N. Korea launches restricted mobile phone service

December 16th, 2008 - 12:30 pm ICT by ANI  

Tokyo, Dec.16 (ANI): More than six years after it experimented with mobile phones, the North Korean Government has launched a mobile phone service.
Described as one of the world’’s most secretive and tightly controlled states, the launch is seen as striking in a country where the tuning of television sets and radios is limited to state channels and internet access is restricted to senior government and military officials.
Officials concluded a deal with the Egyptian telecommunications group Orascom to launch a third-generation mobile network, but the service is likely to be available to only a few of North Korea’’s 23 million inhabitants, the Guardian reports.
Orascom announced in January that it would invest 400 million dollars in North Korea. It runs services in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, including Zimbabwe.
North Korea first experimented with mobile phones in 2002, but recalled the handsets 18 months later after a mysterious train explosion that killed an estimated 160 people.
Some experts argue that officials feared the incident was an attempt to assassinate the regime’’s “dear leader”, Kim Jong-il, and that mobile phones were involved.
Others think the authorities were simply nervous that they were losing control of the flow of information.
Officials have clamped down repeatedly on residents in border areas who are able to use Chinese networks with smuggled handsets.
The country recently said it was closing its border crossing with China and refugee groups say it has stepped up punishments for those caught trying to flee.
Orascom’’s chairman, Naguib Sawiris, has said he expects up to 10% of the population to use the service. (ANI)

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