Koryolink to give foreigners mobile data

koryolinkForeigners visiting North Korea should be able to get mobile data service on their cellphones within the coming week, according to a report on Friday.

Koryolink, the country’s only 3G cellphone network, plans to allow visitors to buy mobile Internet when they arrive in the country, the AP said in a report from Pyongyang. The service will launch by March 1, it said.

North Koreans will still be banned from accessing the Internet.

The addition of mobile Internet comes several weeks after North Korea reversed a long-standing policy that banned visitors from bringing cellphones into the country. They were previously taken by customs officials at the port of entry and kept until the visitor left the country, but in January that was changed and visitors were allowed to bring in their phones and buy prepaid voice-only SIM cards.

The AP reported that visitors will be allowed to “tweet, Skype and surf the Internet,” although it’s unclear if access to those services has been confirmed. Carriers sometimes block Skype and other network services.

The AP said it hadn’t been able to confirm pricing details for the mobile Internet service. The prepaid voice service required an initial payment of at least 50 euro for the SIM card, which included some calling credit.

At the time call charges between 38 cents (France and Switzerland) and 1.58 euro (U.K. and Germany) were confirmed. The AP reported calls to the U.S. were also possible at 5 euro per minute.

More than a million North Koreans have cellphones, according to Koryolink. The company is a joint venture between the state-run Korea Posts and Telecommunications Co. and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology (OTMT).

The country runs a tiered phone service in which different classes of caller are allowed access to different services. Regular citizens that can afford a phone are not permitted to call overseas and also barred from calling numbers owned by foreign residents. Foreign residents will typically be able to call overseas, but cannot call the numbers of ordinary North Koreans.

Orascom has confirmed that the government has the capability to monitor cellphone calls. This is likely to extend to the cell phone lines used by foreigners under the new service.

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