Like the country itself, Google chairman was initially less than communicative about his recent trip to North Korea. Now, though, both he and his daughter have opened up about what Sophie Schmidt describes as ‘The Truman Show, at country scale’.
According to Schmidt senior, who returned from his visit two weeks ago, there’s no particular technical impediment to opening the internet up within the country.
“There is a 3G network that is a joint venture with an Egyptian company called Orascom. It is a 2100 Megahertz SMS-based technology network, that does not, for example, allow users to have a data connection and use smart phones. It would be very easy for them to turn the internet on for this 3G network,” he says.
“There is a supervised internet and a Korean intranet. (It appeared supervised in that people were not able to use the internet without someone else watching them). There’s a private intranet that is linked with their universities. Again, it would be easy to connect these networks to the global internet.”
Meanwhile, Schmidt’s daughter Sophie has posted her own account of the visit, and says she believes that the North Korean government realizes the internet is inevitable.
She says the delegation was shown a range of rather random technology, including a laptop hooked up to the real internet, virtual reality software and a video chat platform.
“What’s so odd about the whole thing is that no one in North Korea can even hope to afford the things they showed us,” she says. “And it’s not like they’re going to export this technology. They’re building products for a market that doesn’t exist.”
Meanwhile, according to reports from Cinese media, North Korea has in the last two weeks started allowing the few foreigners that visit to take their mobile phones into the country. They can buy a SIM card at the airport allowing them to make international calls – although they can’t go online or make local calls, except to foreign embassies or certain international hotels.