Archive for the ‘Ora Bank’ Category

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.

-END-

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
2013-12-6

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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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KoryoLink update (sort of)

Friday, August 17th, 2012

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
North Korea;

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:

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.

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Orascom 3G wrap up

Friday, December 19th, 2008

UPDATE: Here is an older paper by Stacey Banks which I have not read: North Korean Telecommunication: On Hold.

ORIGINAL POST: On Monday the Orascom 3G mobile network launched in North Korea.  Just about everyone covered this story…so here are the highlights:

Telecommunications in North Korea: Has Orascom Made the Connection?
Working Paper: Marcus Noland

The topicality of the second paper, on the Egyptian firm Orascom’s role in North Korea’s telecommunications modernization, received a boost this week with the announcement in Pyongyang that Orascom was finally rolling out its cell phone service and creating a joint venture bank with a North Korean partner.  The planned Orascom investments are large: if actualized, they would be the largest non-Chinese or non-South Korean investments in North Korea, and would exceed total private investment in the Kaesong Industrial Complex to date

Financial Times

Orascom is confident North Korea is opening up its economy and says it has been assured by the ­government that everyone will be allowed to buy a mobile. However, experts think that such a volte-face is highly unlikely and reckon only senior military and government officials will be allowed access, and then only to a closed network.

When asked how many people would ultimately use the service, Orascom’s chairman Naguib Sawiris said: “We have a modest target of 5 to 10 per cent of the population.” The population is about 23m. Mr Sawiris expects 50,000 subscriptions in the first three-to-six months.

Jim Hoare, Britain’s former chargé d’affaires to Pyongyang, says the new network is bound to have severe restrictions.

“It’s unlikely that a country that doesn’t allow you to have a radio unless it’s set to the state frequency will suddenly allow everyone to have mobile phones. It’s more credible that there will be a limited network for officials in Pyongyang and Nampo.”

Dong Yong-sung, chief of the economic security team at the Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul, believes another obstacle to ordinary North Koreans owning phones will be the cost. “As far as I know, mobile phone registration costs about $1,000,” he said, a sum equivalent to the average annual income.

(NKeconWatch: Others put the price at $700…and there are many problems with asserting that the DPRK’s per capita income is $1,000 per year.)

Bloomberg

The inauguration of Koryolink took place today in North Korea, Orascom Telecom said in an e-mailed statement. Orascom Telecom Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Sawiris attended the event, a company official said, requesting anonymity. The Cairo- based company got a 25-year license and exclusive access for four years in January. It plans to spend as much as $400 million on a high-speed network and the license for the first three years.

The North Korean venture is “in line with our strategy to penetrate countries with high population and low penetration by providing the first mobile telephony services,” Sawiris said in a statement earlier this year.

CHEO Technology JV Company, the North Korean unit that will operate under the Koryolink name, is 75 percent owned by Orascom Telecom and 25 percent by the state-owned Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation.

The unit will see average revenue per user of $12 to $15 this year as Orascom Telecom targets three of the country’s biggest cities, according to company forecasts.

Koryolink has rolled out its so-called third-generation grid to initially cover Pyongyang, with a population of 2 million.

Orascom is counting on four potential markets in the Stalinist nation, according to a study by Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

The military and government officials are the top targets, followed by foreigners working for UN organizations and diplomats. The others are customers from South Korea, which has several economic projects with its neighbor, and local demand from rich North Koreans.

To protect its investment, Orascom “hedged its bet, committing only half of its investment at the outset and making additional investment conditional on its assessment of conditions going forward,” Noland said.

If the deal is threatened, Orascom may withdraw specialized equipment or technicians, reducing the value of the network to Pyongyang, Noland said in his study.

“Orascom may have spread the wealth informally, creating beneficiaries within the decision-making apparatus who would stand to lose if the agreement failed,” according to the study.

Bloomberg

Orascom Telecom, the Middle East’s biggest wireless company, opened Ora Bank in Pyongyang in the presence of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Naguib Sawiris, a company official said on condition of anonymity. Ezzeldine Heikal, who is also head of Koryolink, Orascom’s North Korean mobile-phone network, was appointed president of the bank, the official said without providing further details.

“This is a big deal, especially as far as North Korea is concerned, because the current banking system is virtually non- existent,” Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. “It’s a ground that others have feared to tread and is perhaps an endorsement for North Korea that says ‘we’re open for business.’”

Ora Bank is a joint venture between Orascom Telecom and North Korea’s state-owned Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s official news agency reported today. The director of North Korea’s central bank Kim Chon Gyun and Egypt’s ambassador to Pyongyang Ismail Abdelrahman Ghoneim Hussein, were also present at the opening ceremony, the news agency said.

Radio Free Asia

Chinese traders who regularly travel back and forth to North Korea said local residents showed little enthusiasm for the new service, which cost more than U.S. $900 to set up before the Ryongchun explosion.

North Korean defector Kim Kwang-jin, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul, said the fact that the government had once pulled the plug on North Korean cell phones meant that it could easily do so again.

“In the beginning, people will be hesitant, because a few years ago many of them made a big investment in cell phones. But service was suspended abruptly, so they are still very concerned that might happen again,” Kim said.

“People are also worried that the ability to pay such a high amount of money for a cell phone may raise a red flag and bring them under scrutiny by the North Korean authorities.”

Most foreigners are banned from using cell phones while in North Korea, although a network for government officials is believed to exist in the capital, Pyongyang.

(NKeconWatch: I personally saw elite North Koreans use mobile phones and even some western journalists in 2005.)

The Guardan

North Korea first experimented with mobile phones in 2002, but recalled the handsets 18 months later after a mysterious train explosion that killed an estimated 160 people. Some experts argue that officials feared the incident was an attempt to assassinate the regime’s “dear leader”, Kim Jong-il, and that mobile phones were involved.

BBC

Some reports suggest that handsets for the new network will cost around $700 each, putting them far beyond the reach of the vast majority of people in the impoverished country.

Choson Ilbo

Although the technology would enable users to send and receive text messages and video content, North Korean customers will only be allowed to speak over their phones.

BMI Political Risk Analysis, Dec 16, 2008 (h/t Oliver)

BMI View: North Korea has officially begun third-generation (3G) mobile phone services, thanks to Egypt’s Orascom Telecom (OT). However, the growth of the network could be limited by the regime’s fear that mobile phones will increase the scope for anti-regime activities.

North Korea has officially commenced third-generation (3G) mobile phone services, thanks to an investment by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom (OT). The firm’s initial target is 100,000 subscribers in three major cities, including Pyongyang, and it eventually hopes to develop a nation-wide network connecting North Korea’s 23mn citizens. OT has promised to invest US$400mn in network infrastructure over the next four years. It has signed a 25-year contract with the North Korean government, and owns 75% of their joint-venture (known as Korealink). OT’s exclusivity rights will last for four years. Orascom’s foray is something of a coup, given that North Korea’s communications network is so rudimentary (for further background see December 8 2008, Industry Trend Analysis – North Korea Prepares For Mobile Network Launch).

Why Pyongyang Fears Mobile Phones
North Korea launched a mobile phone service operated by a Thai subsidiary firm in 2002, but reversed course in 2004, apparently because of a devastating bomb blast on a train in Ryongchon in April of that year. Given that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s personal train had passed through the area only a few hours earlier, there was speculation that the explosion had been an assassination attempt, possibly triggered by mobile phone. Since then, only those living in areas close to the border with China have had access to mobile phones, thanks to the proximity of the Chinese network.

Aside from the notion of mobile phones as bomb triggers, they can also make it easier for citizens to communicate with one another. This would increase citizens’ ability to organise anti-government activities – such as protests or sabotage. For example, the popular uprising that led to the overthrow of Philippine president Joseph Estrada in 2001 was dubbed the ‘text message revolution’, because that is how the marches were announced and coordinated. Admittedly, the Philippines is a far more open society than North Korea, but the subversive aspect has not been lost on the regime.

Mobile phones would also make it easier for North Koreans to communicate with the outside world, and thus allow the real-time transmission of information or intelligence to foreign media or spy agencies, and vice versa. They would also allow the North Korean elite to communicate more efficiently, allowing dissident elements to plot against the regime.

Thus, even something as basic as mobile phones are seen as potentially regime threatening.

Mobile Service Difficult To Spread
Consequently, Orascom will surely find it difficult to spread its mobile service across the country. For a start, registration will be tightly watched. Secondly, the cost of the handsets, at several hundred dollars, will mean that only the political and moneyed elites will be able to afford mobiles. Of course, elements of the elite can ‘misuse’ their phones to arrange subversive actions if they deem it worthy, but it seems that the regime are counting on loyalty. Indeed, depending on the sophistication of their equipment, the regime will probably be able to snoop in on the elite’s conversations and movements, giving them an additional layer of security.

Read the full articles below:
Orascom eyes North Korean network
Financial Times
Christian Oliver
12/14/2008

Orascom Telecom’s Sawiris Signs North Korean Deal
Bloomberg
Tarek Al-Issawi
12/15/2008

Orascom Telecom of Egypt Opens Bank in North Korea
Bloomberg
Tarek Al-Issawi
12/16/2008

North Korea Brings Back Cell Phones
Radio Free Asia
Jung Young
12/16/2008

Secretive North Korea launches restricted mobile phone service
The Guardian
Tania Branigan
12/16/2008

N Korea launches 3G phone network
BBC
Steve Jackson
12/15/2008

N.Korea Restarts Cell Phone Service
Choson Ilbo
12/17/2008

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