Foreigners and tourists visiting North Korea will soon take advantage of wireless data connectivity closed to those who actually live there.
The world's least-connected state has had a 3G network since 2008, under the Koryolink brand, but only offering voice, SMS and MMS services. This is a restriction that will remain for locals although visitors will get controlled access to the internet and international calling. Phoning across the border to South Korea is still verboten.
We're grateful to Associated Press for the news. Connectivity for the lucky few will be switched on this Friday, 1 March. Not only will the internet be available, but visitors are invited to bring their own kit into the country rather than leaving it at the border as required by the current rules.
Mobile telephony arrived in North Korea back in 2002, but only for its citizens. Visitors were permitted onto the voice network in 2004, but immediately afterwards the common people were kicked off the network again as the government struggled to cope with unrestricted communications.
Since then the number of mobiles in the country has grown slowly, hitting a million earlier this year despite the lack of data services or international calling. Mobile users in the country fall into tiers of access, with those living 10 miles from China, for example, being allowed to make calls into that country while the rest of the population is restricted to local communications.
But North Korea is trying to be a little more visitor-friendly these days, and seems to understand that being out of touch isn't acceptable to business people. Though when it comes to tourists we can't help feel that Kim Jong-un's feelings would be closer to John Bird's parody of Idi Amin on the subject:
"Personally I prefer not to let them get further than the airport, just ask them to step off the plane, leave the travellers cheques in a pile by the gang plank while waiting for the next flight back. The trouble is that don't seem to satisfy them, everyone wants something for nothing these days." ®