Columbus Complex & Orascom – Asia Times

Interesting discussion by Aidan Foster-Carter in  Asia Times (2/2008) on the “Columbus Complex” – the feeling that you have discovered another aspect or thing about North Korea, whilst others have already come before you and often failed.

The below excerpt describes the new (for 2008) Orascom joint venture and two previous attempts to set up cell phone service in North Korea…

In a January 30 [2008] press release, Orascom Telecom Holdings (OTH) proclaimed proudly that “it has been granted the first commercial license to provide mobile telephony services in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. CHEO, a 75:25 joint venture with Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation (KP&TC), has a 25-year license, the first four being exclusive.

Orascom will invest up to US$400 million in network infrastructure and plans to have Pyongyang and most other major cities in the country covered within a year.

[However, t]he DPRK and mobile telephony have a tangled history, starting over a decade ago…. The tale includes a joint bid in 2002 by several South Korean firms to build a CDMA network in Pyongyang, which sank when Washington made it clear it would not let Qualcomm sell the technology.

[And] Back in 1995, the Thai conglomerate [Loxley] set up a 70:30 joint venture, North East Asia Telephone & Telecommunication, with the very same partner Orascom has now bagged, KP&TC. NEAT&T had a 30-year “exclusive” concession – or so it thought.

[I]n 2003 Loxley rolled out mobile service in Pyongyang – only to see them banned after a mere six months. That was in May 2004, soon after a huge rail explosion destoyed a swath of the northwestern town of Ryongchon – hours after Kim Jong-il’s train had passed through from China.

Source: Aidan Foster-Carter, Asia Times

Photo Credit: Roman Harak