Martyn Williams reports that KoryoLink subscriptions have hit 2.4 million.
You can read previous posts on the DPRK’s mobile phone network here.
Martyn Williams reports that KoryoLink subscriptions have hit 2.4 million.
You can read previous posts on the DPRK’s mobile phone network here.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Read the full story here:
Kempinski to Operate World’s Tallest Hotel in North Korea
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.
– 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:
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.
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
The most recent Koryo Tours newsletter contains the first photos of the Ryugyong Hotel (inside and from the top)!
See the newsletter here. It contains some useful information on the project:
On Sept 23rd Koryo Tours’ staff were taken to the top of the enigmatic and oddly iconic 105 storey Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang – we were the first foreigners allowed to take pictures there and are able to print a handful of shots of the ground floor and the open air viewing platform more than 300 metres up.
The view was incredible and breathtaking indeed! The inside of the building still has substantial work to be done but the structure of the lobby and dining area and conference room (all on the ground floor) were visible, sources at the site suggest 2 or 3 more years until projected completion at which time hotel rooms, office space, and long term rentals will be available.
Koryo Tours also just finished a film in the DPRK: Comrade Kim Goes Flying.
You too can join the Koryo Tours email list by sending them your contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
It is getting harder to know specific information about the DPRK’s mobile phone network…such as how many subscribers have signed up or how revenues/profits are doing.
In December 2011 Orascom Telecom finalized a demerger and the KoryoLink portfolio (the DPRK’s 3G mobile phone network) was transferred to a new holding company, Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding S.A.E. (OTMT).
According to the Orascom Q1 2012 shareholder report (p15):
Under the terms of the VimpelCom transaction, VimpelCom, Weather II and OTH agreed on a demerger plan (the Demerger”) pursuant to which the Company‟s investments in certain telecom, media and technology assets (the “SpinOff Assets”), which were not intended to form part of the VimpelCom business going forward, would be transferred to a new company, Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding S.A.E. (“OTMT”). The Demerger was performed in accordance with the guidelines of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and in particular decree no. 124 of 2010 and was completed in December 2011. The split of OTH shares by the way of the Demerger resulted in OTH shareholders holding the same percentage interest in OTMT as they held in the Company. The Demerger plan was initially approved in a shareholders meeting dated 14 April 2011 and subsequently on 23 October 2011. Approval from the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority was received in December 2011.
As a result of the Demerger, during November and December 2011, ownership of the following Spin-Off Assets was transferred from the Company to OTMT:
75% ownership in CHEO Technology Joint Venture Company, together with all other assets and businesses located in
95% ownership in Orabank NK;
Other than the reference above, the Q1 report does not mention KoryoLink or even the DPRK. As you would expect, KoryoLink is not mentioned in Orascom’s Q2 2012 Shareholder Report either.
OTMT (the new holding company) has a web page, however it contains remarkably little information. Here is what it has to say about KoryoLink:
A joint venture between OTH [Orascom Telecom Holdings] and the state-owned KPTC [Korea Post and Telecommunications Company] and included as part of the assets held by OTMT following the demerger. OTMT holds, a 75% stake in [Cheo Technology Joint Venture Company] with KPTC. The company is North Korea’s only 3G Mobile operator. By June 2011, Koryolink’s network covered more than 75% of North Korea’s population (estimated at 24.5 million).
Being the first company of its kind and scale in North Korea, koryolink established many precedents; a first of its kind call center to provide customer service; a launch announcement in major newspapers and on radio despite almost non-existent marketing and advertising industries; and the implementation of a koryolink advertising billboard, the first of its kind in Pyongyang.
KPTC is the “Korea Post and Telecommunications Company” which is nominally controlled by the DPRK’s Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.
This OTMT page shows five financial reports for the year, however, only one of them is in English (an audit by Deloitte in June 2012). All the other reports are in Arabic. The audit report includes aggregate financial information from “CHEO Technology (KoryoLink)”; however, it does not contain any detailed company information. Hopefully this will change in the future.
The OTMT web page does not mention OraBank at all. According to this organization chart, however, it appears to be held by a separate holding company under the OTMT umbrella, the Oracap Holding Co./Oracap Far East Ltd. I have not been able to find out much more than that.
Additional information welcome.