Koryolink Logs Big Jump in North Korean Cell Phone Users

Koryolink, the operator of North Korea's only 3G cellular network, saw a big jump in subscribers during the third quarter as its network was expanded to cover more of the country.

The company ended September with 301,199 subscribers, a jump of 63 percent in just three months, according to Orascom Telecom. The Egyptian company owns a three-quarter stake in Koryolink.

Quarterly revenue of US$18.4 million was a record while profit was $7.5 million, before accounting for interest payments, taxes, depreciation and amortization. Orascom did not disclose whether Koryolink made a net profit or a loss for the period.

A lot of the growth came from outside the capital city of Pyongyang.

Koryolink expanded its network to cover a twelfth provincial city during the quarter and added tariffs aimed at lower-income users outside of the capital. As a result approximately half of all new subscribers during the quarter came from outside of Pyongyang.

The push to broaden its subscriber base had an effect on the average revenue gained from each subscriber during the period. It was US$15.20 during the quarter, down from $21.50 in the second quarter.

In addition to the capital and provincial cities, the network now covers 42 small cities and 22 highways and railways putting a 3G signal within reach of 75 percent of the population, the company said.

Koryolink plans to expand the network further to 59 small cities by the end of the year. That would push coverage to 91 percent of North Korea's roughly 24 million people.

Koryolink launched in the final days of 2008, so is approaching the second anniversary of providing 3G services in North Korea. It has one competitor, Sunnet, which runs a second-generation GSM network. Call quality is superior on Koryolink's network and so it is attracting more users, according to sources in Pyongyang.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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