Cellphones Still a “Rich” Man’s Game

The cell phone
application process is still an insurmountable hurdle for the majority of North Korean citizens, sources inside the country report.

“If you wanted to
activate a cell phone, you’d need approval from the relevant MPS official
(Ministry of People’s Security) and your manager,” a source from Yangkang Province
explained to Daily NK on the 3rd. “One stick of cigarettes (10 packs, worth
30,000 North Korean Won, or $3.80 USD at the black market rate) would not be
enough for that, so you’d need to take a bottle of decent alcohol, too.”

“These people use the
application process for their gain,” she pointed out. “The applicant who goes there empty handed gets caught up in this and that condition, and does not get approved. And because it costs 30,000-50,000 won (USD
$3.80-$6.50) to get just one stamp, anyone who struggles to make a living
can’t even imagine it.”

In addition to all the signatures that must be obtained in order to gain access to the process of cellphone purchase, the application form requests the applicant’s name, birth date, job, name and phone number of the relevant workplace, ID number, home phone number, and home address.

The phones currently available at “mobile communications equipment sales outlets” outside Pyongyang are
an Orascom-produced phone that sells for about 1700 Chinese Yuan (USD $271), and
the “Arirang,” which North Korean propaganda calls a domestic product. It sells for 2800 Chinese
Yuan (USD $450).

In the event that a
phone is finally acquired, it comes with 200 minutes of credit. After those
minutes have been used up, additional credit can be purchased. It costs between $15~$35
each time.

 “Security service officials, Party men, and
traders, in other words people who live reasonably well, have the Arirang phones,” the
source said. “The name of the model leads them to believe it was produced
in North Korea, but the script on the inside suggests it was made in China.”

“As phones
without covers, folder phones and then even touchscreen smart phones came out, people
said they felt like ‘our country’s economy is growing,’” the source said. “But
once the phones were disassembled and it became apparent where they were made,
we lamented that we are just following China.”

“Interpreters dealing
with foreigners and such in Pyongyang commonly have two cell phones: one for
personal use and the other for business. Cell phone users are common on the
streets of Pyongyang. Most university students have them,” she acknowledged. “Cell phone numbers in Pyongyang begin with the number ‘1912’, because
that is Kim Il Sung’s year of birth.”

As of May 2013, there were
2,000,000 phones in use in North Korea.