to broadcasts other than the North’s state-run radios. There were at least a few hundred people that I know of who listened to foreign broadcasts,” he said.

He said no television reception reached the northern part of the country near the Chinese border, so people there watched recorded programs on videotape and video CD (VCD) instead.

Read the full articles here:
Pulling Back from Converting to 10-day Markets
Daily NK
By Jung Kwon Ho
1/9/2009   

Growing Audiences for Foreign Programs
Radio Free Asia
Original reporting in Korean by Won Lee
1/8/2009

Share

An affiliate of 38 North