SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- North Korea imported six times more mobile phones in 2010 than in 2009, a media report said Wednesday, indicating growing mobile penetration in the reclusive country.
North Korea bought 430,000 mobile phones from China in 2010, up from 68,000 phones the previous year, according to Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA). In 2010, the country spent US$35 million on importing mobile phones, seven times more than the $5 million outlay in 2009, the report said, citing recent data from the United Nations.
The number of mobile phone users in the communist country has grown rapidly in recent years, from about 90,000 at the end of 2009 to 430,000 a year later and more than 800,000 in the third quarter of last year, the report added, referring to data from Egypt's Orascom Telecom.
The Egyptian company launched mobile phone services in North Korea in 2008 through Koryolink, a joint venture it set up with the North. Koryolink provides its services on cell phones imported from China, RFA said.
The apparent increase in mobile penetration comes despite reports that North Korea severely restricts any flow of information within and across its borders. In recent years, the North has cracked down on mobile phones smuggled in from China, fearing they will be used to communicate with people in China and South Korea, according to defectors in the South.
North Korea first launched a mobile phone service in Pyongyang in 2002, but banned it after a deadly explosion in a northern train station in 2004, possibly out of concern that it could be used in a plot against the regime.