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North Korea's Booming Koryolink Cell Phone Service

Updated on July 30, 2012

North Korea's reclusive government is finding it difficult to control over one million subscribers using the country's only cell phone service, Koryolink. The 3G service began in Dec. 2008 and rapidly embraced by the wealthy and elite. Soon, less fortunate users were able to obtain them, which can cost as much as $400.

All of their phones are prepaid only. NK users cannot access the Internet nor make international calls with their phones, however, China is next door. The black market for Chinese cell phones is huge and easily smuggled in and sold for $200. These phones access the Chinese system which allows Internet and international calls. They are most easily obtained by those close to the border. Like their Chinese neighbors, the NK cell phones at the high end do allow video and removable memory cards, which means the government has information leaks to the outside world. NK has 24 million people and cellphone owners amount to only 4%, while in South Korea, nearly every person owns one.

Yet, money does talk because 25% of the NK cell phone company is owned by the government. Koryolink was created with the help of the Egyptian cellphone service provider, Orascom.


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