Aug. 11 (UPI) -- There are about 6 million mobile phone subscribers in North Korea, where the majority of the population does not have access to the global Internet, according to a state-owned development bank in the South.
Kim Min-gwan, a researcher at Korea Development Bank Future Strategy Research Institute, said in a new report the number of mobile phones in use is rising in North Korea amid marketization and changing trends in consumption among North Koreans in their 20s and 30s, JoongAng Ilbo reported Tuesday.
Mobile phone subscription rates are highest in major cities like Pyongyang and Rason, a port situated in a special economic zone. In each city, more than 70% of the residents own mobile phones, according to the South Korean researcher's estimates.
Among North Koreans active in informal marketplaces, the average user owns about two to three mobile phones. In total, 4.5 million North Koreans, 18 percent of the total population, are actively using the phones, including smartphones, Kim said in his research.
North Korea claims it has domestically developed phones like the Arirang 171 smartphone, but it is more likely the phones may have been imported from China, either as finished products or in parts, Kim said.
The researcher also said North Korea maintains a 3G mobile network, which is a joint venture among three providers: Koryolink, Kangsong and Byol. Koryolink is a partnership between Egyptian firm Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding and Pyongyang's state-owned Korea Post and Telecommunications Corp.
Mobile phone ownership in North Korea is growing at a time when the economy could be contracting amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Market intelligence provider Fitch Solutions said North Korea's annual GDP growth rate for 2020 is expected to be -8.5% by the end of the year, Voice of America's Korean service reported Tuesday.
The growth forecast comes after the firm said in early June the North Korean economy is expected to contract by 6% in 2020.