Archive for the ‘Orascom Telecom Holding’ Category

How a telecom investment in North Korea went horribly wrong

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In PC World, Martyn Williams of North Korea Tech has an interesting piece on the story of Orascom in North Korea:

An Egyptian company that launched North Korea’s first 3G cellular network and attracted as many as 3 million subscribers has revealed that it lost control of the operator despite owning a majority stake.

The plight of Orascom Telecom and Media Technology in North Korea takes place against a backdrop of rapid telecom modernization and a public eager to adopt a new technology. It’s ultimately a lesson in the perils of getting into bed with a government that’s not known for respecting international law.

When Orascom announced plans to launch the 3G service in 2008 it met with skepticism. The North Korean government severely limits its citizens’ ability to communicate and has jailed or killed anyone who speaks out against the regime. The regime has regularly threatened war against its foes and was under sanctions at the time for a 2006 nuclear test.

But Orascom Chairman Naguib Sawiris saw something else: a land that technology had forgotten. He’d successfully built cellular networks in other developing countries, and North Korea seemed a perfect candidate, especially with its low fixed-line penetration.

Read the full story:

How a telecom investment in North Korea went horribly wrong
PC World
Martyn Williams


KoryoLink drops subscription fees

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

According to Radio Free Asia:

A dramatic decrease in the monthly rate for cellphone services in impoverished North Korea has seen the number of subscribers skyrocket, but sources inside the reclusive nation say the data may be misleading, as people sign up for two mobile phones at once in order to avoid massive overage fees.

The cost of using a cellphone on Koryolink’s 3G network dropped from 25 yuan (U.S. $4) per month at the end of 2013 to a maximum of 1,000 won, or 1 yuan (U.S. $0.16), in 2014, prompting North Koreans to sign up in droves, according to an official with the Wireless Service Department in Yanggang province.

The surge in subscriptions has prompted the government to open a number of storefronts staffed with agents to deal with the demand and sell cellphones associated with the services, the source said, speaking to RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity.

“Since last year, cellphone agencies have been established in each city and province,” he said.

“In Hyesan (the administrative center of Yanggang province), a cellphone agency was set up next to the Kim Jong Suk Art Theater (named after the grandmother of current regime leader Kim Jong Un), where many people often gather.”

According to the source, the base rate of 1 yuan per month provides subscribers with up to four hours of free calls and 20 text messages. Calls and other services in North Korea are limited to usage within the country only, except for resident foreigners, tourists and selected elite members of society.

The Wireless Service Department official did not provide statistics for the increase in subscribers.

Orascom, an Egyptian telecom company that jointly operates Koryolink with the state-owned Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation, has said around 2.4 million, or 10 percent, of the country’s estimated 24 million people were signed up with the carrier by the end of June 2014.

In comparison, Orascom said Koryolink had hit 2 million users in May 2013, adding a million subscribers in the 15 months prior.

Inflated numbers

A second source from North Hamgyong province told RFA that the recent increase in subscriptions, linked to the purchase of new phones, had earned praise from central authorities.

“Last year, North Hamgyong province took first place in national sales of cellular phones and the head of its Wireless Service Department received a commendation,” the source said, adding that the capital Pyongyang came in second place, followed by North Pyongan province.

But while the base rates for cellphone services are cheap, subscribers are charged exorbitant fees totaling as much as 100 times the cost of monthly services if usage limits are exceeded, he said.

Because four hours of free talk time and 20 text messages are insufficient, the source said most merchants and officials choose to purchase two cellphones and subscribe to plans for both, allowing them to double usage each month and avoid the high overage fees.

The double purchasing of phones and monthly services had artificially inflated the number of subscribers, he said.

Skeptics have questioned the accuracy of Orascom’s claim of 2.4 million subscribers, saying that—after subtracting a standing army of 1 million soldiers who cannot own cellphones due to security reasons and at least 3 million children aged 10 years or younger—it would suggest more than one in 10 of North Korea’s mostly poverty-stricken citizens use mobile services.

Reports also say that handsets which operate on Chinese networks across the border are regularly smuggled into the country, further complicating estimates of how many cellphone users there are in the North.

North Koreans are reportedly allowed to access only certain 3G services with their cellphones, including SMS and MMS messaging and video calls, but not the Internet.

Read the full story here:
Dramatic Decrease in Mobile Rates Draws Subscribers in North Korea
Radio Free Asia


DPRK imports of smart phones in 2014

Friday, January 30th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s smartphone imports from China surged to a record high last year, a sign of a growing number of people there being connected to the net, according to data released Friday.

North Korea brought in US$82.8 million worth of smartphones from China in 2014, almost double the amount recorded a year earlier, according to the Seoul-based Korea International Trade Association.

It marked the largest volume since 2007, when related data were introduced.

Imports of portable data-processing devices, including laptops, also jumped 16 percent on-year to $23 million in 2014 despite a 3-percent decline in the North’s overall imports from China in the year.

Around 10 percent of the communist nation’s 24-million residents reportedly use smartphones, with its 3G network run by Koryolink, a joint venture with an Egyptian company, Orascom Telecom.

See also this post with additional data on DPRK-china trade in 2014.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s smartphone imports from China hit record


Koryolink subscriptions hit 2.4 million

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Martyn Williams reports that KoryoLink subscriptions have hit 2.4 million.

You can read previous posts on the DPRK’s mobile phone network here.

Kevin Stahler ranks North Korea’s cell phone market penetration here.


Orascom’s Audit 2013

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

UPDATE: I got the official exchange rate wrong in the initial post. I have corrected it.

ORIGINAL POST: A couple of weeks ago news came out that Orascom was holding off further investment in the DPRK until it was able to repatriate some of its profits. A few days later Orascom issued a press release denying this and asserting that they are looking for new investment opportunities in the DPRK.

This correction raises questions about just how significant Orascom’s profits in the DPRK are. Information on the growth of KoryoLink has been scarce since it was spun off into a subsidiary company (it no longer appears in Orascom shareholder reports)Martyn Williams did us all a favor, however, and found the Jan-Sept 2013 audit for Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding (OTMT), the company now holding the KoryoLink portfolio.

I have uploaded the audit to this site, and you can download it here (PDF). It contains the consolidated financial reports for OTMT, including KoryoLink.

The audit is posted as an image PDF (so the text is not searchable or easily copied into blog posts), but I offer some key data below. The caveat to keep in mind is that all of the USD$ calculations appear to be determined by converting DPRK Won (KPW) at the official rate (appx 100KPW/1US$ and 130KPW/1 Euro). This may be the appropriate accounting standard to employ, but needless to say, this radically overstates the market value of the firm’s position since the current black market rate of the won is approximately 8,000KPW/1US$:


US$422 million is $42.2 billion North Korean Won (converted at the official rate). Converted back to US$ at the black market, the total is just US$5,275,000.

OTMT EBITDA (Earnings before income tax, depreciation, amortization) for the period Jan-Sept 2013 are listed as USD$178,962,000. This is just  US$2,237,025 million at the black market rate.

Capital expenditure from Jan – Sept 2013 is listed as USD$40,931, 000 (Appx $665,128 at black market rate).

KoryoLink’s tax exempt status ended on Dec 15, 2013.

The audit specifically addresses the difficulties of operating in North Korea’s official financial sector:


Some additional documents from June of this year can be found here and here. I am not an accountant and already have enough on my plate, so if there are any researchers out there that want to take a crack at this stuff, please do.


Orascom seeks repatriation of profits – or new opportunities?

Friday, December 6th, 2013

UPDATE 1 (2013-12-8): According to an OTMT press release:

Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding Denies Reports about Freezing Investment in North Korea

Cairo, December 8th, 2013, Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding S.A.E. (“OTMT”) announced today that recent reports in some media sources claiming that OTMT is freezing its investment in North Korea are entirely inaccurate. Where OTMT currently has no plans for new investments in North Korea, the company is open for new opportunities in this market, in which it has been investing for six years. The company has not announced any intentions to freeze investments in the North Korean market.


About Orascom Telecom Media and Technology

OTMT is a holding company that has investments in companies with operations mainly in Egypt, North Korea, Pakistan, Lebanon and other North African and Middle-Eastern countries. The activities of OTMT are mainly divided into its GSM, media and technology and cable businesses. The GSM activities include mobile telecommunications operations in Egypt, North Korea and Lebanon. The media and technology division consists of OT Ventures/Intouch Communications Service and the OT Ventures Internet portals and other ventures in Egypt, including LINK Development, ARPU+ and LINKonLINE. The cable business focuses on the management of cable networks.

OTMT is traded on the Egyptian Exchange under the symbol (OTMT.CA, OTMT EY).

And according to New York Telecom Exchange:

***Orascom Telecom has refuted recent media reports that it is freezing investment in its North Korean mobile network subsidiary.The company said that the reports “are entirely inaccurate.”In a statement it said that where OTMT currently has no plans for new investments in North Korea, the company is open for new opportunities in this market, in which it has been investing for six years.The company added that it “has not announced any intentions to freeze investments in the North Korean market.”However, it is worth noting that many companies do things without making announcements about them and the statement did not explicitly confirm that it would be spending any more money on its North Korean network, only that it was open to further opportunities.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-12-6): According to the Chosun Ilbo:

Egypt’s Orascom Telecom, the mobile service provider in North Korea, has invested US$200 million into the project so far but has yet to make a dime, according to website Middle East Online.

Orascom chief Naguib Onsi Sawiris was quoted by the U.K.-based website as saying he would make no more investment in North Korea until the company sees some returns.

Orascom started offering 3G mobile services in North Korea in a joint venture with North Korea’s postal service in 2008. The joint venture, Koryo Link, is 75-percent owned by Orascom and 25 percent by the North. It has managed to attract 2 million subscribers.

The Egyptian company invested another $200 million to build the giant Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang and set up a joint venture bank.

But North Korea apparently barred Orascom from sending profits from the mobile phone service back to Egypt. “Koryo Link is making profits, but North Korean authorities seem to have blocked remittance of the money,” a source in Beijing said.

The only firm, of which I am aware,  that has been able to repatriate significant sums of hard currency is Pyeonghwa Motors. Most traders take out North Korean goods/products that they can then sell for currency.

Read the full story here:
Egyptian Telecom Halts Investment in N.Korea
Chosun Ilbo


38 North on the expansion of the DPRK’s mobile phone network

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Here is the conclusion:

One should be careful not to jump to a conclusion that North Korea is entering ‘mobile telecommunications revolution.’ North Koreans are still largely denied internet access, and international calls are blocked. Prohibitive top-up rates have made general users reserve their calls for important messages or emergencies. New digital social networking remains an unreachable luxury for the general population and traditional self-censorship prevents politically sensitive conversations on the phone. The government conducts tight surveillance of phone calls and text messages and frequently censors ‘politically inappropriate’ content on them such as South Korean songs and dramas.

However, there are still loopholes that the government cannot perfectly close. For example, a primitive but creative way to make ‘international’ calls supported by illegal Chinese cell phones is in the making, mainly employed now for remittances from defectors in South Korea to their families left in North Korea. However, if brokers can find more profit opportunities, they could surely figure out safer and more creative ways to circumvent technical barriers and the monitoring system. A defector in Seoul has already overcome that technical barrier by connecting to foreign phones with SIM cards bought in Pyongyang. The fact that millions of handheld cameras and digital voice recorders are being circulated should be source of anxiety for the regime. Despite tightly controlled and monitored, the Koryolink network could still potentially widen the loopholes of information flow to and from the outside world.

Read the full article here.


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.



Kempinski claims to [not] be taking over management of Ryugyong Hotel

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

UPDATE 1 (2013-3-28): NK News reports that Kempinski has officially pulled out of the deal:

“Kempinski Hotels confirms that KEY International, its joint venture partner in China with Beijing Tourism Group (BTG), had initial discussions to operate a hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, however no agreement has been signed since market entry is not currently possible”, Regional PR Director Hilary Philpott told NK NEWS by email.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-11-1): According to Bloomberg:

The 105-story, pyramid-shaped Ryugyong Hotel, whose foundations were poured almost three decades ago, will open partially in July or August, Kempinski AG Chief Executive Officer Reto Wittwer said today at a forum in Seoul. The German luxury-hotel manager will be the first western hospitality company to operate in North Korea, he said.

“This pyramid monster hotel will monopolize all the business in the city,” Wittwer said. “I said to myself, we have to get this hotel if there is ever a chance, because this will become a money-printing machine if North Korea opens up.”

Kempinski, based in Munich, is handling management while Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media & Technology Holding SAE (OTMT) funds the hotel as part of a $400 million mobile-phone license it won from the North Korean government in 2008, he said. Cairo-based Orascom has spent $180 million on completing the hotel’s facade.

The top floors of the hotel will house guests in 150 of the originally planned 1,500 rooms, which “will be developed over time” to remodel the insufficiently designed spaces, Wittwer said. Shops, restaurants, a ballroom and Orascom’s offices on the ground and mezzanine floors will also open next year.

Additional Information:

1. Koryo Tours published the first photos taken inside the building.

2. The Choson Ilbo reports that the South Koreans tried investing in the hotel during the Noh Administration.

Read the full story here:
Kempinski to Operate World’s Tallest Hotel in North Korea
Sangwon Yoon


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:


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: