UPDATE 3 (2013-3-22): Koryo Tours employee, Hanna Barraclough, has been posing Instagram photos from her most recent trip to the the DPRK. You can see the photos here. She also wrote this blog post about her most recent trip. In the report, she dropped some notable information in the last paragraph:
In other news from the trip – the 3G access for foreigners has now been restricted to long term visitors/residents of Pyongyang only and tourists are not permitted to use this service. They can still buy simcards to make calls but no internet access available.
Hanna, Jean Lee, and David Guttenfelder are the only individuals of whom I am aware that have used Instagram/Twitter from inside the DPRK. Since they regularly enter and DPRK, they might get a pass as “long-term visitors”. It looks like the idea of thousands of tourists instantly uploading images to the web was a little more than Pyongyang could handle for the time being. Still, we know the capacity is there, we just have to wait for them so flip the switch again.
UPDATE 2 (2013-3-7): Here is CCTV (China) coverage (in English) of the new cell phone policy:
UPDATE 1 (2013-3-4): Koryo Tours has posted all the details about mobile phone use in the DPRK.
ORIGINAL POST (2013-2-26): In January the DPRK began allowing foreigners to bring mobile phones into the country. These cell phones were not compatible with the DPRK mobile network (Previously, foreign VIPs could only make mobile phone calls through the old Loxley network). However, it later emerged that visitors could buy SIM cards which would allow compatible mobile phones to make international phone calls–but not domestic calls.
Last week, Jean Lee (Assiciated Press) reported that international visitors/expats will soon have access to the internet through their mobile phones with KoryoLink SIM cards:
North Korea will soon allow foreigners to tweet, Skype and surf the Internet from their cellphones, iPads and other mobile devices in its second relaxation of controls on communications in recent weeks. However, North Korean citizens will not have access to the mobile Internet service to be offered by provider Koryolink within the next week.
Koryolink, a joint venture between Korea Post & Telecommunications Corporation and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding SAE, informed foreign residents in Pyongyang on Friday that it will launch a third generation, or 3G, mobile Internet service no later than March 1.
The announcement comes just weeks after North Korea began allowing foreigners to bring their own cellphones into the country to use with Koryolink SIM cards, reversing a longstanding rule requiring most visitors to relinquish their phones at customs and leaving many without easy means of communication with the outside world.
The two changes in policy mean foreigners in North Korea will have unprecedented connectivity while living, working or traveling in a country long regarded as one of the most isolated nations in the world.
However, wireless Internet will not yet be offered to North Koreans, who are governed by a separate set of telecommunication rules from foreigners. North Koreans will be allowed to access certain 3G services, including SMS and MMS messaging, video calls and subscriptions to the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper — but not the global Internet.
Chinese-made Huawei cellphones sold by Koryolink are not cheap, with the most basic model costing about $150, and the governments restricts North Koreans from phoning abroad or foreigners from their cellphones. Still, mobile phones have become a must-have accessory among not only the elite in Pyongyang but also the middle class in cities such as Kaesong and Wonsan.
Foreigners, meanwhile, can now purchase SIM cards at the airport or at Koryolink shops for 50 euros ($70). Calls abroad range from 0.38 euros a minute to Switzerland and France and more than 5 euros a minute to the U.S. Calls to South Korea remain prohibited.
Starting next week, foreigners will be allowed to purchase monthly mobile Internet data plans for use with a USB modem or on mobile devices using their SIM cards. Prices for the service haven’t been announced yet.
It now appears that the service has been activated. Jean Lee, who wrote the article above has been tweeting and using Instagram (and here)and Loopcam. She may be the first customer to use the service. Dennis Rodman may be the second.
“We will provide both a USB modem and your current own SIM card to get access to Internet, respectively costs 75 euro and 150 euro upon registration, with different levels of charge standard, from 400euro/10G, 250euro/5G, to 150euro/2G for USB and 10 euro for SIM card per month,” he said.
The Xinhua article also claims the number of domestic mobile phone users has increased to 1.8 million. The Daily NK offers interesting information on how all these users are able to power their phones.