Plugging in from Pyongyang

Image courtesy of AP cameraman David Guttenfelder's Instagram

UPDATE:  According to Koryo Tours, the only group that is currently sanctioned to bring foreigners into North Korea, "3G access is no longer available for tourists to the DPRK. Sim cards can still be purchased to make international calls but no internet access is available." Now, the only foreigners with 3G access will be permanent residents of the DPRK, not tourists.  

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Originally published February 28, 2013

This week, foreigners living in North Korea were able to connect to 3G services on their mobile devices and tablets. Koryolink (a joint venture between state-owned KPTC and Egyptian provider Orascom) informed foreign residents in Pyongyang that it will launch 3G mobile Internet service no later than March 1.

This newly-available access follows the reversal of regulations requiring visitors to surrender their phones at customs, and has been replaced with allowing foreigners to bring in their own mobile phones to use with Koryolink SIM cards.

Some have speculated that 3G access follows the highly publicized visit from Google CEO Eric Schmidt; however, Koryolink has stated the new service had “nothing to do” with his trip, and the carrier had "tried hard to negotiate with the Korean security side, and got the approval recently."

While foreign residents have been tweeting and Instagramming to their hearts content (for a whopping 300 euros on average), citizens of the DPRK are still prohibited from connecting to 3G services. As citizens fall under a separate set of telecommunication rules, those who are able to obtain access to internet-enabled phones and computers (about 5% of the total population), can only exchange SMS, MMS, and video calls on Koryolink, and receive subscriptions to the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper — but not the global Internet.

Currently, there does not appear to be any additional efforts to filter or censor content. But, of course, any details on how foreign users’ (or, for that matter, citizens who have access) communications are monitored are unclear. We’ll keep an eye on any further developments.