3G come, 3G go, 3G come in North Korea

The poobahs of Pyongyang decide that internet access isn't a good idea after all. Still, subscribers are growing.

You can talk but you better not surf, boy. North Korean phone users like those above have 3G voice service, but the government bans mobile web access. 

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Not long after opening up Internet access on North Korea's 3G mobile network, the poobahs of Pyongyang decided that wasn't such a good idea after all.

The country's state-owned Korea Post and Telecommunications turned off Web browsing in late March, just a few weeks after allowing it, TIME Magazine and others reported at the time.

The brief period was never a model of Net liberty, as it was only available to foreign tourists . North Koreans were not permitted Web access on the network. Nor are they allowed to make international calls.

But residents are taking what they can get. A blog called North Korea Tech reports that the number of subscribers has nearly doubled since February 2012, from 1 million to almost 2 million. That's an impressive growth rate, although it's not a lot of users for a country of 24.4 million people where there is one provider, Koryolink.

"Only a few years ago, it would have been unusual to see anyone in Pyongyang speaking on a cell phone, but that all began to change in December 2008 when Koryolink launched its service," North Korea Tech notes. "It's now available across Pyongyang (the capital), in all major cities and along main road and rail routes around the country."

Website The Diplomat suggests that the actual numbers are much higher than 2 million. "Many North Koreans, particularly those along the border with China, actually own phones that have been smuggled in from China," it reports. The smuggled phones are not subject to North Korean usage restrictions.

"Nor are cell phones the only technology that has proliferated in the country as technically illegal markets have come to make up a larger part of the country’s economy," The Diplomat adds. "DVD players have also become far more common, as have USB flash drives."

North Korea runs the Koryolink 3G network in partnership with Egypt's Orascom, which owns 75 percent of the operation.

Photo from Joseph Ferris III via Wikimedia

A brief moment in 3G time, on SmartPlanet:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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