North Korea Launches 3G Network

Backed by Orascom Telecom, the WCDM 3G network is live but it will only be accessible by certain people.

Marin Perez, Contributor

December 15, 2008

1 Min Read

North Korea is boosting its telecommunications, and it has rolled out a 3G cellular data service.

The Wideband Code Division Multiple Access network is operated by Cheo Technology, which is a joint venture between state-run Korea Posts and Telecommunications Corp. and Orascom Telecom, the largest Arab mobile operator.

"We are making history in a country that is developing and opening up in a remarkable way," CEO Naguib Sawiris told Reuters news service.

The network will first be rolled out to the 2 million people in the capital Pyongyang, and it will gradually expand out across the country. The company has been given a 25-year license to operate the network, and it will have exclusive rights to the cell phone service for the first four years. Orascom said it plans to invest $400 million in the network over the next few years to offer "voice, data, and value-added services at accessible prices to the Korean people."

While it hasn't been announced, government officials will most likely be the only ones allowed to use the mobile data network. Even without government restrictions, the North Korean population is one of the poorest in Asia and they may not have the means for 3G handsets like smartphones.

But the country did have mobile phone service in 2003 and it had a decent adoption rate, considering the economic situation and controlling government. This service was severely restricted following a 2004 train explosion that was allegedly triggered by a cell phone. Citizens near the China border reportedly still use smuggled cell phones with China's networks in secret, though.

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