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N. Korea begins mass-producing cell phones: report

All Headlines 16:06 November 15, 2010

By Sam Kim

SEOUL, Nov. 15 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has started to mass-produce cellular phones while trying to customize their operating systems to satisfy local needs, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper reported Monday.

The report by Chosun Sinbo, run by a group of pro-North Korea residents in Tokyo and monitored in Seoul, came after Cairo-based Orascom Telecom Holding announced earlier this month that its mobile business in the communist state is rapidly expanding.

The number of mobile phone subscribers has at least quadrupled over the period of one year in North Korea, according to Orascom. The expansion doesn't mean that the regime has eased its rules aimed at restricting the flow of information in and out of the country.

Chosun Sinbo said Monday in its report from Pyongyang that a firm known as Checom Technology Joint Venture Company has set up a "flow manufacturing process and is producing hundreds of high-performance cellular phones each day."

Checom is a Pyongyang-based electronics and communications company, according to the Web site of Songsang Company, a Dandong, China-based firm that trades with North Korea. Flow manufacturing is a build-to-order process aimed at minimizing inventory.

"Related sectors are testing new devices and actively working on a project aimed at modifying the operating software to suit the needs of local users," Chosun Sinbo said. "Central engineering rooms for mobile communications are also pushing a program to develop software for their main machines to meet the domestic environment."

The report added that a video calling service has also been made available while "hundreds of base stations" that transmit signals have been set up across the country.

Orascom, which operates jointly with the local Koryolink, had said in its earnings report that video calling "resulted in a high level of demand, especially from the youth segment."

North Korea first launched a mobile phone service in Pyongyang in November 2002, but banned it after a deadly explosion in the northern Ryongchon train station in April 2004, possibly out of concern that it could be used in a plot against the regime.

In 2008, the country reversed its policy and introduced a 3G mobile phone network in the joint venture with Orascom.

However, the overall "mobile penetration" remains at 1 percent in the country that has a per-capita GDP of US$1,900 and a population of 22.8 million, according to Orascom.

samkim@yna.co.kr
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