[EDITORIALS]Phoning up the North

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[EDITORIALS]Phoning up the North

The Ministry of Information and Communication and representatives of the South Korean telecommunications industry have agreed to hold the first-ever meeting on telecommunications in Pyeongyang. The meeting is aimed at promoting joint projects in mobile phone and international telephone exchange services. Earlier, a group of South Korean professors agreed to give lectures on information technology at Kimchaek Engineering University in North Korea beginning in July. This will be the first time South Koreans will teach at a North Korean university.

This two-way approach of South Korea assisting the North in developing human resources and an infrastructure could provide a turning point for inter-Korea relations through information technology. The infrastructure of North Korean telecommunications is quite poor. There are only 1.1 million telephone lines in this country of 23 million people. The phone systems in Pyeongyang and major cities are automatic, but systems in rural areas remain hand-operated. Pyeongyang has only 2,700 public telephones. The interest that the North has shown in this meeting comes from the realization that it must improve its infrastructure if it is to develop an information technology industry. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has reportedly shown an avid interest in this industry.

North Korea has already tested a joint mobile telecommunications project in its Najin and Seonbong special economic zones with Loxley, a Thai firm. The test system is reported to have been following the European-style GMS mobile system. The results of the testing are not known, but there are rumors that North Korea has turned its attention to the Code Division Multiple Access system, or CDMA, that South Korea uses. This isn't the first time Seoul and Pyeongyang have cooperated on the issue of telecommunications. However, no attempts at joint ventures have met with any notable achievements. The challenge this time is to get rid of overly grand expectations and to maintain a careful but flexible manner of approach for the pursuit of a small but visible success.

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