While North Korea has been largely closed off from the outside world since 1948, some tech does manage to trickle in.
A recent report by a South Korean publication has revealed that smartphone ownership is actually on the rise in North Korea. There is even a clear favourite – the Samsung Galaxy range
Galaxy smartphones, as well as all South Korean products, are contraband in North Korea. But that hasn’t stopped them from being smuggled in.
Yang Un-chul, the vice president of the Sejong Institute in Seoul has spoken to North Korean defectors about smartphone use.
Speaking to The Investor, he said “There are quite a number of North Koreans who are using Galaxy smartphones… it is not about whether they can get their hands on the Samsung smartphones, but about if they can afford to buy.”
Interestingly, Smartphones aren’t banned outright in the DPRK. In fact, there are an estimated five-million users as of 2018.
North Korea has even collaborated with a Chinese company to bring more in. With a significant mark up, of course. For each $US50 phone they bring in, they sell it for around $US250.
According to the NK News, there are several communication networks that exist within North Korea, but are mostly utilised by the elite. There is also a separate network for foreigners who reside within the country.
The reclusive nation has even tried making its own smartphones, such as the Jindallae 3, which was designed and manufactured by North Korea’s Mangyongdae Information Technology Corporation.
While we don’t have access to the specs, it is clearly reminiscent of an iPhone, but also bears similarities to the Samsung Galaxy. This won’t be surprising to anyone who remembers that time that North Korea released a tablet called named the Ryonghung IPad.
Kim Jong-Un is also known to be a fan of Apple, and has been photographed on numerous occasions using and working alongside Apple products.
It is believed that North Korea’s standard operating system, Red Star 3.0, was modelled on OSX and iOS. It prevents users from installing unauthorised apps, as well as thwarting attempts to disable security functions.
The DPRK’s government-sanctioned phones are also stripped of internet access in order to control the access to information to North Korean citizens.
But Black market phones are different. Fitted with Chinese USIM cards, users are able to contact the outside world – often family members and people who have defected to South Korea. Some of the most popular apps used for this are WeChat, Telegram and KakaoTalk.
In order to avoid detection, users of these phones will often replace South Korean logos and origin labels with those from China or Japan.
With the recent talks and negotiations between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the ban on South Korean products may be lifted in the future. Perhaps citizens will be able to enjoy their beloved Samsung Galaxy phones in public.
While we can’t know that for sure, it is fascinating to think about what North Korea might look like if was on the receiving end of a robust technological injection.