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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
A Wi-Fi internet access point has been installed at Pyongyang’s Potonggang Hotel, a September-dated photo obtained by NK News shows.
The rare Wi-Fi system, first reported by AP journalist Eric Talmadge last month, broadcasts a hidden signal allowing approved users at the hotel to gain online access, a source who visited the hotel explained.
“You have to type in the Wi-Fi name specifically… you need to know the name of the network exactly and the password to connect directly to it,” the source said.
Another regular visitor to the hotel told NK News that internet access had actually been in existence there since at least summer 2017, though at the time had only been available through an ethernet router.
“They told us we can get (internet access) in the rooms, but it turned out that they only provided ethernet router there,” the regular visitor explained of the hotel visit last year.
“Of course, these can be easily turned to Wi-Fi with an adapter too,” the source continued, describing news of the Wi-Fi provision “a great development, hard to believe.”
Access at the time was routed through a login page provided by portalstar.kp, photos seen by NK News showed, with ethernet hardware manufactured by the Taiwanese ZyXEL company.
Wi-Fi access to the world wide web is extremely rare in the DPRK, with the few Wi-Fi points which do exist only providing access to closed networks such as the country’s domestic intranet service.
Even when journalists visit DPRK on official delegations, access is provided through hardwired ethernet connections, often creating connectivity issues for reporters not in possession of adaptors.
2014 saw North Korean authorities, citing interests of national security, clamp down on the Pyongyang diplomatic community’s use of the technology, declaring that embassies, officials and international NGOs working in-country could no longer use WiFi to connect to the internet.
“Signals of regional wireless network, installed and being used without licence, produce some effect upon our surroundings,” a notification from the regulatory department obtained by NK News said at the time.
“Therefore, it is kindly notified that the regional wireless network is abolished here.”
The government order followed a story by The Diplomat in August that year, which reported that housing prices had skyrocketed in areas surrounding Pyongyang’s diplomatic compound where open WiFi networks were commonly accessible.
Informed sources subsequently told NK News that while wifi was common at the time, weak signal strength would have not facilitated easy access.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News