Convenient internet use through smartphones is available in Pyongyang for foreigners only, though some unusual stipulations apply, a Christian social worker told NK News.
Reverend Choi Jae-yeong, who works on social integration between the two Koreas, provided updated information on cellular phone use in Pyongyang including pricing, contract clauses for foreigners and Wi-Fi access points around the capital.
There are a number of Wi-Fi access points around Pyongyang which are exclusively for foreigners, said Choi, who visited the country before the Ebola quarantine.
“Only devices with foreigners-only SIM cards can access to Pyongyang’s Wi-Fi,” said Choi. “So ordinary citizens of Pyongyang can’t access it.”
Choi said Pyongyang’s city Wi-Fi was fast enough to watch online videos and surf the web with ease.
In an essay about his visit of last October, he described in detail the pricing policy of KoryoLink, the only mobile carrier in North Korea for foreign users.
Purchasing a SIM card and subscribing to its mobile internet service costs about $200 and the monthly tariff is about $22. It provides 50MB of mobile data and after that the user has to pay 28 cents per megabyte, according to the KoryoLink price list obtained by NK News.
Though the North Korean cellular network operates under the WCDMA interface, 4G LTE phones from the U.S. and South Korea have worked well with the North Korean SIM Card, Choi said.
Oddly enough, there is no contract termination stipulated in KoryoLink’s terms of agreement, so the user has to pay for the SIM card they have purchased even after leaving North Korea, unless they have subscribed to a short-term contract.
“If a subscriber leaves from Pyongyang airport on October 1, 2014 and plans to visit the North a year later, she has to pay $264, $22 times 12 (months), in advance,” he wrote in his essay.
According to the terms of agreement, a subscriber has to pay an additional fee for resuming the service if it was previously suspended.
Visitors can now subscribe to KoryoLink’s service at not only its office in Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, but also at the People’s Palace of Culture and Potonggang Hotel at the center of the city, Choi said after talking to officials.
North Korea has allowed foreigners to carry their own mobile device since January 7, 2013. On the following March 1 authorities loosened restrictions on communication so foreigners could access the internet from their mobile device.
However, authorities suspended access for short-term visitors on March 28, 2013, though the suspension was soon lifted after authorities and KoryoLink finished “technical examinations and complementary measures,” Choi said.
Direct calls from the North to the South are blocked, but there is no censorship over the internet itself. Therefore, foreigners can freely send messages and make calls, including to South Korea, through assorted web services such as South Korea’s KakaoTalk, and Choi wrote.
Main Picture: KoryoLink’s SIM Card (courtesy of Choi Jae-Yeong)