On March 28th, our source, an official from the North Korea’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, reports, "mobile phone users in N. Korea have reached 500 thousand this year, and will exceed 1 million before 2012."
According to the performance reports of Egypt's Orascom Telecom (which has been providing mobile phone services to the country,) the number of N. Korean users had passed 90 thousand by December 2009. Then it had reached well over 180 thousand by June, 2010, an increase of almost twice as much within six months. This trend has continued through the beginning of this year, rising up to 500 thousand by March 22nd.
The source said that the mobile phone users in N. Korea are mostly the wealthy people who made a fortune by trading or the executives of government agencies. "The number of users will continue to increase, centering around Shinuiju and Chung-jin, exceeding 1 million within 2010," the source added.
N. Korean government has repermitted the use of mobile phones in 2008, which had been banned entirely ever since the Yongchun explosion in 2004 (when the Chinese merchants informed the outside world about the explosion, hearing the details over mobile phones.) Since then, the service area has extended gradually from Pyongyang. The number of users grew rapidly as the service area widened, from inland to the border areas.
"While the handset prices and rate for the calls are too expensive for commoners, the usage among the wealthier is increasing drastically," the source said. The fact that the local cities were also permitted to use mobile phones by November last year, had contributed to the increase as well.
According to the source, the handsets they use cost about US$300~600, which is 1.5 times more costly than the equivalent models circulated in China. The models sold in N. Korea are mostly Egypt’s Orascom products or Chinese products, whereas the domestic products are neglected for their low quality.
Government executives can rent mobile phones from the government at a relatively cheap price--about US$300--for business purposes. This is not a great benefit however, since the call rate is so high. The source reported that, for the mobile phones rented from the government, they charge DPRK\250 (ROK\120) per 2 minutes. Though the government is making efforts to cut the price by giving 2 minutes per day, free of charge, this is not nearly enough.
For the civilians, they only have prepaid plans that cost DPRK\30,000 per month at least. Civilians pay \280 per minute, which is 2.2 times more expensive than government rate.
Translation by Hoyeon Choi Supervised by Young Cho
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