North Korea’s latest smartphone made by Chinese manufacturer

The Pyongyang 2425, North Korea's latest smartphone model
The Pyongyang 2425, North Korea’s latest smartphone model. Image: Daily NK

After running a search for the “identity number” of North Korea’s newest smartphone, the Pyongyang 2425, which North Korea alleges is produced by its Checom Technology Joint Venture Company, Daily NK has determined that the phone is actually made by a Chinese smartphone manufacturer. The manufacturer of the phone has been confirmed through its identity number and suggests that North Korea is importing phones from China before reassembling them domestically.

Daily NK used the website IMEI.info, which allows users to search for the International Mobile Equipment Identity number that categorizes smartphone models, to find the identity number of the Pyongyang 2425. The search found that the phone’s identity number is associated with the Chinese smartphone manufacturer GIONEE, and that the Chinese model name is the 2417.

The IMEI is a 15-digit number that manufacturers print on each mobile phone they produce. IMEIs enable the identification of the nationality, manufacturer, model, and device number of smartphones, and if a phone is stolen or copied illegally, the phone’s IMEI can be placed on a blacklist to prevent it from being used. The IMEIs for the North Korean smartphones that Daily NK acquired (Pyongyang 2418, 2423, 2425, and the Arirang 151) have not been blacklisted.

The GIONEE smartphone lineup, however, does not include a model 2417, and no phones from the manufacturer match the design or hardware of the Pyongyang 2425.

The Pyongyang 2418 that Daily NK acquired appears similar to the GIONEE model 2413. The phone is similar in design and functionality to the GIONEE Marathon M5 Mini.

A search on IMEI.info found that the Pyongyang 2423 is GIONEE model 2417. In other words, the Pyongyang 2425 and the Pyongyang 2423 are from the same manufacturer and have the same model numbers. Questions remain as to why phones of the same model were produced at different times with different features. The Pyongyang 2423 does not share similarities with any GIONEE smartphone models, Daily NK found.

All of this suggests that North Korea may have requested that GIONEE manufacture new phones that it could claim as its own.

North Korea’s Pyongyang 2423 and 2425 are very similar to the mid-range VIVO smartphone line manufactured by American IT company BLU.

The Pyongyang 2425 is similar to the VIVO BLU Vivo XI+ in terms of its design, the way it displays the clock, battery and frequency, and the soft-key icon at the bottom. The only real difference is the memory.

The Pyongyang 2423 is also similar in both hardware and design to the BLU Vivo XL3, although the phones differ in terms of memory capacity. North Korea may have contracted GIONEE to produce the phones through an original development manufacturing (ODM) agreement, and it appears that the company may have used BLU’s VIVO as the basis for the design.

BLU VIVO XI (left) and the Pyongyang 2425 (right)
BLU VIVO XI (left) and the Pyongyang 2425 (right). Images: BLU (left) and Sogwang (right)

That being said, it remains unclear whether North Korea received the phones as finished products or assembled them domestically. Reassembly of smartphones requires a great deal of technical skill, so North Korea may have imported finished phones before installing the software on them domestically.

“While changing the software can lead to some problems in functionality, regardless of the type of hardware used, North Korea could have changed the phone’s software after importing it,” an IT expert who requested anonymity told Daily NK. “North Korea could have ordered the production of the phones with the mutual understanding that they would replace the software.”

The relationship between Checom Technology Joint Venture Company and GIONEE does not appear to be just that of a producer and buyer, however, given that the Pyongyang series of smartphones was produced by the Chinese company.

To maximize profits, North Korea may have created a joint venture company to handle the software side, while GIONEE handles the hardware side.

If the two companies are “joined at the hip,” another possibility is that the North Korean smartphones could be manufactured at a Checom factory in Pyongyang, rather than the company’s factories in China.

North Korea may be looking to capitalize on propaganda claims that it had produced the phone domestically and add credence to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s emphasis on the country’s scientific and technological development.

More investigation is needed to clarify whether GIONEE produces all of the smartphones supposedly manufactured by Checom.

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