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North Korea mobile subscriber market continues to grow strongly from a small base

North Korea possesses an underdeveloped yet growing market which has markedly improved in recent years as noted by growing mobile penetration. North Korea’s telecoms infrastructure developed largely through foreign investment, most significantly by Thai investors and more recently, Egyptian telecoms investment company Orascom Telecom Holdings.

The North Korea mobile market has seen strong growth over the past five years however from a very small base compared to other countries. Penetration has increased from 4.1% in 2011 to 11.2% in 2014, 12.9% in 2015 and 13.8% in 2016. Mobile subscriber penetration is predicted to increase strongly over the next two years to 2018.

Communications with the outside world is restricted as everyday citizens are only able to receive news through government controlled channels such as TV and radio broadcasting as well as the government controlled Intranet. Technological improvements are evident, most notably through the introduction of high definition TV (HDTV) digital broadcasting in 2015.

The percentage of fixed lines in service in North Korea has been steadily declining over the past 10 years from 4.9% in 2007 to 4.7% in 2016.

North Korea has taken steps towards developing a digital economy as part of efforts to modernize its economy as well as a means to generate export income, especially in the field of IT services. Specific initiatives include domestic production of computers, mobile phones and a Linux operating system. E-education initiatives have been launched to improve access to learning while e-commerce sites have launched to improve convenience in ordering products and services.

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North Korea’s mobile market is a major driver of telecoms infrastructure development. A 3G only network has been deployed providing almost universal population coverage, one of few countries in the world that is able to claim that its entire mobile market is comprised of 3G subscribers. However Orascom, the majority owner of North Korean mobile operator Koryolink, revealed in late-2015 it had effectively lost control of its North Korean operations.


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