Martyn Williams

Martyn Williams

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130923-tradefair

Autumn trade fair begins in Pyongyang

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130923-tradefairThe second of Pyongyang’s two annual international trade fairs opened on Monday.

The Pyongyang Autumn International Trade Fair is scheduled to run until Thursday and has attracted companies from Germany, Russia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore, Italy, China, Cuba, Turkey and Taiwan, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

In previous years, the fair has been the launching point for new tablet computers. Nothing was mentioned about new computers in Monday’s local press coverage, although Monday’s main evening news bulletin on Korea Central Television (below) did show again the Samjiyon tablet computer

You can find a full review of the Samjiyon tablet here, and details of its Chinese origins here.

The fair provides a platform for companies doing business with the DPRK to promote good relations by appearing at the event.

Based on the TV images and photos carried by KCNA, here’s a partial list of some of the companies in attendance:

Pyongyang gets 3D movies

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Could North Korea be on the cusp of a 3D movie boom? A movie theater capable of showing 3D motion pictures has been built at Pyongyang’s Rungna People’s Pleasure Park, according to a weekend report by the state-run Korea Central News Agency.

The theater, which also includes video game rooms, was inspected recently by Kim Jong Un, who called for similar theaters to be built across the country, the report said.

Movies were a passion of Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il. He is said to have had a massive collection of movies that spanned the the classics to modern films and also to have tried his hand at directing local motion pictures. To-date, it’s unclear how much of that passion of movies has rubbed off on Kim Jong Un, who assumed leadership of the country when his father passed away in late 2011.

He looked round various places of the cinema to learn about in detail its construction, specifications of equipment and plan to operate the cinema.

After going round the audience rooms, control room and editing room, he was greatly pleased that soldier-builders successfully constructed the modern cinema in a brief span of time. — KCNA, September 14, 2013

Kim reportedly watched two 3D movies, “Winners” and “Don’t wait for us,” in “Audience room No. 5″ of the complex. The movies were produced by Mokran Video, one of North Korea’s major movie production houses.

Images published by KCNA showed the audience room was a small theater with just two rows of four seats each.

A 3D movie room, as seen in a photo carried by KCNA

The seats look a little like those found in sports cars.

In the KCNA image, a projector can be seen on the ceiling of the room.

KCNA referred to the movies as “rhythmic 3D.” While it’s unclear what that means, the seats shown in the image look like they might be on some sort of platform that vibrates or moves along with the movie.

He said it is important to successfully blend rhythms with themes of films in order to let youth, children and working people feel interesting in the imaginary world the same way they do in reality, while watching 3-d films. — KCNA, September 14, 2013

The new complex was built by soldiers and Kim reportedly told officials it is important to build such cinemas in provincial capitals across North Korea.

He said that the appearance of the modern cinema would help make people’s laughter ring out more loudly at the pleasure park. — KCNA, September 14, 2013

In addition to movies, the complex is reported to have video game rooms. In a beautiful example of KCNA’s unusual use of English, the news agency reported:

Going round the rooms, he was greatly pleased that visitors can enjoy peculiar games under the care of the WPK.

The video games rooms are a gift the WPK presented to the people, he said, underscoring the need to raise the sense of responsibility and role of the service persons and successfully manage equipment if their operation is to be put on normal footing and schoolchildren and working people are to be provided with best convenience. — KCNA, September 14, 2013

Another KCNA image showed Kim walking past the “peculiar games.”

Kim Jong Un walks past video games in this KCNA photo

Minju Joson criticizes U.S. spy satellite launch

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130915-nrol65-launchNorth Korea’s Minju Joson newspaper on Saturday criticized the recent launch of a new spy satellite by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, according to a report on the state-run Korea Central News Agency.

The classified satellite, called NROL-65, was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on August 28 into an orbit that is used by spy satellites.

Not much is known about the satellite, but it’s thought to be the latest addition to the Keyhole constellation of reconnaissance satellites. As such, it will likely strengthen the ability of the U.S. intelligence community to look into North Korea.

Thus, the Minju Joson isn’t pleased.

It is as clear as a pikestaff that the spy satellite would be used for the purpose of the aggressive and warlike foreign policy of the U.S. aiming to dominate the world.

The U.S. is attaching weighty significance to the speed and scientific accuracy in collecting information to carry out its aggressive foreign policy. It is paying special attention to rounding off the intelligence-gathering system by spy satellites.

Hence, the U.S. is keen to cover the space with a dense network of its spy satellites and hold supremacy in this aspect, too. — Minju Joson, September 14, 2013, via KCNA

It wasn’t so long ago that North Korea was trying to launch its first spy satellite, called Kwangmyongsong 3.

The first launch, on April 13, 2013, ended in failure but the second, on December 12, 2012, was successful. Unfortunately for Pyongyang, the satellite appears to have suffered a total failure and was delivered into orbit inoperable.

The newspaper editorial also singled out a recent test by Raytheon of its SM-6 missile interceptor. Two were fired from the USS Chancellorsville and successfully engaged two cruise missies target drones in the missile’s first over-the-horizon test scenario at sea.

It is by no means accidental that some time ago the U.S. launched two “SM-6″ interceptor missiles from its navy ship “Chancellorsville”.

It is the military strategic scenario of the U.S. to take an unchallenged edge in the field of strategic and offensive weapons by combining the intelligence-gathering system by spy satellites and the interceptor missile system. — Minju Joson, September 14, 2013, via KCNA

Here’s video of the NROL-65 launch and some file video of the USS Chancellorsville.

Kim Jong Un visits ‘cell phone factory’

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Kim Jong Un visited on Saturday the Pyongyang factory where North Korean cell phones are supposedly made, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The Android-based AS1201 "Arirang" cell phone, reportedly produced by the May 11 Factory in Pyongyang.

The Android-based AS1201 “Arirang” cell phone, reportedly produced by the May 11 Factory in Pyongyang.

Photos of the visit, released by KCNA, show Kim touring the May 11 Factory and talking to officials. There’s also a picture of what’s said to be the latest cell phone on the North Korean market, an Android phone called “Arirang.” (See right, click for larger image.)

The visit came two years and two weeks since Kim Jong Un last visited the factory. That time he accompanied his father, Kim Jong Il, on a tour of a flat-screen LCD TV assembly line. At the time I noted the production line shown in TV coverage of the visit didn’t look much like those in a typical electronics factory and the same is true this time around.

Workers are shown with finished products, inspecting them and testing them but no actual manufacturing is shown.

Despite KCNA’s reporting that the handsets are made at the factory, they are probably made to order by a Chinese manufacturer and shipped to the May 11 Factory where they are inspected before going on sale.

That will be all but confirmed if the handset shown in the photo can be identified.

Here’s what KCNA said about the visit:

He learned in detail about the performance, quality and packing of “Arirang” hand phone being made at this factory.

He highly appreciated the creative ingenuity and patriotic enthusiasm with which the officials and employees of the factory laid a solid foundation for mass-producing hand phones by building a new modern hand phone production process.

He praised them for developing an application program in Korean style which provides the best convenience to the users while strictly guaranteeing security.

After learning about the performance of a touch hand phone, he said that a hand phone is convenient for its user when that part of the phone is sensitive.

He noted that these hand phones will be very convenient for their users as their camera function has high pixels.

After being told that “Arirang” hand phones which the factory started producing a few days ago are high in demand among people, he said he was also pleased as they are liked by people.

Looking at the trademark “Arirang” inscribed on the hand phone, he noted that mass-production of goods with DPRK trademark can instill national pride and self-respect into the Korean people.

How nice to see hand phones being successfully produced with indigenous technology, he said, adding it is of educational significance in making people love Korean things.

He said that only when the quality of products is improved while boosting their production, people will like home-made things and they will be in high demand. — KCNA, August 11, 2013.

A report on the visit was carried by Korean Central Television, but it didn’t show any video or still images from the trip.

Analysis of the meeting by Daily NK noted the visit is the first time that Kim has “offered the Kim family stamp of approval to the widespread production, and by extension ownership, of cell phones.”

That’s true, although Kim Jong Il’s previous meetings with Naguib Sawiris, chairman of network operator Orascom Telecom, received widespread coverage in state media as did the switching on of the cell phone network.

Daily NK also said it was noteworthy that “Kim posited the idea of cellphone production as a patriotic activity.”

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Kim Jong Un on a visit of the May 11 Factory on August 10, 2013.

130811-arirang-2

Kim Jong Un on a visit of the May 11 Factory on August 10, 2013.

North Korean newspaper hits out at U.S. cyber warfare policy

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0811-ppdCiting a top secret U.S. government document leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, North Korea’s Minju Joson newspaper has attacked America’s cyber warfare policy calling it an “open threat to mankind” and a “declaration of the cyber war.”

The Presidential Policy Directive 20, an October 2012 paper that outlined U.S. cyber operations policy for those in the highest officials in the U.S. government, called for a list of potential targets for possible U.S. cyber attacks under the umbrella of “Offensive Cyber Effects Operations.”

That’s likely worried North Korea, which probably has a better chance than many other nations of making such a list.

This means that the U.S. is ready to mount a fierce cyber attack on anyone going against the grain with it! any moment,” the newspaper said according to a report of the commentary that was carried on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Both KCNA and the Minju Joson are state-controlled, like all media in North Korea.

The cyber attack in Internet network may bring irrevocable financial and material damage to the opponent side in a moment.

This is nothing but an open threat to mankind and the declaration of the cyber war.

The U.S. move can never be justified as it is aimed to make the internet network, which should contribute to civilization and development of mankind, a tool for implementing its strategy for world domination.

The U.S. has to stop at once the anachronistic acts stemming the advance of mankind to peace, prosperity and development. — Minji Joson via KCNA, August 10, 2013.

North Korea itself has been widely reported to be building up its own cyber attack capability and has been blamed for several attacks on South Korean computer networks and companies.

Most recently, South Korean investigators said they found evidence of North Korean involvement in a June 25 cyberattack that hit several South Korean government and private-run websites. Seoul’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning said it had found an IP address linked to North Korea while analyzing the attacks.

One of the attacks targeted the website of the South Korean president and resulted in the site being offline for most of the day.

130803-samjiyon-02

Exclusive: North Korea’s Samjiyon tablet — Made in China?

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130803-samjiyon-01One of the most interesting questions surrounding North Korea’s Samjiyon tablet is its source. State media reports not withstanding, the tablet is almost certainly not made in North Korea — the country just doesn’t have the electronics manufacturing capability to design products like tablet computers from the components up.

And anyway, why bother? Companies in Taiwan and China offer many finished tablet designs that are widely used, even by well-known western brand names, so why go through the work and expense of designing something from scratch?

North Korea’s IT expertise is in software and that’s where the Samjiyon is very North Korean. There are several domestically-developed software apps and packages, education materials for local kids and other enhancements.

The hardware however isn’t different at all from Android tablets on sale in other countries, with the sole exception of a analog TV tuner for local broadcasts.

So, where does it come from?

A little detective work, digging through configuration files buried within the Samjiyon and some Internet sleuthing has revealed the likely source.

In the Samjiyon’s Android system files is the first clue:

130701-samjiyon-system-02

This identifies the tablet as a Yecon 75 and the manufacturer as Alps. Yecon is a Hong Kong based manufacturer of motherboards for tablet computers.

Established in 2003, Shenzhen Yecon Industry Co., Ltd. specializes in tablet PC, GPS equipments, communication devices and other intelligent electronics products. The strategic target for Yecon is to create greatest value for business partners and build Yecon to become a powerful and influential brand and front-runner in domestic intelligent electronics market. After undaunted efforts for more than eight years, Yecon boasts and grows continuously in company scale, sales performance, management ability and comprehensive strengthen as well. — Yecon company website

Alps — not to be confused with the Japanese electronics component maker — appears to be a tablet maker. I’ve found a few references to Alps MID (mobile Internet device) tablets that look similar to the Samjiyon, but nothing perfectly aligns yet.

Yecon’s website shows images for several tablet circuit boards, which are premade for packaging with a screen and other components. One in particular stands out, the MG705.

Take a look at the photo below. The right hand side of the board, as seen in this photo, would be the top of the tablet. There’s a couple of SIM card slots and a memory card slot. Along the lower side of the board, which would be the right hand side in the tablet, are more connectors, including an HDMI connector in the center.

Yecon's MG705 tablet computer circuit board

Yecon’s MG705 tablet computer circuit board

Now take a look at the inside of the Samjiyon (click image for larger version).


130803-samjiyon-02 130803-samjiyon-03
And then compare (Click for a larger image):

130803-samjiyon-04

Looking closer will reveal the two boards are almost identical. There are a few minor differences, and that’s probably because they are slightly different versions of the same design. You’ll also notice some of the capabilities of the board, such as the dual SIM card slots shown as feature 4, are not present on the Samjiyon board. The HDMI video socket, between features 1 and 2 on the Yecon board has also not been installed on the Samjiyon.

The Yecon board isn’t exclusive to the Samjiyon and so it’s possible to see very similar tablets on sale from other companies.

For example, at this year’s Computex IT show in Taipei local tablet maker Clevo was demonstrating a 7-inch Android tablet with built-in digital TV reception that looks very similar to the Samjiyon. A give away is the position of the switches, slots and sockets on the case. Clevo didn’t reply to several requests for details on the tablet, so I haven’t been able to confirm it’s based on the Yecon board, but it looks very similar.

Clevo's A706 tablet on show at the Computex IT show in Taiwan in June 2013

Clevo’s A706 tablet on show at the Computex IT show in Taiwan in June 2013

The Samjiyon tablet computer sits in a Pyongyang gift shop.

Review: Samjiyon tablet

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North Korea, like the rest of the world, is getting hooked on tablet computers. In the last year, state media has highlighted three different tablet computers that are now, according to the reports, available in the country.

The latest of these, the Samjiyon (삼지연), is also on sale to foreigners and one of the tablets was recently purchased by a tech-savvy tourist. The tourist, Michael, doesn’t want to use his surname, but I’ve spoken extensively with him via e-mail, phone and Skype video chat about the tablet and how it performs.

The Samjiyon first appeared to the world at the 8th Pyongyang Autumn International Trade Fair in September 2012. Supposedly developed by the Korea Computer Center (조선콤퓨터쎈터), the tablet is the first from the country to support reception of TV broadcasts.

[See also: “Exclusive: North Korea’s Samjiyon tablet — Made in China?]

“The tablet was just sitting there”

“We had just finished lunch at a hotpot restaurant in Pyongyang and had time to kill while some of us smoked, etc,” said Michael. “The restaurant has a gift shop on the ground floor which mostly sold cheap manufactured stuff that wasn’t overtly for tourists but was likely sold almost exclusively to them.”

“The tablet was just sitting there next to some trinkets inside of the glass case in front at the register. At first, I just asked to take a couple of photos of the box, excited to be able to add just a bit more info to the small amount out there in the world. I asked if it was for sale as more of a joke than anything and I was surprised to have the woman behind the counter tell me it was for sale for just US$200. That simple.”

With that, it was purchased. Taking it out of the country proved no problem, he said.

“When I filled out my customs form at the Pyongyang airport, I even declared that I had an electronic device with me that I didn’t have when I arrived but no attention was paid whatsoever.”

The Samjiyon tablet computer sits in a Pyongyang gift shop.

The Samjiyon tablet computer sits in a Pyongyang gift shop.

“The Samjiyon is surprisingly impressive”

So, how does the tablet stack up against the many Android tablets available in developed markets like the U.S.? Our tech-savvy tourist was well placed to make that distinction because of a job that affords regular access to many high-end Android tablets, like the Galaxy Tab, Galaxy Nexus tabs and Amazon Kindle.

“I can honestly say that the Samjiyon is surprisingly impressive. In terms of responsiveness and speed, it can almost compete against the leading tablets out there. Tapping and launching apps feels fairly fluid, instantiating the camera is as fast as the world’s leading tablets, and there is no noticeable lag when playing games I’m familiar with, like Angry Birds.”

If you believe the specs on the Samjiyon’s box, it’s got an 1.2GHz processor (which is more than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7″‘s 1.0GHz processor) and 1GB of RAM (the same as the Samsung).

The software

All of the typical Android apps are present on the tablet, but don’t look for any Google software. That’s because the basic version of Android, which is available at no cost to any company that wants to use it, doesn’t include Google apps like Gmail, YouTube and Navigation. To get the Google apps, hardware developers need to sign an agreement with Google. That wasn’t done for the Samjiyon and for good reason: with no Internet access, the Google apps are pretty much useless anyway.

Samjiyon apps page 1 with English translations (Translations by Yeseul Loaiza.)

Samjiyon apps page 1 with English translations (Translations by Yeseul Loaiza.)

Samjiyon apps page 2 with English translations (Translations by Yeseul Loaiza.)

Samjiyon apps page 2 with English translations (Translations by Yeseul Loaiza.)

Web Browser

North Koreans might not have Internet access, but they do have the ability to connect to a nationwide internal intranet. A web browser in the Samjiyon comes equipped for the task. It’s programmed to default to a home page at a numeric IP address, 10.76.1.11. The address sits within a private address block, specifically designed for use on internal networks and not globally.

There are several pre-programmed bookmarks.

  • Rodong Sinmun (www.rodong.ref.kp)
  • Korean Central News Agency (www.kcn.inf.kp)
  • Korean Central Television (www.krt.rep.kp)
  • Grand People’s Study House (www.gpsh.edu.kp)

These are linking to sites on the domestic intranet. In the case of the Rodong and KCNA sites, which also have sites on the global Internet, the URLs are different.

WiFi

However, despite the Web browser, Michael says there doesn’t appear to be any way to connect the WiFi. Some of the settings in the tablet’s configuration files refer to a hardware WiFi adapter, so it appears to have the ability to connect built inside it.

It’s possible the configuration entries are erroneous, that WiFi exists in hardware but has been disabled in software, or that it’s hard-coded to work on a certain network and cannot be changed like conventional tablets.

North Korean Apps

Several of the apps on the Samjiyon appear to be domestically made. Perhaps the most interesting of these is a version of Adobe’s PDF reader that’s been repackaged by the Korea Computer Center. It’s not immediately clear what changes if any were made, but the name of the PDF reader software package contains a clear reference to the Korea Computer Center. The names of other foreign-souced software packages haven’t been changed, so it apparently signifies some level of repackaging or modification.

Games

There’s a number of games on the Samjiyon, and some are from international developers.

Among them, a Korean-language version of Angry Birds Rio. It’s interesting to think that this most addictive of Android games have reached as far as Pyongyang. How it got there is a mystery. Rovio, the Finnish maker of the game, hasn’t responded to several requests for comment.

And, if you hadn’t figured it out from Dennis Rodman’s January trip to Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un is a big basketball fan. So it’s interesting to see the Basketball Shot game as one of the apps on the Samjiyon.

Here’s the games found on the tablet:

Angry Birds Rio

Angry Birds Rio

Angry Birds Rio

Angry Birds Rio

 

Educational software

A promotional video for the Samjiyon highlights its usefulness as a tool for students. That’s underlined by the inclusion of several educational and reference software apps.

On the left side of the top shelf are elementary school books: music, computers, mathematics and Kim Il Sung’s childhood. On the right side are middle school books covering language and the arts. The bottom shelf has more middle school books on the left concerning English, biology and chemistry. The right side has reference books.

130701-apps-learning

Educational apps are graphically displayed in a bookshelf-like arrangement on the Samjiyon.

Learning English on the Samjiyon tablet

Learning English on the Samjiyon tablet

Learning English on the Samjiyon tablet

Learning English on the Samjiyon tablet

Specifications

The main specifications of the tablet are listed on the box:

  • 1.2GHz CPU
  • 1GB DDR3 memory
  • 8GB or 16GB internal storage
  • 7-inch screen with 1,024 by 768 pixel resolution
  • 2 megapixel camera
  • 187 by 124 by 10 millimeters
  • 250 grams

Once switched on, the settings screen gives away a little more detail:

  • Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
  • Kernel 3.0.13
  • Baseband A70MTK_D1_default_V1.0.0
  • Build number 20130311.154649

The build number is the date and time when the system software image loaded on the tablet was finalized: March 11, 2013 at 3:46pm.

130701-samjiyon-system-01

The localization settings are set to Pyongyang and North Korea:

130701-samjiyon-localization

Form factor

“The device’s form factor leaves some things to be desired, as the power and volume buttons protrude with some rough edges and trying to open the SD card slot is a bit awkward. Perhaps the biggest misstep in the hardware is the TV antenna and the way that one’s fingernails play a critical role in being able to extract it. Reminds me of pulling a stylus out of a Palm Pilot but even more frustrating,” said Michael.

“The speaker is nice and loud and clear although the headphones jack has some serious issues, requiring quite a bit of jiggling to get both channels coming in without interruption. The screen is also bright but only when viewed straight on. Otherwise, it’s fairly dim. That said, 1024 by 768 pixel resolution is on par with Samsung’s best 7-inch tablet and the iPad Mini.”

“The tablet is running Android 4.0.4 and aside from no obvious way to enable WiFi (although investigation suggests that it supports it), the tablet really would stack up against 80 percent of the tablets sold in the U.S.”

TV Reception

The tablet comes with a built-in analog TV tuner. North Korea uses the European PAL color system and the Russian channel system.

Hitting the TV button on the display starts the TV function and allows the user to choose between four preset channels: VHF channels 5 and 12 and UHF channels 25 and 31.

According to a list of North Korea’s TV transmitters in the most recent edition of the World Radio TV Handbook, channel 5 is used by Mansudae TV in Pyongyang and channel 12 by Korea Central Television.

The same book says Pyongyang’s other TV station, Ryongnamsan TV (former Korea Educational TV), uses channel 9 and lists no UHF channels at all for any North Korean TV outlet. Given the difficulty in getting accurate information from North Korea, it could be that the list is based on old information or incorrect. It could also be the case that UHF broadcasting is now in use in Pyongyang.

Manual tuning isn’t possible. This is inline with North Korea’s policy of fixed tuners on radios and TVs so people cannot listen to foreign broadcasts, but also means the TV function is of little use outside of Pyongyang because KCTV uses other channels in different parts of the country. Perhaps that’s no so much of a problem given the $200 price tag and the lower incomes in the provinces.

130528-wrn-logo

WRN adds satellite-fed Voice of Korea broadcasts

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High-quality recordings of Voice of Korea programs are now available on-demand via the London-based World Radio Network.

Voice of Korea is North Korea’s international radio broadcaster.

WRN, which rebroadcasts international radio stations, previously experimented with offering Voice of Korea shortwave programs, but the quality of the reception was poor and the service ended a few weeks ago with no explanation.

Now it’s back and the quality is better than ever.

WRN is carrying the 57 minute daily broadcast of Voice of Korea in English, Arabic, Chinese, French and Russian. Each program includes the daily news, features on life in North Korea, the exploits of the Kim family and the Juche philosophy, and music.

The broadcasts are sourced from the Voice of Korea’s satellite channel, which is alongside the Korean Central Television broadcast on the Thaicom 5 satellite.

WRN notes the service isn’t something it’s been contracted to provide by the North Korean government.

The following content is sourced from the public domain and is provided purely as a public service. It does not form part of our aggregated radio networks and we have no contractual or financial relationship with the content producer. — WRN website, July 22, 2013.

It’s the first time the broadcast has been available regularly online.

Voice of Korea has a public-facing website, but it offers only a few recordings of news on demand. The full program, including music, isn’t provided on the Voice of Korea site.

(Thanks to Yvan Petrov for the tip.)

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