The Koreas

Wi-Fi Access Sparks Housing Boom in Pyongyang

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The Koreas

Wi-Fi Access Sparks Housing Boom in Pyongyang

In North Korea’s capital, citizens are buying up real estate near foreign embassies to access their Wi-Fi service.

Housing prices have skyrocketed in a residential area of Pyongyang where the foreign embassies are located as North Koreans are scrambling to move to that area, expecting to use the embassies’ Wi-Fi, North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS) — a Seoul-based think tank — reported on August 6. The world wide web has long been totally banned in North Korea.

NKIS said the phenomenon became apparent in June when North Korean authorities arrested a broker who enriched himself by facilitating the purchase of housing in that area.

A man with the surname Cho helped people living in Pyongyang’s rich districts such as Central District and Potonggang District sell their houses and move in near the foreign embassies, NKIS reported. It is illegal for people to make real estate deals among individuals.

NKIS added that the reason why North Korean people want to move to the area where the foreign embassies are located is that they are able to use the Wi-Fi coming from the embassies. Since some of embassies have very strong Wi-Fi signals and some don’t even have passwords, people living around the embassies are able to access the Internet using the embassies’ Wi-Fi.

For example, after a Middle Eastern embassy installed a strong router, college students in Pyongyang began walking around the embassy in order to use the Internet with their mobile phones. It’s known that North Korea removes all the programs related to usage of the Internet, such as Internet explorer, when selling mobile phones to its people. However, North Koreans still have access to the programs through people traveling to China, NKIS added.

As this phenomenon became more apparent, North Korean authorities have stepped up monitoring. NKIS reported that Pyongyang even asked the foreign embassies to set up Wi-Fi passwords or weaken their signals. However, some of the embassies still let North Korean citizens access their Wi-Fi.

Joo Seong-ha, a North Korean defector-turned-reporter at DongA Ilbo, said at an April seminar that North Korea still uses its own interanet, Kwangmyung, in order to limit ordinary people’s access to the global Internet. He did note that a limited number of people, such as high level officials, NGO workers and ambassadors are able to use the Internet without any limitation.

Joo said that it is possible to use the Internet at a number of colleges such as Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, Kim Il-sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology. However, Internet usage on these campuses is strictly monitored. Therefore, North Korean authorities can track anyone who views forbidden information and websites.

He added that he frequently spots IP addresses from North Korea connecting to his blog, and it shows that high level officials or people in charge of South Korean matters are using the Internet. He also said North Korea is considering offering more Wi-Fi service to foreigners in the country, and hotels like the Koryo Hotel and Potonggang Hotel already allow people to have access to Internet. Earlier this year, North Korea announced that foreigners in the country would be allowed to access a 3G network from their mobile phones. However, for ordinary North Koreans, the  influx of information from outside is still very limited, according to Joo.