North Korea is the most reclusive nation on the planet and not much is known about what goes on in the country or how the locals go about their daily lives. We do get glimpses ever so often through news reports that cite defectors who got out and shared stories from inside the Hermit Kingdom. One such report reveals that Samsung smartphones are much loved in the country. Samsung, as many of you are well aware, is a South Korean company and isn’t allowed to conduct business in the North.
A South Korean news outlet reports that more North Koreans are now using mobile phones than ever before with the number of subscribers reaching 5 million this year. As smartphone penetration in the world’s most reclusive nation is on the rise, Samsung finds itself as the most preferred brand even though it doesn’t sell its devices in that country.
Samsung is the most preferred smartphone brand in North Korea
“There are quite a number of North Koreans who are using Galaxy smartphones,” says Yang Un-chul, vice president of Seoul-based think tank Sejong Institute, who has interviewed several North Korean defectors.
North Korea has banned all South Korean goods and that includes Samsung smartphones but they’re sold on the country’s black market, according to Yang, though he added that the regime’s controls on imported goods are not as strict or effective as before. “It is not about whether they can get their hands on the Samsung smartphones, but about if they can afford to buy,” he explained.
A North Korean defector surnamed Cho added that South Korean mobile products are more popular in the North than their Chinese counterparts because they support the Korean language and are of greater quality.
North Korea itself has been rolling out smartphones in the country that it’s sourcing from a Chinese manufacturer. These devices have an app that restricts access to the internet and places additional controls on the flow of information. Smuggled Samsung phones with Chinese USIM cards enable North Koreans to use services like KakaoTalk and WeChat to stay in touch with their families abroad, including the South.
Since they can be punished for using South Korean products, the North Koreans reportedly replace the brand logo with that of a Japanese or Chinese company and even replace the country of origin label to say “Made in China” or “Made in Japan.”
With a recent thaw in relations between the North and South, perhaps there might come a time when Samsung is able to officially sell its devices to customers in the North.