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North Korea readies mobile Net service, but not for residents

A month after getting cell phone access, foreigners inside the country will soon get 3G mobile access to the Internet, a privilege not afforded to residents.

Just one month after North Korea relaxed restrictions on tourists' cell phone use, the country will soon allow foreigners to access the Internet via mobile devices.

3G service will be operational within the country's borders by March 1, but North Koreans won't have access to the mobile Internet, according to the Associated Press. Koryolink, a 3G mobile provider partially owned by the North Korean government, on Friday began informing foreigners living in Pyongyang that they will soon be able to subscribe to monthly data plans.

The move comes a few weeks after North Korea announced it would allow foreign visitors to use cell phones within the country, easing strict rules that long required visitors to leave their handsets at the border or airport when entering to the country. Foreigners can now bring their own WCDMA-compatible phones or rent a mobile and buy a local SIM card at the airport.

Residents will have access to certain voice and text services on the 3G network, but not the mobile Internet, the AP reported.

Following a controversial private visit to the country last month, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt noted that it would be "very easy " for Koryolink to offer 3G services:

There is a 3G network that is a joint venture with an Egyptian company called Orascom. It is a 2100 Megahertz SMS-based technology network, that does not, for example, allow users to have a data connection and use smart phones. It would be very easy for them to turn the Internet on for this 3G network. Estimates are that are about a million and a half phones in the DPRK with some growth planned in the near future.

Schmidt wrapped up his visit by warning North Korean officials that global Internet access was key to developing its economy.

"As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their view of the world," he told reporters upon his return to Beijing. Lack of such access would "make it harder for them to catch up economically. We made that alternative very, very clear," he added.

(Via The Verge)