By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korea seems to be on the threshold of digital revolution, although its totalitarian regime tries to maintain a tight grip on the information flow among its population of 24 million, a U.S.-based expert said Tuesday.
"The DPRK (North Korea) mobile communications industry has crossed the Rubicon," Alexandre Y. Mansourov, senior researcher at Nautilus Institute in Washington, said in a report on the North's nascent but potential digitalization. "And the North Korean government can no longer roll it back without paying a severe political price."
He pointed out that North Korea has an underdeveloped telecommunications sector but its government now demonstrates increasing interest in catching up with modern IT development trends.
"Its population reveals insatiable demand for a more robust and extensive telecommunications sector," he said.
In 2008, North Korea launched a 3G mobile service, operated by the Egyptian carrier Orascom. So far, more than 600,000 people are registered users, according to news reports.
The North also has international Internet access via a fiber-optic cable connecting Pyongyang with Dandong, a Chinese border city.
North Korea's first Internet cafe opened in 2002 as a joint venture with South Korean Internet company Hoonnet. Foreign visitors can link their computers to the Internet through international phone lines available in a few hotels in Pyongyang, while ordinary North Koreans are far from such service.
Mansourov said North Korea, a laggard in the global digital revolution, enjoys some major advantages of backwardness such as savings on initial R&D costs in the IT sector and the opportunity to leap-frog from exclusive reliance on obsolete and scarce landlines.
He also said the North has adequately trained human resources.
(U20 World Cup) S. Korea going for historic title vs. Ukraine
(U20 World Cup) S. Korea's Lee Kang-in wins Golden Ball as tournament MVP
BTS dazzles 25,000 fans in Busan
(LEAD) Moon suggests trust-based denuclearization, peace
Thousands of S. Koreans ask gov't to approve their trip to Mount Kumgang