North Korea: 3G Internet Access On Its Way

North Korea (DPRK) plans to launch mobile internet service within the isolated nation, according to a report today from the BBC News. Egyptian firm Orascom launched a 3G service in the DPRK in 2008, allowing over 1 million North Koreans to make calls within their own country.

However, the previous service didn’t offer a data plan. In fact, it was only this January that the North Korean government decided to allow foreign visitors to bring their cell phones into the country at all. Now the BBC says that internet access is on its way.

Is the action in response to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt’s visit in January? The US State Department had advised against the trip, according to Michael R. Gordon reporting for The New York Times. While Schmidt himself was somewhat cagey about his purpose in traveling there, the State Department actually called his visit “unhelpful,” said The Boston Globe.

Upon return from his trip, Schmidt published a blog post that gave little detail about what he actually accomplished. He tried to make it “very clear” that he wasn’t there to provide the North Koreans with more propaganda material. He posted, “They have to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government of North Korea has not yet done.”

If the Google chairman’s purpose was to bring the internet to the North Korean people, the initiative failed. The BBC report says that only visitors from outside the country will be able to use the new data service.

Schmidt’s daughter Sophie, who accompanied him on the trip, visited with eyes wide open. She blogged frankly about the “weird” experience:

“Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments. We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans.”

Because their trip took place before the ban on foreigners carrying cell phones was lifted, she and the rest of her delegation was forced to leave their phones and laptops behind in China.

North Korea’s 3G internet plan may be just another way to impress foreigners with how modern they are becoming — without offering anything new to the locals.