About 20,000 North Koreans are using mobile phones following the launch of a new network by an Egyptian telecoms giant, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan reported on Monday.
The Cairo-based Orascom Telecom launched an advanced mobile phone network in North Korea in December in partnership with the state-run Korea Post and Telecommunications Corp. It was the first time that ordinary North Koreans have been allowed to use cell phones since a previous, short-lived service was shut down in 2004. Tokyo-based Choson Sinbo said that the number of mobile phone users had reached 20,000 by the end of March, including some foreigners.
The paper, considered a mouthpiece for the North Korean regime, said the service is currently available in Pyongyang and on a highway linking the North Korean capital to the northern city of Hyangsan.
The report quoted Yun Gwang Chun, an official at a joint venture set up by Korea Post and Telecommunications and Orascom Telecom, as saying that the North aims to expand the 3G network to the entire country by 2012.
Mobile phone use in North Korea probably the world's most tightly controlled country comes with restrictions. Phones do not allow contact with the outside world, or with the special telephone networks that foreigners are normally permitted to use inside North Korea.