North Korea’s first 3G network operator, Koryolink, has attracted 6,000 applications within its first two weeks of operation, according to The Industry Standard. The cellco, which began accepting applications in January 2009, is owned by Orascom Telecom Holding of Egypt (75%) and state-owned Korea Post and Telecoms Corporation (25%). Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom, said ‘So far we have about 6,000 applications. The important point is that they are normal citizens, not the privileged or military generals or party higher-ups. For the first time they have been able to go to a shop and get a mobile phone.’ However, the government has placed a large tax on handsets, bringing the cost up to USD600, making it difficult for most of the population to afford. Orascom is apparently in talks with the government to reduce this tax.
North Korea has had a rather checkered history with mobile phones. In 2003 a GSM network was established in Pyongyang and other major cities and was generally available to elite members of society. However, access was restricted heavily in 2004 shortly after a bomb thought to be triggered by a mobile phone exploded in a train depot within hours of the passage of a train carrying leader Kim Jong II. When questioned about Orascom’s operations in the notoriously secretive country, Sawiris said, ‘We are always examining the countries that do not have service and always pushing to get in. This was one that did not have coverage and we met the embassy here, got in touch with authorities, and here we are.’
Wireless Industry News