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View more articles by Damin Jung
Damin Jung was an NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked at the CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) Korea Chair.
Update at 1300 KST: NK News’s source has clarified that the store was in Pyongyang, and not in Samjiyon province as was previously believed.
Pictures obtained by NK News suggest growing access to the country’s intranet, with USB dongles providing Koryolink access being sold to locals in the DPRK capital.
A recent visitor to North Korea, who chose to remain anonymous, said the photo was taken in July at a telecoms center in Pyongyang.
When they tried to purchase the device, however, they were told by a sales person that the device was “only for Koreans,” suggesting it is intended to be used to access the domestic intranet – which foreigners are generally not permitted to access.
“I have not heard many reports of these being used by normal North Korean citizens on the domestic network but I am not wholly surprised that these are being introduced,” Nat Kretchun, Deputy Director at the Open Technology Fund and an expert on information freedom in North Korea, told NK News.
The device is marked “HSPA USB Stick.” In information technology, HSPA generally refers to “High-Speed Packet Access,” a type of mobile protocol.
“There is, to my knowledge, no technical barrier that would prevent them from being used on the domestic network for intranet access,” Kretchun said, adding that “the government is likely to start allowing greater access to the intranet.”
The photo of the USB dongle also shows “multi-functional watch (다기능손시계)” devices that, Kang Young-sil, a defector expert focusing on North Korea’s IT technology at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information, said could potentially be used to show incoming notifications from a user’s smartphone.
Another photo of the same shop shows North Korea’s domestically-made smart phones “Pyongyang 2409” being sold alongside prepaid phone cards from Koryolink.
This low demand could explain its relatively low price of 14,000 KPW, roughly USD$133 in the official exchange rate.
The USB dongle, if being sold exclusively to locals, would not offer internet access, but Koryolink does provide foreigners, often journalists, with internet access in-country.
Uses of North Korea’s state-run intranet, which is not accessible outside the country, has noticeably diversified in recent years.
In November last year, Manmulsang, an intranet-based platform for North Korean donju (entrepreneurs) was announced, showing over 3.2 million accumulated internal visitors to the website in ten months.
Edited by: Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: NK News