North Korea - Telecoms Market Overview and Statistics - Historical

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Last updated: 8 Mar 2016 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 31

Analyst: Paul Kwon

Executive summary

As North Korea passes 2.5 million 3G subscribers, the country’s internet crashes

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; 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 was seeing some unprecedented growth. In a surprising development back in 2008 Egypt’s Orascom Holdings was awarded a 3G WCDMA licence 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 2.5 million subscribers in five years.

In what was seen as a dramatic event in the rest of the world, North Korea reportedly experienced a huge internet blackout in late December 2014. Media reports indicated that the country had experienced a series of internet outages, with rumours suggesting it had suffered total loss of access at one stage. The crash followed on from the so-called Sony Pictures cyber-attack in November 2014 which had allegedly been committed by North Korea-based hackers responding to a US-produced political satire ‘The Interview’, although North Korea had denied responsibility for this.

The country’s ICT sector has 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.

Key developments:

  • 3G subscribers reach 2.5 million;
  • internet access remains a limited service for the elite;
  • North Korea has started appearing on Google maps in more detail;
  • South Korea retaining analogue television broadcasts in border region post 2013 digital switchover;
  • North Korea experience a number of major internet outages in 2014.
  • Companies covered in this report include:

North Korea Post and Telecommunications Corp (NKPTC); NEAT&T; SUN NET; Loxley Pacific; Lancelot Holdings; Orascom, Star JV.

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