North, South Korea to begin direct telephone service

The first direct telephone service between North and South Korea will be available in both countries from late May, South Korea’s KT Corp. said Friday.

The service will be offered by KT and the North Korean state-run Korea Post and Telecommunications Corp. and be available between any KT subscriber line and lines in the Kaesong Industrial Zone, an inter-Korean project being built in the city of Kaesong just north of the countries’ common border.

The phone service will launch on May 31 and calls will cost US$0.40 per minute, said Suzie Nam, a spokeswoman for KT. Subscribers will also have to pay US$100 to register for the service and a US$10 per month subscription fee. In South Korea, anyone will be able to apply for the service, said Nam.

Direct phone service hasn’t been available between the north and south since the 1940s, when the country was divided at the 38th parallel in the wake of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

The new service will be made possible by a line that will run between a KT switch near the border and a KPTC facility in Kaesong. It will only offer connection with lines in the industrial area. Other lines in Kaesong city and elsewhere in the country won’t be accessible via the service.

From South Korea, subscribers will place a normal international call and dial the ’85’ country code for North Korea and then the number, which will be six digits long and begin with ’85’, said Nam. From North Korea, subscribers will dial a ‘089’ prefix and then the South Korean telephone number they wish to reach, she said.

While the service represents the first direct connection between the two countries, there are indirect connections. South Korea’s Onse Telecom has offered a service since 1998 between South Korea and the Mt. Kumgang tourist area which runs via Japan. Also, several recent media reports have said that North Koreans living near the Chinese border have been able to obtain Chinese cell phones and make calls to relatives in South Korea via China’s cell phone network.