North Korea plans to lure tourists by allowing foreigners full internet access from handheld mobile devices while traveling the country. Critics say Pyongyang just needs convertible currency as citizens will remain deprived of free web access.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Koryolink 3G, a joint venture of Korea Post & Telecommunications Corporation and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding SAE, has been developing 3G internet-compatible cell infrastructure in North Korea for four years already. Now it has been announced the company will bring mobile internet to the country on March 1, though so far for non-citizens only.
Since practically all tourists take photos while visiting North Korea and later upload them to the web, there is no difference whether they do it at home or while there. But once the DPRK found it can cash in on it, Pyongyang changed its mind and decided to grant internet access to tourists visiting the country.
Until recently, foreigners were not allowed to bring mobile phones to North Korea. Only in January 2013 did border guards stopped withdrawing cell phones from tourists, who were finally allowed to keep the devices and use them as photo cameras at least.
Very soon upon arrival to North Korea tourists will be required to fill a special form to purchase a 3G SIM-card for the price of 50 euro and will have to pay hefty 0.38 – 1.43 euro per minute of talk, but that’s better than not having mobile communication at all. The internet access rates have not been made public yet, as well as whether the popular services like Twitter, Skype and Google will be fully available.
Still, for about 2 million North Korean official mobile users (the country’s population is estimated at 24 million people) the situation with lack of web access will not change.
The local residents can only dream about free internet access, as only the most trustworthy ones can get limited access to the World Wide Web from North Korea. Ordinary citizens cannot even make a phone call to relatives abroad, say to China or Japan, not to mention the antagonist South Korea. North Koreans have to content themselves with local calls, SMS and MMS only.