Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Communication Ministry to hold meeting considering SIM unlocking

Durf just gave a heads up on this (his translation):
総務省は、携帯電話端末のSIMロックの在り方について、今後の検討の参考とするため、関係者からの公開ヒアリングを平成22年4月2日(金)に開催します。
On April 2 the government will hold a public hearing on the possibility of doing away with SIM-lock restrictions.
The meeting will be held at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in the Central Joint Government Building's special meeting room 1, building number 2, 8th floor from 6 pm and is open to cellular industry reps, handset makers, and consumer groups.

There was discussion both here and at xda-developers about an upcoming meeting to discuss exactly this, and the possibility was raised that Docomo was considering offering ala carte SIMs due to the possibly of a SIM unlocking mandate.

But this is the government.  As Durf mentioned, they'll probably just talk about it.

18 comments:

  1. Is it actually illegal for carriers to offer unlocked phones or bare SIM cards? i had always assumed this was done at the carriers' initiative. why would the goernment mandate it? if so, that would make the Japan the oppositve of everywhere else, where if anything is regulated it is the locking, rather than the unlocking, of sim cards.

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  2. Not only is it not illegal, it's actually being done by both Softbank and Docomo today. You can go into any Softbank or Docomo outlet and buy just the SIM card for your unlocked phone (which I did, with both companies, when I imported an Android phone last November). What you cannot do with Docomo is get a reasonably priced flat rate data/internet usage plan. With Softbank you can.

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  3. I mean, the ministry is considering to require carriers to offer unlocked phones. Now the carriers are free to do as they please, so they do not offer unlocked phones because there is no reason to - carriers would prefer you to be locked into their service, obviously. The ministry is thinking about changing this. This is a debate in a number of countries.

    For example, in the US, while there is no law requiring unlocking, both T-mobile and AT&T (the two GSM carriers) will provide unlock codes for phones that are either not subsidized or after the 2-year contract ends for subsidized phones (iPhone excluded).

    The rest is just my opinion, probably wrong, but in the US, consumers tend to be more noisy than in Japan. While both AT&T and T-Mobile would probably love to keep people locked in, they probably figure the risk of alienating customers who have paid off their subsidies out weighs the benefit of lock-in. The Japanese market, not for just only this but for just about everything, is different.

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  4. I mean, the ministry is considering to require carriers to offer unlocked phones. Now the carriers are free to do as they please, so they do not offer unlocked phones because there is no reason to - carriers would prefer you to be locked into their service, obviously. The ministry is thinking about changing this. This is a debate in a number of countries.

    For example, in the US, while there is no law requiring unlocking, both T-mobile and AT&T (the two GSM carriers) will provide unlock codes for phones that are either not subsidized or after the 2-year contract ends for subsidized phones (iPhone excluded).

    The rest is just my opinion, probably wrong, but in the US, consumers tend to be more noisy than in Japan. While both AT&T and T-Mobile would probably love to keep people locked in, they probably figure the risk of alienating customers who have paid off their subsidies out weighs the benefit of lock-in. The Japanese market, not for just only this but for just about everything, is different.

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  5. Wait! You are telling me that I can buy a simcard for my Nexus One and then add a data plan without any contract? And that I can do it now? There is something I don't understand. If you are telling the truth then why everybody is not doing what you are saying?

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  6. Yeah, I thought you knew that. You can get a SIM from softbank and get a data plan activated. How much trouble it is depends on who you talk to at the store and what mood they are in that day.

    Sometimes people say that they are told they can't do it. Others like vankirk say they did.

    But it can be done on softbank.

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  7. Now you tell me ?_?
    What I was waiting for then, I could do this since the beginning. Why everybody cares so much about docomo giving unlocked sim if softbank is already doing?
    Can you guys be so kind and tell me exactly how this is working? How much will be per month?

    If is a prepaid sim I shouldn't pay anything isn't it? I buy the sim when I finish money I charge the sim
    +
    If I want a data plan I buy the data plan 5000Yen per month. How long is this contract? 2 years?

    That's it?

    A lot of questions I know....sorry. I'm just quite shocked as I was waiting 1 year for something that is already existing (I went to a Softbank store but they told me twice that I was not possible)

    Thanks for your time

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  8. I'm not sure why you were waiting - I thought for some reason that you didn't want to you softbank ;-)

    I wrote this to answer you questions about the N1 in Japan, right?

    http://softbanksucks.blogspot.com/2010/02/using-googles-nexus-one-in-japan.html

    There is a link there to the xda-devs thread on softbank 3G data plans. Check out the last 4 or 5 pages where we were most recently trying to help someone get there phone working properly. There is a lot of good information there. I think that is also where vankirkc originally posted about walking in and buying a SIM card.

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  9. I probably misunderstood then. I thought I had to buy a softbank mobile phone to have the sim. moreover that operation didn't seems to be so legal to me. Now I think is better to wait a bit more and see what docomo will decide, anyway 1 month more or less won't change my life at this stage.
    Thanks again for the infos. ^_^

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  10. You do not. I purchased an HTC Magic with the intention of operating it with the Docomo network, but was unable to secure a capped data plan. Switched to Softbank, got white plan silver USIM plus tsukai-hodai data plan, used smile/world APN and have been running for three months now without incident. The white plan is about 1k/month and data is about 6k/month, but I use so much of it that it's a steal at that price (last month came in at circa 500k without the discount).

    So yeah, you can use your Nexus One on Softbank.

    One thing I've noticed, however. It is not actually cheaper to buy the phone and just get the data from the carrier (I got my phone for half the price of Docomo's retail price, thanks to strong yen), because when you buy the handset from the carrier you can qualify for discount plans that aren't available if you provide your own handset. I think there ought to be an anticompetitive argument for that practice, but then this is Japan and such things don't carry much water here.

    What I'm trying to work out now is whether you can run the Evo on the AU network. Apparently they run the same system as Sprint in the US..and the Evo is the new front runner Android phone.

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  11. Yes, you can get a prepaid sim at Softbank, but as far as I know they do not come with data usage, and you couldn't activate a Nexus One with one (N1 requires data for activation).

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  12. The reason providers in the U.S. provide unlock codes is because Sprint lost a class action suit and was required to give them to their subscribers. Everyone else subsequently followed suit. So yes, it is more or less illegal in the U.S. to withhold the SIM details of a phone you provide, on anti-competitive grounds.

    Having said that, simply unlocking the SIM doesn't mean that the real hurdle is breached. All it means is that if you bought a handset from Docomo you should be permitted to use it on any other carrier, provided that carrier shares the same infrastructure. It doesn't prevent Docomo from locking down their data service so that even though you can provide your own hardware you can't avail yourself of the capped data plans. That's where the real nut is...I hope it comes up on the second.

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  13. Thanks for the infos.
    N1 needs activations? wow din't know that. activation for what? calling? Now I am using since one month the N1 wihtout sim and it didn't require me to do any activation yet.
    I went again to a softbank shop and they told me that it is not possible............then can you be so kind if you live in tokyo to tell me where did you go?
    Still I will wait what docomo says.....now the Ipad is coming soon to Japan so something might change.
    Thanks

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  14. I should post a picture of my phone with the softbank logo on it. Maybe then people will believe me when I say it's possible.

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  15. I'm not saying that I don't believe you. I am just saying that some people say they had to go through x y and z steps to do it, while others say they just had to do x.

    I think it is likely that both accounts are true. Often in Japan, when something is being done that is not specifically in The Manual, it gets done in a haphazard fashion that totally depends on who you talk to and what mood they were in at the time.

    I would actually greatly appreciate it if you would take the time to write up your experience in detail, including what you said to the shop clerks, if you did this in Japanese or not, what was the shop clerk's reaction (Was there a lot of teeth-sucking, hemming and hawing? Did it require a manager to be called out?), if activation was necessary, etc.

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  16. Thanks for the clarification. By not illegal, I meant there is now regulation, but civil litigation did the trick.

    Regarding infrastructure, IIRC when mobile number portability in Japan was first discussed, so was unlocking handsets, but at the time the walled garden internets like i-mode made it impossible to use a i-mode phone on softbank for anything other than voice, so the idea was scrapped due to practicality reasons, i.e., different infrastructure.

    But the massively increasing popularity of smartphones with full internet access appears to be the reason while this is being discussed again.

    If indeed the main reason why unlocking was not mandated then was simply inoperable internet, then there should be a good possibility for future progress wrt unlocked phones.

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  17. Yes, I would say that haphazard and case by case fits with my experience. The impression I have after having gone through it is that really nobody does this, and as such, the shops (and customer service) are not prepared to deal with it. This goes for both Docomo and Softbank, by the way.

    To answer Mateo's question, I signed up at the Meguro outlet, and I spoke Japanese through the whole thing. The lady who was handling my case hadn't done anything like this before, and didn't really know what to do. I had to tell her exactly what I wanted, and accept that she/Softbank weren't responsible for damaging my phone and that it might not work. I initially tried to apply for the iPhone SIM card, but she had to call someone to ask about some contractual question, and they told her they couldn't do that...so I ended up with a silver SIM instead. Doesn't seem to be any problem with the silver card, as far as I can tell.

    As for the other issues, like visa and contracts:

    I'm averse to signing long term contracts, especially for these phone things because the newer phone/service is always right around the corner, so I got the lowest possible commitment contract. Basically they charged me about 8k to set it up, and then about 7k (6k data, 1k voice) a month after that. I can cancel at any time.

    To get around the visa requirements (I had less than 27 months remaining on my visa at the time), I signed up with my U.S. credit card initially, and then immediately changed the payment option to bank transfer from a local bank (Mizuho). I only ever got the initial debit of 8k charged to my CC, since then charges have been taken from the bank acct. When I say immediately, I mean that the clerk who set up my account literally changed the details right after she set up the account, so it can be done right away.

    Anyway, that was my experience.

    For anyone considering this course of action going forward with an Android phone, I would mention that there are some fairly substantial caveats to going down this road. First, as I've said before, it is NOT cheaper than buying locally, even though objectively it ought to be (considering that we provided our own hardware it should be cheaper shouldn't it?). Both NTT (Android/Blackberry) and Softbank (iPhone) offer smartphones with two year commitments that enable you to avail yourself of cheaper connectivity plans (e.g. for NTT, about 50% off the monthly rate for voice, and for Softbank they have a cheaper unlimited data plan). So don't expect to save any money doing this.

    Secondly, unless you're buying direct from Google (e.g. Nexus 1) or direct from HTC or a manufacturer, don't expect any software updates once you've imported your phone. Generally the U.S. carriers will only update phones that have an active subscription with them. Finally, and not unsurprisingly, the phones will not have any Japan-centric features, such as Japanese keyboard, or IME, unless you figure out how to install them yourself. I use OpenWin on mine, but I can't really suggest that this is comparable to what you would find on the equivalent Docomo Android phone because I rarely have occasion to use it. Using the mapping utility tends to be a bit painful in Japan, but I don't know if this is because it's weak in this market, or if it's due somehow to the phone being non-native.

    Anyway, good luck to anyone who tries this.

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  18. Thanks for the detailed information!

    The only thing that I'll add is with respect to contracts. The typical early contract termination fee tends to be about 9000 yen but you save over 900 yen per month by being in the contract. So, you still come out ahead if you sign up for a contract but cancel after 10 to 12 months. If you know you'll be in Japan for something like 18 months, then you'd definitely save money with a contract, even after paying the early termination fee.

    Another option is simeji for IME - it uses openwin.

    With Maps, can you change your phone's environment to Japanese? That helps a lot since it sends you to maps.google.co.jp instead of maps.google.com

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