A burgeoning population of mobile phone
users in North Korea coupled with the installation of cell towers along the
Sino-North Korean border has led to greater coverage for the North’s networks
even inside of China, Daily NK has learned.
“Just until recently, in order to talk to
people in China from the North, you would have to use a Chinese handset, but
now you can use local phones,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK
on Wednesday. “If you pass on a North Korean handset to traders in China, you
can easily chat with them.”
A source in North Pyongan Province
corroborated this news.
This means trade company workers and people
living in small provincial cities who had to travel to the border area to talk
to traders in China can do so within the comfort of their own local districts.
North Korean handsets, equipped only for connecting to local mobile networks,
can now be used in areas within China that pick up the North’s network signal. This is due to the greater scope of coverage provided by its cell towers.
“Because you could only make calls to
outside of the country in the border area in the past, you would have to go
through multiple guard posts in order to do so. That made it difficult,” the
source said. “But now, as long as your Chinese contact is close enough to the
border area with a North Korean phone, people can easily contact them.”
Although nearly 60 percent of Pyongyang’s
residents have mobile phones, they would not have ever imagined being able to
make calls outside of the country with them. However, now with cell towers
installed all over the country, as long as you can get a local phone across the
Amnok [Yalu] and Duman [Tumen] River areas, conversations can take place just
like they would with people within the country, the source emphasized.
Placing overseas calls is still considered
illegal, and although the state issues harsh punishments and uses jammers to
block these calls, such efforts fail to to completely cut off access.
“Most ethnic Korean-Chinese who live in the
Yanbian Prefecture in China use a dialect very similar to that from North and South Hamgyong
Provinces, and the cadence is the same as well, so it is not easy for Ministry of People’s security personnel or State Security Department agents to pick out calls established with people outside of the
country,” she explained.
“But people are still wary of wiretaps and usually
only have simple conversations with traders, asking for specific things or
talking about business-related issues.”
In terms of how state authorities have been
countering these movements, the source said security agents on the border use
devices to jam waves, but “they are not foolproof.” Moreover, the jammers
interfere with Chinese networks in Yanbian, sometimes resulting in complaints
Notably, many of the old slider phones that
sell for roughly 250 USD in North Korea are being smuggled out of the country
to Chinese users now, as more high-end smartphones either in the 300 USD range
or 400 to 500 USD range are now available in the market, according to the
*The content of this article was broadcast to the North Korean people via Unification Media Group.