North Korea is reportedly taking pre-orders for a newly launched smartphone called Hwawon, but details are scarce and prospective customers can only order by phone.
The Hwawon smartphone was officially launched last month, and can only be purchased via designated mobile service centers in Pyongyang, according to a Daily NK report published on Thursday, citing multiple anonymous sources. However, no actual Hwawon phones have been put on display in any service centres.
One source said that several service centers have hung up posters that instruct customers to call a number to ask about the Hwawon phone. The posters give no information on price or service plans.
Little is also known about the phone itself. According to the report, two models were revealed last month – the Hwawon 301 and Hwawon 201, the main obvious difference being the size. One source claims the small one is US$500 and the large one is US$750.
Another source who called the pre-sales number and spoke to a salesperson claims that features for the phone include facial and iris recognition, high-resolution photographs, and faster data processing and connectivity.
The report also said it appears the Hwawon smartphone is being produced at a factory run by the Checom Technology Joint Venture Company, which manufactures the Pyongyang smartphone series.
The secrecy over the details of the Hwawon phone and the pre-order arrangement seem designed to prevent information leaks about the phone and manage purchasers, the report said.
The Hwawon phone also arrives ahead of what looks like a move by North Korea to upgrade its mobile infrastructure. Last month, the country reportedly began importing second-hand equipment from Huawei to upgrade 3G base stations with newer gear, and potentially launch a 4G network.
Daily NK also reported on Thursday that the term “4G” was spotted in a smartphone ad in a video on North Korean propaganda website “Chosun Today” earlier this month, suggesting that North Korea may be producing new handsets that can use 4G networks.