Mobile phone use is booming in Pyongyang, with senior Party officials and ordinary people alike using them on the streets of the reclusive North Korean capital these days, it was reported last week.
Even members of the public without any means of significant income are finding ways to buy the gadgets, RFA quoted a North Korean source as saying on Thursday.
According to the source, North Koreans must pay US$250-300 for a phone. This entitles them to 200 minutes of free calling time each month, after which their service is automatically cut off. They also get to send 20 free text messages every 30 days.
They can extend their service by using pre-paid phone cards, which can be purchased from local post offices. The basic monthly service charge is W2,850 (W1,000 in South Korea), or about US$1 according to the black market exchange rate. This is equivalent to one month's pay for most North Korean workers.
The source said the new feeding frenzy for cell phones has its roots in functionality and fashion. It is both a "symbol of wealth" and a "means of survival," he said. He gave the example of how officials are so engaged in earning hard currency that their phones never stop ringing as they field calls from businessmen on the Chinese side of the North Korean border.
Mobile phones are also proving popular with young North Koreans, who use the gadget to take photos, listen to songs and watch videos.
According to a report by Orascom Telecom, an Egyptian mobile service provider that operates North Korea's mobile network, the number of North Korean mobile phone subscribers stood at 535,000 as of late March, RFA added.