North Korea’s only 3G mobile network operator (MNO), CHEO Technology (Koryolink), has reportedly halted operations and transferred customers to its sole cellular rival, GSM services provider Kang Song NET. According to United Press International, which cites Japanese intelligence sources by way of a South Korean news outlet, Koryolink’s major shareholder Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding (OTMT) froze its operations in North Korea last month as a result of the local regime’s continued missile tests. It is understood that OTMT is currently discussing its plans for withdrawing from North Korea with the local authorities, which hold a 25% stake in Koryolink. In the meantime, the cellco’s subscriber base has been transferred to the nation’s only other MNO, which OTMT has previously identified as Kang Song NET, and is believed to be a wholly state-owned company.
OTMT’s exit from North Korea has long been on the cards. TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database noted back in November 2015 that the Cairo-based firm had adopted a revised accounting treatment for Koryolink, confirming at that date that it was de-consolidating the North Korean vehicle, making it an associate, rather than a subsidiary. The decision to undertake this corporate change was said to have been prompted by continued issues related to OTMT’s efforts to merge Koryolink with Kang Song NET and due to economic sanctions imposed on North Korea, which it said continued to affect its ability to impose control over the cellco and were impacting the convertibility of cash and repatriation of dividends.