North Korea tops 3G uptake charts

Melissa Chua
13 Jan 2011

Mention 3G and what comes to mind is either developed countries with 3G networks well in place or emerging markets seeking to build the required infrastructure. What probably does not come to mind when considering this wireless standard is the fact that North Korea leads the charge for the adoption of 3G.


According to data from analyst firm Telegeography, which ranked more than 171 countries by their level of 3G penetration, the secretive North Korea economy came out tops in the study. The country registered a stunning 99.9% figure at the end of September last year, for percentage of wireless users subscribed to a 3G network.


The country’s sole 3G network, Koryolink, was launched by Egyptian owned Orascom Telecom in December 2008. Koryolink’s recent network expansion plans resulted in a 60% increase in subscriber numbers at the end of Q3 last year, bringing the total to 301,199 lines.


Despite the impressive 3G penetration in North Korea, Telegeography also noted severe forms of content filtering that took place over the country’s main 3G network. Users in one of the world’s most secretive economies apparently have access to text messaging but Internet access was restricted to a limited number of official sites.


And statistics only paint half the picture. While 3G adoption appears rampant in North Korea, this impressive rate could be attributed to the fact that members of the public were barred in 2004 from subscribing to Sun Net, the country’s sole 2G network. The 301,199 lines Koryolink lays claim to also represent a mere fraction of North Korea’s estimated 24 million-strong population (according to figures released by the World Bank in 2009).


The report listed six countries where 3G customers make up for more than half of all wireless customers –technologically advanced Japan ranked second behind North Korea, with 94.6% of users connected to a 3G platform. South Korea came in third at 71.7%, followed by Australia (64.6%) and Taiwan (58.1%). The only non Asia Pacific country to have a 3G penetration rate of more than 50% was Sweden, which scored 55.4%.


The only Eastern European country to make the top ten was Slovakia (48%), while the United States placed 24th with 31.4% of users connected to a 3G network.

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