Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Communications Ministry soliciting public feedback on SIM locks

I should have posted this much earlier. The deadline to offer an opinion on SIM locks is tomorrow 6/23/2010 by email, fax or mail (mail must arrive by 6 pm).

I just finished reading the preliminary guidelines (PDF archive). It has already been reported that these are mere suggestions to carriers, but it does sound like things will be changing with LTE. One thing is clear, unlocking will only apply to handsets sold from next year.  There is no mention of overseas handsets.

My gut feeling is that these guidelines will be largely ignored as the carriers aren't required to follow them. Maybe Docomo will accept unlocked phones from other carriers, since they are less worried about losing customers than softbank. Maybe not. In a follow up post, I will post highlights from each companies presentation during the April meeting on unlocking. (I just ran into them.)

First, here is an English version of my comment to MIC:

Page: 1; 項目: 1; 該当部分: 趣旨; 意見: Create a level playing field by licensing softbank a slice of the 800 MHz spectrum to bring their network quality on par with docomo in mountainous/indoor/underground areas.

Page: 1; 項目: 2; 該当部分: 本ガイドラインの位置づけ; 意見: Force, rather than suggest, the carriers to unlock 1) unsubsidized handsets and 2) subsidized handsets once the subsidy contract period has expired.

Page: 2; 項目: 4; 該当部分: 対象となる端末; 意見: Clarify if foreign handsets sold from 2011 are subject to these guidelines.

Page: 3; 項目: 6(2); 該当部分: 端末を販売した後にSIMロックを解除する場合; 意見: The question of i-mode, SMS, email incompatibility is will become a moot point due to the explosive increase in popularity of smart phones, especially the iPhone and Android based phones.
Next, here are the directions for submitting your opinion (PDF). The last two pages contain an example of what they want the format to be on A4 sized paper. Probably at this point, the easiest thing to do it type your text directly into the example with a pdf editor and fax it to them at 03-5253-5838.

If submitting by email, you must
  1. Submit a microsoft word document in the format of the above example. An ichitaro file is also acceptable. (If you do not know what 一太郎 is, then consider yourself lucky.)
  2. The subject of the email must be exactly "【SIMロック】意見の提出(●)", where the dot is your name, which can be your personal name or organization. In the case of organizations, the opinions and organization name may be published, but the names of individuals will not be published.
  3. Name the attached file with "your-name-as-used-in-the-subject-line.doc".
  4. Be sure the email does not exceed 5 MB
  5. Send to: n-line AT ml.soumu.go.jp
Finally, here is my translation of the guidelines into English. I left a few things out, and actually skipped most of the last page, but the meat of it is here. Keep in mind that I am not a pro translator and this is provided "as is". If you see any errors, leave a comment and I'll check it out, but I don't really care so much about the finer points of wether it is best to literally translate, preserving as much as possible the original sentence structure. (As anyone who reads Japanese can easily see, I don't do it that way but rather try and write it is a way that produces normal-sounding English.
1. Purpose

Currently, most cellular handsets sold in Japan are locked ["SIM Lock"] such that they can only be used on the network of the carrier from which the handset was purchased.

Under the present circumstances, even it a particular phone was unlocked and another carrier's SIM card inserted, differences in cellular technology [GSM, CDMA, W-CDMA, CDMA-2000, etc], frequencies, and platforms would result in limited or possiblly no functionality.

With this issue in mind, following the introduction of 3.9G [e.g., LTE], removal of SIM locks is anticipated to encourage the spread of handsets that are not preset to work only with a specific carrier's network. However, there are presently a number of customers who wish for the removal of SIM locks to allow the use of their domestic handsets overseas with a local SIM card, or to allow them to continue using the same handset after porting their mobile number to another carrier [MNP, mobile number portability].

To address these demands, carriers are expected to unlock compatible handsets.

Though the 2007 Mobile Business Activation Plan [モバイルビジゼス活性化プラン] set 2010 as the time for a final plan regarding the mandating of unlocked phones, in light of the above mentioned issues, we will continue studying the issues that would affect any potential legislation.

2. Scope of the guidlines

While the purpose of these guidelines is not to force carriers to unlock phones, carriers should strive to understand the position of customers and follow these guidelines.

3. Definitions

(1) SIM Card
(2) SIM Lock [A cellphone locked to a particular carrier's network]
(3) SIM Free [An unlocked cell phone]

4. Handsets subjected to these guidelines

Compatible handsets sold new from 2011 should be unlocked.

Carriers should publicly indicate on their website, pamphlets, etc. which handsets are subject to unlocking, as well as the procedure for unlocking. Furthermore, any and all fees associated with unlocking should be clearly stated.

5. Provision of service to customers with handsets branded by another carrier

Carriers must offer service to customers in possession of a handset branded by another carrier, unless there are reasonable grounds for refusal of service. Carriers should also, excluding incompatible handsets, accept connections from customers.

6. Responsibility of explanation

Carriers should ensure that customers understand the following points, especially when selling handsets.

(1) Fully explain the following points to customers when selling handsets

① Wether the handset is locked or unlocked.
② The process for unlocking the handset.
③ Which services, applications, etc. are incompatible with other carriers.

(2) When unlocking a handset sold to a customer, fully explain the following points

① Which services, applications, etc. are incompatible with other carriers.
②The process for unlocking the handset

(3) At the conclusion of a customers contract, it should be fully explained which services, applications, etc. will work when the same carriers SIM card is inserted.

7. Network, handset problems

In the case that another carriers handset has network or physical problems, the carrier providing network service work with the original carrier to put in place a system for repair. Furthermore, depending on the nature of the damage, the original carrier should also provide service to the customer.

8. Miscellaneous
[Most of the rest of this deals with privacy, restating the potential for a phone to be incompatible, stolen phones and giving another look at problems faced by carriers, the evaluations from customers, incompatibilities in services, applications, etc.]


  1. I really hope something happens. Right now I can replace my slow HT-03A with one of the many great Android phones out there because Docomo would not apply the regular data flat rate and instead charge me the expensive PC flat rate. What a bummer.

  2. Mistyping. "Cannot replace", of course.

  3. Just my personal experience, but rooting and installing cyanogen mod really improved the speed and usability of my ht-03a. If you're not worried about invalidating the warranty, I highly recommend it. If you bought the insurance plan, you'd be in great shape if something went wrong when you tried to root it because the insurance covers the phone even if it is "lost" or "stolen"...

  4. Did you see the comments on this post?


    The post is old and because of the threading, it can be difficult sort out the new comments from the old, but a lot of people are/were discussing Desire availability there.

  5. Kinda off topic - but seriously, where the hell is the Desire phone now? It came out at the end of April and then Softbank sold it for like 1 week and it's been gone since.

    I know HTC is having some manufacturing problems, but the fact that softbank just flat out has none for months after launch, kinda blows my mind. Where are they? How can anyone get them? any ideas on this?

  6. Thank you, I'll check that out. I really hope Docomo will change it's policy or there'll be a workaround though.

  7. Here is a good place to start