Foreigners visiting North Korea can now take their own mobile phones into the country, Chinese state media reported yesterday, citing an employee with the operator of the country’s mobile network.
The move took effect on Jan. 7, a technician with Koryolink, the North Korean-Egyptian joint venture that operates the 3G phone network, told Xinhua news agency.
“We have tried hard to negotiate with the [North] Korean security side and got the approval recently,” said the technician, identified as an Egyptian “It has nothing to do with the Google trip.”
Earlier this month, Google Inc chairman Eric Schmidt made a high profile visit to North Korea and said in Beijing after the trip that he had told officials in the North that the country would not develop unless it embraced Internet freedom.
“Once the Internet starts, citizens in a country can certainly build on top of it,” Schmidt said.
“The government has to do something. It has to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government in North Korea has not yet done,” he said.
Highly secretive North Korea has a domestic Intranet service with a limited number of users. Analysts say access to the Internet is only for the country’s super-elite, meaning a few hundred people or maybe 1,000 at most.
Foreigners will need to fill out a form to give their phone’s International Mobile Station Equipment Identity number to North Korea customs agency to bring in their personal device, the Egyptian technician said.
Previously, foreigners were required to leave their phones with customs and pick them up when leaving the country, the report said.
Foreigners using a phone based on the WCDMA 3G mobile standard can buy a Koryolink SIM card in North Korea for 50 euros (US$67) and make international calls, the technician told Xinhua.
Mobile Internet service will also be available soon for foreigners in North Korea, Xinhua added.
“It is not a technical problem, we just wait for North Korean approval,” the Koryolink employee said.
North Korea’s 3G mobile network has 1.8 million users, Xinhua said, though their options are limited to text messages, voice and video calls.
Their phones cannot make international calls or connect to the Internet, while North Koreans and foreigners cannot call each other because of different settings on their SIM cards, Xinhua said.
Schmidt accompanied former US ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson on the trip, which also involved talks with North Korea about a US citizen detained in the country.
Efforts to “strongly urge” North Korea to increase the use of the Internet were “the main success of the visit,” Richardson said in Beijing.