An anonymous technician with the North Korea-Egyptian joint venture company ‘Koryolink’ revealed to Chinese news agency Xinhua on the 20th that foreigners visiting North Korea are now able to not only bring their cell phones into the country, but also to make international calls on them. Foreigners had hitherto famously been required to surrender their cell phones to the authorities upon entry.
The Koryolink source explained, “Just fill in a registration form at Customs with your phone’s IMEI number and you can bring it into the DPRK. If you want to make international calls, WCDMA 3G mobile phone owners can purchase a Koryolink SIM card, which costs 50 Euro.”
The source added that the change is a result of long negotiations with the North Korean authorities, and rejected the idea that it had anything to do with the recent visit of Eric Schmidt to Pyongyang.
“We have tried hard to negotiate with the Korean security side, and got the approval recently,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the Google trip.”
Experts suggest that the authorities were only willing to allow the step because it is possible to closely control the usage of phones by foreigners and ensure that they do not communicate freely with North Korean citizens. As such, while the decision is eye-catching, it is of little value in terms of information freedom for the North Koreans population.
One defector explained, “The authorities already have a system of surveillance for recording their calls and blocking access, so now they have decided to allow international calls. They’re just trying to show that taking tours of North Korea freely is possible in order to attract more tourists.”
“This doesn’t seem all that meaningful,” he added.
The phones used by North Koreans are very different to the ones used by foreigners, making it impossible for the two systems to interact. North Korean mobile phones do not allow international calls or grant access to the Internet, meaning that the impending launch of mobile Internet services for foreigners will not represent significant progress either.