3G passes 2 million subscribers but leadership retains tight control over communications
The development of the telecoms sector in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is seriously impeded by the country’s parlous economic state and the regime’s general repression of communications. The DPRK is among the most centrally administrated and isolated economies in the world and GDP per capita is below US$2,000.
General infrastructure in North Korea is poor. Poverty and hunger are part of daily life for many citizens. However, the regime and elite members of political parties are awarded many privileges. As a result, fixed-line connections and GSM mobile services that began in 2002, only reached a small percentage of the population, and mainly in the capital city of Pyongyang. Ordinary citizens were not allowed access to the internet, were highly unlikely to own a computer, and did not have a fixed-line connection to the home.
The regime marked 2012 the centenary of KIM Il Sung’s birth, a banner year and the country focused on development of the economy. Spurred on by this historical event, the ICT sector is seeing some unprecedented growth. In a surprising development Egypt’s Orascom Holdings was awarded a 3G WCDMA licence in 2008 and started commercial operations in 2009. Although restricted to making calls only within North Korea, and still beyond the wage of many citizens, uptake has soared to over two million subscribers in four years.
The ICT sector has also seen, amongst other developments: increased software development through the KCC; procurement of low cost personal computers suitable for work and educational purposes; reported manufacture of mobile phones; international visits by party officials to electronics companies.
Despite these improvements, ordinary citizens are severely restricted in accessing the internet and many still do not own a PC. International sources are blocked and monitored. It is difficult to imagine how the economy can grow when only a privileged minority have access to the internet, and is in stark contrast to the ‘knowledge economy’ aspirations of the south.
3G subscribers reach two million; internet access remains limited for the elite; North Korea on Google maps in more detail; South Korea to retain analogue television broadcasts in border region post digital switchover in 2013
Companies covered in this report include:
North Korea Post and Telecommunications Corp (NKPTC); NEAT&T; SUN NET; Loxley Pacific; Lancelot Holdings; Orascom.
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