(SEOUL, South Korea) — Yet another North Korean mystery has been solved. That smart phone spotted next to the regime’s leader Kim Jong Un is a Taiwanese phone, made by HTC.
The high-tech phone stirred interest when it was spotted in a photo released by North Korea’s Central News Agency partly because so few people in the low-tech country could afford one and because Kim has ordered people hiding cell phones to be shot.
But there was also speculation over whether Kim owned a Samsung or Apple phone. Samsung is a South Korean company while Apple is from the U.S.
A South Korean government official said the phone was apparently of the HTC brand, made in Taiwan. HTC declined to confirm, but said in a statement that it appreciates the “support of all users.”
There has been evidence of using smartphones in North Korea in the past. StatCounter.com, which tracks search engines, browsers, and operating systems around the globe, confirmed in 2011 that some North Koreans used Apple’s iPhone and Nokia’s smartphones. In 2010, Foursquare had confirmed a check-in from North Korea as well.
It’s unknown whether that was a test run of the 3G network by the state or for private use.
Most recent data shows 1.5 million people subscribe to the 3G service, mostly Pyongyang’s elites that comprise 5 percent of the population. These privileged owners are carefully screened and strictly controlled with regards to their allegiance to the communist party and loyalty to the leader.
But witnesses who have been in North Korea recently say most people who own phones own Chinese cell phones — folder types and sliding types — not smartphones.
Non-Pyongyang residents comprising the lower rank in North Korea’s social system use smuggled mobile phones from China using Chinese networks with roaming coverage. Many defectors to South Korea communicate with their families back in the North by delivering these illegal mobile phones through brokers.
If caught hiding the phones, authorities used to arrest and send illegal phone users to political camps for reformation. But starting this year, Kim Jong Un has given strict orders to have those who disobey shot to death.
For average North Koreans, the mobile phones are above what they could afford. Cell phones cost almost 25 times what an average person earns in a month.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Ivana Kottasova, CNN
Alanna Petroff, CNN
Sugam Pokharel and AJ Willingham, CNN