Free Market Solution to Koryolink Dilemma

A market has developed to cater to those North Korean people who are keen to get access to a cell phone but do not have the time or ability to meet the long-winded and restrictive formal regulations that must be followed in order to obtain one on the joint venture Koryolink network.

A source in Seoul revealed to Daily NK on the 30th, “The demand for cell phones is rising fast because it’s not just the cadre class that wants them; others want to have them, too. But, because the process of obtaining a phone officially is really complicated and takes forever, there is now a market for cell phones held in other people’s names.”

People wanting to get hold of a phone through Koryolink need to obtain approval from the relevant security service personnel at their place of residence or workplace. This requires both proof of ID and payment. Even if that approval is forthcoming, it can take a month or more before the applicant gets his or her hands on a functioning phone.

Therefore, the source said, “Middlemen in larger cities are getting multiple phones activated in random people’s names and then taking them to smaller cities to sell. Alternatively, households that don’t have any problem getting that kind of approval are mobilizing the names of their entire families to get phones, which they are then selling on to the middlemen.”

“The end users are buying these cell phones for $300 to $500 from the middlemen or from private sellers. This saves them having to go to the trouble of applying to Koryolink,” he added.

A basic Koryolink phone can be purchased officially for roughly $270- $300, excluding bribes and extraneous costs. The price of one of these semi-legal phones depends on duration of use and model. The best product, the T1, a clamshell design, is the latest and costs more than $500. The next mid-range model is the T3, another clamshell; there is also a similarly priced phone with a slide design. The budget offerings are the T95 and T107. Differences in price are mostly attributable to differences in sound quality rather than the designs, sources assert.

In addition, there are also phones available for use within individual provinces. These products, which are similar to the so-called “city phones” that were briefly permitted in the late 90s but soon got withdrawn, cost just $70 at the time of writing.