PYONGYANG, January 20 (Itar-Tass) – Authorities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have lifted a ban for foreigners to bring cellular telephones into the country.
Earlier, the border officials would confiscate a cellular phone from a foreign national crossing into the country and would return it to him or her only when he or she was leaving the North Korean territory.
Beginning with this month, foreigners will just have to provide the code of the International Mobile Station Equipment Identity at the customs office if they want to take their personal mobile phones into the country.
If a phone operates the WCDMA standard, its owner will have an opportunity to buy an international SIM-card at the Koryo Link state company in Pyongyang.
People familiar with the situation say it is unlikely that this decision might be linked in any way with a recent private visit to North Korea by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Google corporation Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt.
In the course of the trip, the U.S. representatives “called for a broader proliferation of mobile phones and Internet in the DPRK.”
At the moment, the number of users of mobile services stands at around 1.5 million people in North Korea. The 3G telecommunications technology was introduced in Pyongyang in 2008 with the assistance of the Egyptian company Orascom Telecom Holding, which cooperates with Koryo Link and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.
Cellular services cover twelve main cities and 42 towns in North Korea at the moment, as well as several automobile roads. The government plans to expand the cellular network to the entire territory of the country and to launch the manufacturing of cell phones at home.
Koryo Link offers different patterns of work and differentiated rates to foreigners and to the North Korean citizens willing to use cell phones. These two groups of subscribers are still denied an opportunity to exchange phone calls -- foreigners cannot make calls either to the North Koreans’ fixed-line or mobile phones.
Apart from the development of cellular communications, Orascom Telecom is also helping the North Koreans to develop hotel business. It is assisting the construction of a 105-story Ryugyong hotel in Pyongyang.
The project of this pyramid-shaped skyscraper was launched in 1987 but was frozen in the early 1990’s due to the problems in financing and supplies of building materials.