Samsung is the most popular forbidden smartphone brand in North Korea
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If you think that North Korea is a dictatorship where only a few chosen thousands can use a smartphone, you should rethink it. Even more, the smartphone penetration rate in the country is on the rise, despite the many limitations supposedly enforced by the authorities.
According to recent data obtained by South Korean news outlet The Investor, "more North Koreans are now using mobile phones than before with the number of subscribers reaching nearly 5 million as of this year." To make this story even more interesting, it seems that a forbidden brand is very popular and might even lead the local market — at least when it comes to smartphones that do not come with an ancient list of specs and features, like the ones allowed to be used in the country.
A North Korean defector said that "South Korean mobile products and home appliances, which outgun those made by Japanese and Chinese firms in popularity, are sold at a premium as they support the Korean language and boast great quality." People familiar with the matter also revealed that North Koreans using Samsung or LG phones replace the brands' logos with those of Chinese and Japanese companies, and even use labels saying "Made in Japan" or "Made in China."
Yang Un-chul, vice president of Sejong Institute, spoke to The Investor after talking to many North Korean defectors, concluding that "There are quite a number of North Koreans who are using Galaxy smartphones" although they are not supposed to own or use any South Korean-made goods. When it comes to the government, it is enough to say that North Korea buys Chinese smartphones for US$50 and — after installing an application that does not allow these handsets to access the internet — sells them to the locals for no less than US$250.
In the end, it seems that the fall of the North Korean dictatorship is only a matter of time. As one who lived in a communist dictatorship that was replaced with a communist regime painted as a democracy, I know one thing for sure about violent revolutions: the people's hopes and dreams end up stolen by the lower tiers of the former leadership in one way or another. We can only hope that smartphones will bring a peaceful transition to democracy for the North Korean people, even if it takes a decade or more.