Koryolink reaching 48,000 subscribers

According to an article in the Choson Ilbo, Koryolink has attracted nearly 50,000 subscribers since launching.  Most surprisingly, they claim that members of the Worker’s Party are not allowed to use the phones.  (I am not sure if I believe that).

According to the article:

Orascom, the Egyptian telecom firm that runs it, plans to expand the service area from Pyongyang to the whole of North Korea by the end of this year, VOA said. The operator is poised to start HSPA service at the request of foreigners in North Korea who need to use wireless high-speed internet there, the report said.
 
Currently, officials of the North Korean Workers’ Party or the government are reportedly banned from using mobile phones for security reasons. Ordinary North Korean residents, whose monthly pay is about 4,000 North Korean won (around US$30), cannot afford the service due to the high price of handsets, which cost at US$300-500, and the subscription fee.

“We understand that mobile phones are used chiefly by foreigners, wealthy people, and trade functionaries,” a South Korean government official said.

North Korean phone users buy prepaid phone cards and can send text messages. The North started the European-style GSM service in Pyongyang and the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone in November 2002 but suspended it after an explosion at Ryongchon Railway Station in April 2004.

Further information: 

1. The Economist Intelligence Unit on Orascom (joint venture partner in Koryolink).

2. Here is a very informative older post on Koryolink. Make sure to read the information in the comment section.

3. Regarding the claim that party members are not allowed to purchase Koryolink service: In February, Martyn Williams gave us an interesting update on Koryolink–after only two weeks of sales.  This story notes, “But while Koryolink’s first customers might not have high-profile official jobs, they are among the more wealthy in society and price, particularly of the handsets, stands as an obstacle to greater penetration.”

4. The previous mobile network, set up by a Thai subsidiary in 2002, is still in operation.  I know that North Korean VIPs and visiting journalists have been using this network since 2002 (despite the wide media coverage of this system being closed down).

5. If this story is true, it would imply that 1 out of every 60 Pyongyang residents has a phone (assuming pop of 3 million).  Additionally, if Koryolink sold 6,000 units in their first two weeks last February, they would have to sell nearly 9000 new units/month on average to reach a total of 50,000 today.  Does that seem reasonable?  Can anyone track down the original VOA sotry on which the Choson Ilbo story is based?

Read the full Choson Ilbo story here:
Some 50,000 N.Koreans Use Mobile Phones
Choson Ilbo
7/31/2009

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4 Responses to “Koryolink reaching 48,000 subscribers”

  1. Eunsung says:

    Perhaps the Norks want to keep the Thai-operated government network separate for security reasons? Can’t think of what those reasons might be….

  2. Gag Halfrunt says:

    The Cholson Ilbo article says that the ban applies to party and government officials, as opposed to people who are simply members of the party. Presumably the government doesn’t want officials to talk about sensitive matters on the phone.

  3. Homer Williams says:

    Link and first lines of apparent VOA reference (in Korean) for Choson Ilbo article:
    http://www.voanews.com/korean/2009-07-28-voa29.cfm

    The headline reads “Orascom, ‘North Korean mobile subscribers exceed 48,000”
    The reporter is Yi Yeoncheol

    오라스콤, ‘북한 휴대전화 가입자 4만8천 명 돌파’
    이연철
    07/28/2009

    북 한에서 휴대전화 (손전화)를 사용하는 사람들이 계속 늘고 있는 것으로 나타났습니다. 지난 해 말 북한에서 휴대전화 사업을 시작한 이집트 이동통신회사 오라스콤은 최근 발표한 자료에서, 6월 말 현재 가입자 수가 4만8천 명을 넘었다면서, 앞으로도 계속 증가할 것으로 예상한다고 밝혔습니다. 이연철 기자가 자세한 소식 전해드립니다.

    북한에서 지난 해 말 휴대전화 사업이 다시 시작된 지 6개월 만에 가입자 수가 5만 명에 육박한 것으로 나타났습니다.

  4. […] second quarter of 2009 Orascom reported that Koryolink’s mobile subscriber base reached 47,863 (this was apparently leaked earlier in the year so no surprises there), up from 19,208 three months earlier. During Q2 MOU rose to 199 per month, […]