North Korea Allows Foreigners To Use Their Own Mobile Phones

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Pyongyang
Former New Mexico Governor Richardson and Google Executive Chairman Schmidt visit the Korean Computer Center in Pyongyang, Jan. 9, 2013

For the first time, foreign visitors to North Korea are allowed to take their own mobile phones to the country, Chinese media reported Sunday.

Visitors can now buy a SIM card at the airport which will let them make international calls and contact foreign embassies in Pyongyang and international hotels. However, they cannot make local calls or go online.

A technician with Koryolink, the North Korean-Egyptian joint venture that operates the 3G phone network, told China's official Xinhua news agency that the move took effect Jan. 7.

"Just fill a registration form at the Customs with your phone's IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, you can bring your own phones to DPRK," the Egyptian technician, who was unnamed, said.

"If you want to make international calls, the WCDMA 3G mobile phone owners can purchase our Koryolink SIM card, which costs 50 euro ($67)," the technician said.

Previously, all foreigners had to leave their mobiles at the border and collect them when they left.

Following a much-hyped trip to North Korea earlier this month, Google chairman Eric Schmidt said in Beijing that he had told Pyongyang officials that the country would not develop unless it allowed free Internet.

The technician said that the new move to allow foreign phones had “nothing to do with the Google trip."

Despite the new move, foreigners are still not allowed to use the Koryolink 3G network to access the Internet.

The Koryolink staff said that the mobile Internet service for foreigners would be opened soon. "It is not a technical problem, we just wait for the DPRK (North Korea) authority’s approval."

The reclusive Asian state has a domestic intranet service with a limited number of users. Analysts say access to the Internet is limited to the country's super elite -- meaning, a few hundred people or maybe 1,000 at the most, according to an AFP report.

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