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Tue 16 Dec 2008 10:44 AM

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Orascom launches 3G network in North Korea

Subsidiary Koryolink sets target of signing up 5-10% of population

Orascom yesterday launched Koryolink, the first 3G mobile network in North Korea.

Chairman and CEO of Egypt-based Orascom, Naguib Sawiris, said: “This is not just about providing 3G mobile services; we are making history in a country that is developing and opening up in a remarkable way.”

Sawiris told the Financial Times: “We have a modest target of 5 to 10 per cent of the population,” which is approximately 23 million. Sawiris added that he expects 50,000 subscriptions in the first three-to-six months.

However, commentators have raised doubts about the likely availability of mobile devices in the secretive state, where mobile phones were reportedly banned in 2004, and television and radios are fixed to state-run stations.

North Korea expert Paik Hak-soon, of South Korea's Sejong Institute, said that “Government, party, military people are the big beneficiaries”, and that those involved in trading may be able to use the network.

Koryolink has deployed its 3G network to initially cover Pyongyang, which has a population of more than two million, and Orascom said it has “an ambitious plan to expand its coverage to the entire country”.

“Koryolink will deliver world-class voice and data communication services to the people of the DPRK,” Orascom added in a statement.

Orascom has a 75% share in Koryolink, with the remaining 25% held by state-owned Korea Posts and Telecomm Corp. Orascom was awarded the 25 year licence in January 2008, and in a statement released in January, Orascom said it intends to invest up to $400 million in the network.

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