Archive for the ‘Orascom Telecom Holding’ Category

Koryo Tours visits the Ryugyong Hotel

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

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.

Amazing photos!

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:


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:


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.


Lankov on the North Korean economy

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Andrei Lankov highlights in a recent Asia Times article some observations (qualitative data) that indicates the DPRK has seen significant growth in recent years. He is careful to qualify his observations with caveats that the level of growth in the country as a whole (as opposed to Pyongyang) remain more difficult to determine.

More expensive shops stocking luxury goods are becoming more numerous as well. Gone are the days when a bottle of cheap Chinese shampoo was seen as a great luxury; one can easily now buy Chanel in a Pyongyang boutique; and, of course, department stores offer a discount to those who spend more than one million won on a shopping spree. One million won is roughly equivalent to US$250 – not a fortune by the Western standards but still a significant amount of money in a country where the average monthly income is close $25.

The abundance of mobile phones is much talked about. Indeed, North Korea’s mobile network, launched as recently as late 2008, has more than one million subscribers. It is often overlooked that the old good landline phones also proliferated in the recent decade. A phone at home ceased to be seen as a sign of luxury and privilege, as was the case for decades. Rather, it has become the norm – at least, in Pyongyang and other large cities.

The capital remains badly lit in night, but compared with the norm of some five or 10 years ago, the situation has improved much. The electricity supply has become far more reliable, and in late hours most of the houses have lights switched on.

Of course, this affluence is relative and should not be overestimated: many people in Pyongyang still see a slice pork or meat soup as a rare delicacy. The new posh restaurants and expensive shops are frequented by the emerging moneyed elite, which includes both officials and black/grey market operators (in some cases one would have great difficulty to distinguish between these two groups). In a sense, Pyongyang’s prosperity also reflects the steadily growing divide between the rich and poor that has become a typical feature of North Korea of the past two decades.

Nonetheless, those foreign observers who have spent decades in and out of Pyongyang are almost unanimous in their appraisal of the current situation: Pyongyang residents have never had it so good. It seems that life in Pyongyang has not merely returned to pre-crisis 1980s standards but has surpassed it.

And how can we explain these developments? Lankov offers three theories:

The first seems to be the growth of private economic activity. Estimates vary, but most experts agree that the average North Korean family gets well over half its income from a variety of private economic activities.

The second reason is the gradual adjustment of what is left of the state-controlled economy. Nowadays, North Korean industrial managers do not sit by helplessly when they cannot get spare parts or fuel from the state – as was often the case in the 1990s. Instead, they try to find what they need, often getting the necessary supplies from the private market.

The third reason is, of course, Chinese economic assistance and investment.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s pools of prosperity
Asia Times
Andrei Lankov


DPRK cell phone imports rise in 2010

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

According to the Korea Herald:

North Korea imported six times more mobile phones in 2010 than in 2009, a media report said Wednesday, indicating growing mobile penetration in the reclusive country.

North Korea bought 430,000 mobile phones from China in 2010, up from 68,000 phones the previous year, according to Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA). In 2010, the country spent US$35 million on importing mobile phones, seven times more than the $5 million outlay in 2009, the report said, citing recent data from the United Nations.

The number of mobile phone users in the communist country has grown rapidly in recent years, from about 90,000 at the end of 2009 to 430,000 a year later and more than 800,000 in the third quarter of last year, the report added, referring to data from Egypt’s Orascom Telecom.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean imports of mobile phones jumped 6 times from 2009-2010: RFA
Korea Herald


Koryolink offers mobile access to “Rodong Sinmun”

Monday, November 28th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

North Korean cell phone users are now reportedly able to read the news and views of the Chosun Workers’ Party on the move.

Chosun Shinbo, a publication run from Japan by the General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), announced the news on Saturday, saying, “Koryolink, Chosun’s 3G cell phone service provider, has begun a service allowing the reading of Rodong Shinmun, one of the major newspapers, on cell phones.”

Chosun Shinbo also announced its own plans to set up a mobile service in the near future.

The Rodong Shinmun cell phone application is just the latest in a long line of interesting developments in the Koryolink story. Last January the company introduced a multimedia messaging service (MMS). Later in the year it also introduced a video call service, which received a positive reaction from younger users.

As expected, Chosun Shinbo claimed that many North Korean citizens are enjoying the new service on the way to work. One Pyongyang man was quoted by the paper as saying, “It’s very convenient being able to read the news every morning on my mobile phone. You can also go back and read all the news from a few months ago, too, which is great.”

Another resident of the North Korean capital reportedly commented that reading the news on their phone is the first and most important thing they do in the morning.

Interestingly, Chosun Central TV ran a program on November 7th including content teaching mobile phone users of the social etiquette they needed to follow, telling them to avoid bothering people nearby by lowering the ringtone or setting the device to vibrate mode, and to avoid speaking too loudly.

The Wall Street Journal also covered this development.

Read the full story here:
Rodong Shinmun on the Move
Daily NK
Cho Jong-ik


Orascom releases Q3 2011 sharholder report

Friday, November 18th, 2011

You can read the full report here (PDF).

Since I am behind on numerous commitments at the moment, I am not going to write much about this.  However, the report’s contents have been widely covered:

1. North Korea Tech (Martyn Williams) and here.

2. Reuters



Orascom plans to offer mobile Internet service in DPRK

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Via Geoffrey See at Choson Exchange:

On my last trip to Pyongyang, I had the opportunity to catch up with some Egyptian expatriates from Orascom Telecom Holding over popcorn and whiskey. They were also kind enough to bring our team clubbing into the wee hours of morning.

Orascom Holdings is three companies each headed by a different brother of the Orascom family. Orascom Telecoms is headed by Naguib Sawiris, while the resorts arm Orascom Development is run by Samir Sawiris, and the construction arm Orascom Construction by another brother. All three brothers have stakes in different assets in North Korea, with the infamous Ryuggyong Hotel owned by Samih Sawiris. As of May 2010, when I had met Samih Sawiris in Switzerland, he had yet to visit Pyongyang. Recent pictures from Pyongyang indicate that this has changed.

The most exciting development to us was Orascom’s 3G Internet service which was still under the testing phase. The plan is to roll out this service in the near future, although the service will only be available to resident foreigners in the initial phase. Approval for this service to be provided on a larger-scale to North Korean citizens, in any censored form, has yet to be given although the infrastructure to do so is in place. For foreign residents in Pyongyang, the service could offer cost-savings of up to 60-80 percent over current satellite internet offerings. There is no information on what security trade-off such a service might entail.

We also discussed text advertising and the current mobile service business. While text advertising is possible, there has yet to be approval for the company to run such a service. Currently, handsets cost Euro 50 each and there is a monthly subscription fee of 900 Won (we are not sure how this cost scales with usage). For reference, the unofficial exchange rate has fluctuated around 2500 to 3500 Won to 1 Euro this year.

Click here to see previous posts about Orascom and cell phones in the DPRK.


Orascom publishes 2nd quarter 2011 report

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Read the full report here (PDF).

According to the Daily NK:

North Korea’s rapidly burgeoning cell phone user numbers have surpassed 660,000, according to Egyptian operator Orascom Telecom’s half-year earnings report for January-June, 2011.

As of March, the last time Orascom released a similar report, the number of subscribers stood at 530,000, meaning that the company has officially added 130,000 additional users in just three months, an extraordinary performance given prevailing economic conditions, the price of phones and official controls.

The figures look even better over a 12 month period; at the same point last year, there were just 184,531 subscribers. Although things are likely to slow as time passes, this still puts the era of a million subscribers, which would represent around 4% of the population, within sight.

The causes of the rapid increase in user take-up include a rapidly expanding network, that the authorities encourage Party cadres to make use of the phones, and that they are of increasing importance to those doing business in the market. In addition, the company has been working to target young people with a number of additional services including MMS and Video Call.

According to the earnings figures, as a result of these efforts Orascom made $61 million from its North Korea venture in the first half of the year, an increase of 160% on last year.

Commenting on the success, company CEO Ahmed Abou Doma noted, “Our operation in North Korea continues to display tremendous growth with a subscriber base that has more than tripled compared to the first half of 2010, the growth of which impacted revenues which increased 164% year-on-year.”

However, there is another story behind the official earnings that could serve to give investors pause. First, the earnings are based on the official USD exchange rate, 135 North Korean won, instead of the market exchange rate, which stood at far removed at 2540 North Korean won in Pyongyang on August 2nd.

Second, the report notes the introduction of what it calls the ‘Euro Pack’, a bundle which offers new subscribers “voice minutes and VAS in return of fees that could only be paid in Euros”, a concept which Orascom says is proving popular, but which certainly reflects the uncertainty inherent in dealing with the North Korean currency.

Martyn Williams has more here.

At least one report claims that the older mobile phone network (pre-Orascom) has finally been closed down.  Now Orascom is the sole mobile phone provider.

Read the full story here:
Orascom User Numbers Keep Rising
Daily NK
Chris Green


Orascom releases 2011 Q1 shareholder report

Friday, May 20th, 2011

You can see the whole report here (PDF).

According to Martyn Williams (PC World):

The number of 3G cellular subscriptions in North Korea passed half a million during the first quarter, the country’s only 3G cellular operator said this week.

The Koryolink network had 535,133 subscriptions at the end of March, an increase of just over 100,000 on the end of December 2010, said Orascom Telecom. Egypt’s Orascom owns a majority stake in Koryolink, which is operated as a joint venture with the state-run Korea Posts and Telecommunications Co.

Subscriber growth has been strong ever since the network was launched in late 2008, but the most recent quarter delivered the first signs that Koryolink is having to work harder for new subscribers.

The January to March period was the first time since the third quarter of 2009 that the number of new subscribers during the quarter failed to be more than the previous quarter. In the October to December quarter, the company added just over 130,000 new customers.

Revenue for the quarter was a record US$25.7 million, a jump of 185 percent on the same period of 2010. Orascom doesn’t disclose net profit figures for the company.

The company is keen to launch new value-added services to raise average revenue per user (ARPU) and during the quarter it began offering MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service). Customers gave the service a positive response, Orascom said.

But despite the efforts, ARPU fell to its lowest level since service began in 2009. At just US$12.7 per month, it was down 40 percent on the same period last year.

Orascom also launched pre-paid cards denominated in euros to boost foreign exchange earnings from North Korea. The scratch cards offer free voice and value-added service use during off-peak hours.

The company’s network now covers 92 percent of the population.

North Korea is one of the world’s most heavily controlled countries and communication is severely restricted. Most cell phones don’t have the ability to make or receive international calls.

The Daily NK offers some additional information:

Cell phone customer numbers are rising while the price of the handsets is falling, according to sources from inside North Korea.

One such source from Pyongyang reported on the 18th, “The phone bill is no different from in the past, only the price of the cell phone itself is falling.”

According to sources, in Pyongyang a single-piece handset has gone from $280 to $250, and a clamshell design from $400 to $380 (at the exchange rate in South Pyongan Province, one dollar is presently worth 2,500 North Korean won, while a kilo of rice continues to drift in the 2,000 won range).

The source explained, “Cell phone users keep increasing. In Pyongyang, approximately 60% of people between their 20s and 50s use cell phones. Especially for the younger generation in their 20s and 30s, a cell phone is seen as a necessary item,” he said.

A source from Shinuiju also commented, “Around three out of ten young people have got a cell phone, and prices have been cut a bit.”

A source from South Pyongan Province agreed, too, saying, “Cell phone bills and prices have dropped compared with in the beginning. A basic cell phone (single-piece) is $225 and an expensive one is $300. You pay 30,000 won in our money, and then you can use it for 200 minutes.”

The source went on, “But when you buy a $10 card, you can use it for 600 minutes. This is a state policy to earn dollars.”

He explained that according to the jangmadang exchange rate, $10 is currently 25,000 won, meaning that payment for credit in dollars is of huge benefit in terms of value for money.

However, there is still an application fee of $800 and registration fee of $100, as before.

The source reported, “Cell phone traders purchase cell phones using their families’ and relatives’ names,” because only one handset per person is allowed. “Since there are many people who have obtained a cell phone in another’s name, their cell phones occasionally get confiscated when they go to the telephone office to pay the bill and get their ID checked.”

In a connected story, Radio Free Asia reported on the 19th that Koryo Link has added another 100,000 subscribers to its books since the end of last year, bringing the total number to 535,133 as of the end of March.

However, in contrast with Pyonyang and the interior areas of North Korea where usage is growing, the battle in the border region is still to restrict and control cell phone usage. Distinguishing a Chinese cell phone is not easy, so cracking down on the practice of using them is not easy, either, and therefore the method of applying for a cell phone has been made more difficult, among other measures.

According to one Yangkang Province source, “One person who took cell phones brought in by smugglers in March, remodeled and sold them was arrested by the People’s Safety Ministry, and in the light of that the process for applying for a cell phone here got stricter. The person who wishes to buy the phone must have the signature of a National Security agent now. In the beginning, there was no such rule.”

In North Korea, applications for cell phones are handled by sales offices; however, the procedure is more difficult now, and so some get the handset from a smuggler and only the number from the local office, in order to avoid the process. Of course, bribes are necessary to facilitate that, currently approximately $400-$450 in Yangkang Province.

According to sources, an official North Korean cell phone works on a different frequency to those from China in order to stop their being used to connect outside the country. However, if the frequency of a smuggled phone is changed to match North Korea’s, then the cell phone can be used.

And according to Mobile Business Briefing:

Orascom Telecom’s North Korean mobile arm, koryolink, surpassed the half a million subscriber mark in the first quarter, representing growth of 420 percent year-on-year. Orascom noted during its Q1 earnings yesterday that its North Korean subscriber base has reached 535,133, up from 125,661 a year earlier. While the numbers are still relatively small, Orascom’s North Korean venture – which was first launched in December 2008 – is being closely watched; koryolink is the only commercial operator in the notoriously secretive and totalitarian country and therefore has huge growth potential – as well as being a risky investment. Orascom said that current mobile penetration in North Korea is just 2 percent. Its revenue from koryolink rose 185 percent year-on-year to US$25.8 million in Q1, while earnings (EBITDA) hit US$22.6 million, giving it an impressive EBITDA margin of 87.6 percent.

koryolink’s network currently consists of 341 base stations covering the capital Pyongyang, 14 main cities as well as 72 smaller cities, Orascom said. The network also extends over 22 highways. As of the end of Q1 2011, koryolink covers 13.6 percent of the country’s territory and 92 percent of its population. In January 2011, koryolink launched MMS services for the first time, the latest addition to its VAS portfolio. The firm has also focused on maximising foreign currency revenue, launching in February a recharge card that can be bought in Euros.


Koryolink employee numbers and other info…

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Pictured above: Locations of Koryolink (Orascom) moblie phone towers I have identified in the DPRK.  Supposedly 300 exist in total.

The German Financial Times published a story on Orascom.  Much of it was familiar material, but it did contain one interestign nugget I had not seen before:

Etwa 20 Ägypter und mehr als 200 Nordkoreaner arbeiten für Koryolink – die meisten der Expats im Management, ein Großteil der Nordkoreaner als Techniker und im Service. Für die Kundenbetreuung wurde ein modernes Callcenter eingerichtet. Das Netz deckt die Großstädte, die Autobahnen und die Schienenwege ab, insgesamt etwa 15 Prozent der Staatsfläche. In dem Gebiet leben 91 Prozent der Bevölkerung.

And putting this through Google Translate we get:

Throughout the country, told Heikal, meanwhile, more than 300 transmitters spread. Some 20 Egyptians and more than 200 North Koreans work for Koryolink – most of the expatriates in management, the majority of North Koreans as a technician and service. For customer support a call center was established. The network covers the major cities, highways and rail lines, totaling about 15 percent of state land. In the field 91 percent of the population live.

The service has grown to over 500,000 users but still remains out of the hands of the vast majority of the population:

Auch wenn jetzt theoretisch jeder ein Handy haben darf, sind die Tarife für die meisten Nordkoreaner unbezahlbar. 200 Freiminuten und 20 SMS kosten im Monat 800 nordkoreanische Won, nach offiziellem Wechselkurs sind das rund 5,50 Euro. Dazu kommen die Freischaltgebühr und die SIM-Karte für 50 Euro – zahlbar in Devisen. Wer sich nichts in der wuchernden Schattenökonomie dazuverdient, kann sich das nicht leisten.

And again, via Google Translate:

Even though now may theoretically have a cell phone each, the rates for most North Koreans are priceless. 200 free minutes and SMS cost 20,800 North Korean won per month, according to the official exchange rate is around 5.50 €. Then there are the activation fee and the SIM card for € 50 – payable in foreign currency. Anyone who does nothing, earned in the sprawling shadow economy can not afford that.

And on the human resources front…

Auch bei seinen nordkoreanischen Mitarbeitern bemerkt er Veränderungen. “Vom technischen Können her sind sie sehr gut, die Herausforderungen lagen eher im kaufmännischen Bereich und im Marketing”, sagt Heikal. “Aber wir bilden sie im Unternehmen aus, und wir organisieren für sie Trainings im Ausland, vor allem in China. Ich spüre, dass sich ihre Mentalität über die vergangenen drei Jahre gewandelt hat. Sie beginnen, das Geschäft zu kapieren.”

Bisher sind nordkoreanische Angestellte noch nicht ins oberste Management vorgestoßen, aber mittelfristig sollen sie die ägyptischen Expats ablösen. Natürlich wünscht sich das Regime, dass die eigenen Leute dort die Verantwortung übernehmen – und hegt trotzdem, wie so oft, schwere Bedenken dagegen. “Auf der Managementebene muss man mit der Außenwelt kommunizieren”, gibt Heikal zu bedenken. “Wir diskutieren das mit den Behörden. Sie verstehen das Problem, aber ich denke, das wird noch etwas dauern.” Er lächelt. “Im Rückblick erkennt man enorme Verbesserungen und Veränderungen, aber wir haben noch viel vor uns. Eine ganze Reihe von Dingen wird noch eine Menge Geduld brauchen.”

via Google Translate:

Even with his North Korean employees, he noticed changes. “From her technical ability, they are very good, the challenges were more in the commercial sector and in marketing,” says Heikal. “But we are training in the company, and we’ll arrange for her training abroad, especially in China. I feel that their mentality has changed over the past three years. You begin to understand the business.”

So far North Korea’s workers are not pushed into top management, but the medium they are to replace the Egyptian expatriates. Of course, the regime hopes that their own people over there take the responsibility – and still cherishes, as so often, serious concerns about it. “At the management level needs to communicate with the outside world is,” says Heikal pointed out. “We discuss with the authorities. You understand the problem, but I think it will take some time.” He smiles. “In retrospect, there are vast improvements and changes, but we still have a lot to us. A whole series of things still need a lot of patience.”

Read the full story here:
Die Pyramidenbauer von Pjöngjang
German Financial Times