Published in Mobiles
North Koreans big on mobile phones
by Nick Farrell on21 November 2011
Kim Jong-il invented them you know
The Glorious Democratic People's Republic of Korea is suddenly getting excited about the latest invention by self-proclaimed internet expert Dear Leader Kim Jong-il.
Apparently North Korea is expected to register the 1 millionth cellphone user on its new 3G network by the end of the year. This is surprising as it was only four years ago you could be chucked into a prison camps, or possibly even executed, for owning one. Part of the reason was because the North banned the use of cellphones in 2004 after an explosion at the Ryongchon railway just a few hours after train carrying leader Kim Jong-il passed through it. Security officials suspect a mobile was used to ignite the bomb.
Most of the users were initially the country's elite and powerful who have the cash to splash out for a device and the calling fees. They are still expensive. The cost of buying a cellphone and the operating fees, mean owning such a 3G device is out of question for most. Phones cost about $350 in the country where the average monthly income is about $15. But that appears to be changing with waitresses in coffee shops having them and businessmen always shouting on them.
Dear Leader signed a four-year deal with Egyptian company Orascom to build the 3G network in partnership with the government and this resulted in the boom as the calling fees dropped. Now 60 percent of people ages 20 to 50 use cellphones in Pyongyang, a city of around 3 million people who are strictly vetted by the state for residency permits. But you can't dial into or out of the country, and there's no Internet and while the 3G network covers 94 percent of the population, it still only covers 14 percent of the territory.