North Korea now has its own smartphone, state media reports

North Korea is now manufacturing its own smartphones, according to a report recently released by the country's Korean Central News Agency. 

Reuters/ KCNA
The Arirang phone: an Android smartphone that North Korea says it has begun manufacturing.

North Korea has a new “patriotic activity”: cellphone production.

The country’s leader Kim Jong Un made an “onsite guidance visit” to a cellphone manufacturing area in the May 11 Factory, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Kim Jong Un “highly appreciated the creative ingenuity and patriotic enthusiasm with which the officials and employees of the factory” have been manufacturing the devices, according to KCNA’s article. The cellphone model has been dubbed "Arirang," after the Korean folksong.

The leader also expressed his pleasure with the "creative ingenuity and patriotic enthusiasm with which the officials and employees of the factory laid a solid foundation for mass-producing hand phones," referring to the new cellphone factory. This is the first time that Kim has offered his approval to the widespread production, and ownership of cellphones in North Korea. 

If it seems odd that North Korea is encouraging its citizens to get mobile phones, considering the role of mobile technologies in popular uprisings in other countries – that's because it is, or at least a bit. 

Currently, "Koryolink" is North Korea's only 3G network. The company is owned by the Egyptian Orascom Telecom Holding, and the Korea Post and Telecommunications Cooperation (KPTC). Since its founding in 2008, the network has amassed 2 million subscribers, providing users with access to voice, text message, and Web browsing services, according to the North Korean Tech blog.

But the government controlled Karyolink network's limitations – of which there are many – has caused some North Koreans to seek out other Internet options. (For a brief perspective on North Korean cellphones: prepaid SIM cards for foreigners cost between about $200 (150€) for 2GBs to $560 for 10GBs, with an additional $13 charge for the SIM card). North Koreans living within a radius of about 12 miles of the Chinese border have the (illegal) option of connecting to the Chinese mobile network, according to a Reporters Without Borders report, though it is unclear how frequently this occurs. The high cost of data plans, and the state's surveillance system have kept any threats that cellphones might bring to the government at a very low level, and providing legal cellphones could stave off demand for the contraband. 

In an odd twist, Martyn Williams from North Korea Tech expressed his skepticism that North Korea has the capabilities to manufacture cellphones, suggesting that perhaps the devices were made in China in the first place. 

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