North Korea planning 3G services for foreign visitors

Local telco Koryolink has informed foreigners in capital Pyongyang it will launch a 3G mobile Internet service before March 1, but says the service will not be offered to locals.

Telco Koryolink informed visitors of capital Pyongyang it will launch a 3G mobile Internet service no later than March 1, 2013.

North Korea will soon offer foreigners in the country access to 3G services, but its citizens will not be able to given similar access.

Koryolink, a joint venture between Korea Post & Telecommunications and Egypt's Orascom Telecom Media and Technology, on Friday informed foreigners in the North Korean capital Pyongyang that it will launch a 3G mobile Internet service no later than March 1, 2013, reported the Associated Press (AP).

From next week, foreigners will be allowed to purchase monthly mobile Internet data plans for use with a USB modem or on mobile devices using their SIM cards, but prices have not been announced yet.

Wireless Internet access, however, will not be offered to North Korean citizens who are governed by a separate set of telecommunications rules from foreigners. North Koreans will be allowed access only to certain 3G services, specifically, SMS and MMS messaging, video calls and subscriptions which point to state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, but not the global Internet.

The announcement comes after North Korea started allowing foreigners to bring their own mobile phones into the country to use with Koryolink SIM cards, according to a separate AP report. This reverses a longstanding rule whereby most visitors must hand their phones over to immigration customs upon entering the country. 

When Google's executive charman Eric Schmidt visted Pyongyang early last month, he pressed North Korea to expand Internet access , noting it would be "very easy" for the communist state to offer Internet on Koryolink's fast-expanding 3G cellular network.

Soon after Schmidt's visit, Google unveiled maps of North Korea with more details based on contributions from foreigners using satellite images and publicly available information to map the country. Previously, North Korea was left mostly blank in Google Maps. With this update, Pyongyang and major North Korean cities are shown with street names, parks, roads, train stops, and monuments.