November 11, 2014 08:26
High-end Western smartphones are all the rage among women traders in North Korea's thriving open-air markets, a source said Friday.
Seventy percent of all cell phones in North Korea are concentrated in Pyongyang, the source said, and North Koreans now prefer imported gadgets to locally manufactured ones. iPhones and Samsung smartphones have become symbols of wealth, with two out of 10 female traders now flaunting imported phones, according to the source.
North Korea started manufacturing its own smartphones last year under the brand names "Arirang" and "Pyongyang Touch."
But word spread quickly among North Korea's elite who had gotten their hands on iPhones or South Korean smartphones that the imports are far better.
North Korea in principle bans imports, and people are prohibited from accessing foreign websites.
Most foreign smartphones are therefore smuggled through China and sold on the black market. iPhones are especially popular, apparently because North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is widely known to be an Apple fanatic.
The source said Kim not only imports the latest iPhones but also hands them out to high-ranking officials, and as a result North Koreans who can afford ask diplomats posted overseas to send them one.
When Apple released the iPad 2 last year, Kim allegedly had it imported immediately via China. The source said, iPhones and Galaxy S smartphones cannot be used straight out of the box in North Korea but have to be modified, and the Apple and Samsung logos are removed.
A 2G mobile phone costs between 110 to 240 euros in North Korea, compared to the Arirang's hefty 370 euros. The Pyongyang Touch costs 650 euros, while iPhones and Galaxy smartphones cost 1,000 to 1,500 euros.
Many North Korean market traders have apparently grown rich enough to afford them. It costs around 50 euros to get a smartphone activated, giving customers 200 free minutes of call time. After that time runs out, North Koreans pay around US$13 for every 100 minutes.
Recently North Korean authorities have allowed visitors to bring smartphones in, which has enabled foreigners to exchange at least e-mails across the border. Foreigners can now buy SIM cards in Pyongyang's Sunan International Airport and in border areas like Dandong and Sinuiju.
Despite crackdowns, other South Korean products are also popular among North Koreans, especially as wedding gifts.
Another source said senior officials use not only South Korean mobile phones but flat-screen TVs, rice cookers, beds and cosmetics. The labels are removed and replaced with Chinese ones.
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