Saturday, November 16, 2013

Changing smartphone preferences in North Korea

Radio Free Asia just published a report that provides a fascinating glimpse into growth of mobile communications usage in North Korea, specifically focusing on smartphones.  Although anecdotal, I believe the information contributes to my argument, in earlier posts (e.g. here), about the "digital dilemma" facing North Korea's government.  The report, entitled "North Korean traders scramble for smartphones from the south," included some interesting details, including the following excerpt.
"The traders seek South Korean smartphones such as Samsungs and LGs, which cost double the price of similar Chinese-made models, so that they can type and text in Korean and because they believe the devices provide better quality reception, the sources in North Korea said. Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea, which operates a restricted domestic cell phone network that does not allow international calls, have long underpinned a thriving illicit border trade between the two countries. The foreign phones are banned by Pyongyang, but North Koreans use them covertly to connect to Chinese reception towers near the border and organize deliveries and payment for goods. Now, preferences for phones made by globally popular South Korean electronics giants such as Samsung and LG indicate the traders’ taste in cell phones is becoming more sophisticated."
Even at double the cost, the South Korean-made smartphones are attractive.  The article went on to note that "Chinese dealers often provide cell phones for the North Korean traders they work with to facilitate their operations. One Chinese dealer surnamed Liu said the five North Korean traders working under him were pestering him to replace their Chinese-brand phones with Samsungs or LGs."
Furthermore,"Since August, North Korea has had its own smartphone, the AS1201 Arirang, which works in the Korean language, according to announcements in state media. But the state-produced device is made for use on the domestic network Koryolink, which does not allow international calls or access to mobile Internet."

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