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North Korea to introduce second cellular provider

A second provider, Byol, is expected to offer wireless services only to North Koreans.

By
Elizabeth Shim
The mobile phone is becoming a central component of everyday life for many North Koreans, and more households own two mobile phones as a way around prohibitively expensive service plans. In this photo from North Korean state media, an online shopping mall is featured on a mobile interface. File photo by Yonhap
The mobile phone is becoming a central component of everyday life for many North Koreans, and more households own two mobile phones as a way around prohibitively expensive service plans. In this photo from North Korean state media, an online shopping mall is featured on a mobile interface. File photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, July 8 (UPI) -- North Korea is making a dent in the country's wireless-service monopoly, by introducing a second cellular provider in its growing mobile phone market.

A source in Pyongyang told North Korea Tech, a U.S.-based news outlet, that the state has selected the firm Byol, meaning star in Korean, as an alternative domestic provider of wireless services.

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Byol has already been in operation inside the reclusive country, offering cable-based Internet to Pyongyang's foreign residents, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

The differentiated Internet service for foreigners in North Korea was established so ordinary North Koreans would not be able to access websites outside the country or make international phone calls, South Korean television network SBS reported.

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With the new changes, however, Star is expected to offer wireless services only to North Koreans.

Byol, compared to the existing network of Koryolink, also is expected to be easier to operate.

Radio Free Asia reported North Korea's decision reflects the state's wish to diminish Koryolink's powerful monopoly, and Martyn Williams of North Korea Tech said North Korea has selected Byol to reduce the exercise powers of its majority shareholder, the Egyptian firm Orascom.

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Orascom holds a 75 percent share in Koryolink, but Byol is expected to merge with Koryolink, a move designed to lessen the percentage of Orascom's share of revenue in Koryolink's profits, estimated to be $540 million at the official exchange rate, according to North Korea Tech.

The mobile phone is becoming a central component of everyday life for many North Koreans, and more households own two mobile phones as a way around prohibitively expensive service plans.

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