Technology

North Korea 'makes home-grown' Arirang smartphone

North Korea's smartphone
Image caption Kim Jong-un praised the smartphone's "high pixels"

North Korea says it has produced its first home-grown smartphone, but experts have disputed its origins.

The Arirang handset, described as a "hand phone" in state media, was shown to leader Kim Jong-un during a factory tour.

The country has had a mobile network since 2008, but activity is heavily monitored and restricted.

Last year the country launched a tablet, but it later emerged it was likely to have been made in China.

Clues to the tablet's origin were uncovered by Martyn Williams, an expert on North Korean technology, who noted that parts of the tablet's software code suggested links to a manufacturer in Hong Kong.

The Arirang smartphone, named after a popular folk song, was unlikely to have been made in the country, Mr Williams added.

He noted that no actual manufacturing was shown, and that the device was "probably made to order by a Chinese manufacturer and shipped to the May 11 Factory where they are inspected before going on sale".

The leader was accompanied by the Korean Workers' Party propaganda chief and the head of the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a hint that the devices could be used for widespread dissemination of government information.

Illegally owned mobiles

Mr Kim was seen to be demoing the device, which appeared to be running a version of Google's Android mobile operating system.

There are no further details available about the smartphone's exact specifications, but the KNCA reported that the leader praised the "high pixels" of the built-in camera.

The article said Mr Kim had high hopes for the "educational significance in making people love Korean things".

He advised that factory workers should "select and produce shapes and colours that users like".

Image caption Kim Jong-un was on a tour of a North Korean factory when he tried out the device

Mobile phones in the secretive country have been available since 2008. The national network is maintained thanks to a joint operation by the North Korean government and Egyptian telecoms company Orascom.

Phones on the network are heavily restricted. They cannot access the internet and can only make calls within North Korea.

For a short time, foreigners in the country were able to use mobile internet, but this access was later revoked.

It is believed that many in North Korea, particular those near the borders, use illegally owned mobiles to contact people outside the country.

One man, a 28-year-old who left North Korea in November 2010, told a research paper: "In order to make sure the mobile phone frequencies are not being tracked, I would fill up a washbasin with water and put the lid of a rice cooker over my head while I made a phone call."

Being found in possession of a foreign phone would be a very serious crime, the paper's authors said.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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