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Mobile phones are increasingly popular but don’t connect to the global Internet. More than 1.5 million North Koreans out of a population of 24 million use a cellphone network provided by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom. North Koreans are restricted to calling domestically, while foreigners using cellphones in North Korea are limited to making calls overseas and to businesses and embassies with international phone lines.

Schmidt tested North Korea’s Samjiyon tablet computers, which use software by North Korean engineers and foreign-made hardware.

What North Korea showed the U.S. delegation is probably the best computer technology it has, said Victor Cha, former director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration, and now a professor at Georgetown University. Cha traveled to North Korea with Richardson in 2007.

He said North Korea will likely remain very cautious about easing its control over information, despite Schmidt’s call for unfettered access to the Internet.

“Some may write about it as a genuine desire to open, but North Korea’s problem has always been that they want the modern accoutrements of life, the cash, etc., without opening up the country, and thus any interaction with the outside world ends up being half-hearted,” said Cha.

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