Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mobile Phone Use in North Korea Increasing and Diversifying

Media reports, including one in The Joongang Daily, indicate that mobile phone usage in North Korea is up 50 percent, year on year.   The development and use of mobile telephony is a topic that I've followed somewhat closely in this blog (see earlier posts).  There are many interesting aspects to the development.  Use of Chinese mobile services along North Korea's border with China highlights the dilemma that the North faces in trying to keep information from its people.  Continued restrictions on the use of mobile phones and other digital devices has the effect of restricting economic growth and development, while expansion of services multiplies the ways North Korean citizens can receive and share information about the outside world.  Gigaom has an interesting article, based on some recent research, about how Twitter could help unleash world peace.
According to figures released by South Korean officials, the number of mobile phone users in North Korea has increased to 450,000 and South Korea's Vice Unification Minister believes, probably correctly, that this indicates not only growth in numbers but also a diversification of users, after the early usage was largely limited to elites.  This diversification, in turn, could signal the growth of a tech-savvy generation in North Korea.  If that happens, one can only speculate about the future role of digital media in political change within North Korea.  The matter becomes especially interesting with the current rapid decrease in cost, accompanied by increase in computing and communication power of a growing array of smart phones!

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