Wednesday, July 28, 2010

General information for (smart) phone users in Japan

Last updated: 7/11/2011 (This is still a good source of information, but please follows the below list of link to keep up with current developments. As I imagined, it is a bit difficult to keep this page 100% up to date.

If you read nothing else on this page, read this: Staff in Docomo/AU/Softbank/Emobile shops have no special knowledge or ability to change the way corporate HQ does business. They often have no power to remove disputed charges from your bill and probably have no real avenue to conveying information to corporate. It appears that corporate has the attitude that the shop staff are lucky to have been graciously provided with a job and are treated accordingly.

Other relevant articles are:

Trying to get an unlocked phone working on Docomo is a waste of time
Japanese MVNOs to the rescue with reasonably priced data plans
Data speed comparison between Docomo and Softbank
Docomo access point names (APN)
Real world test of B-mobile Fair SIM
Docomo Xi LTE plans for fiscal year 2011
Unlockable and tetherable: Docomo summer 2011 lineup
Comparison of all b-mobile SIMs
Softank Ala Carte SIMs for unlocked phones

This is meant as a service to the foreign community and is provided with no warranty, guarantee, or anything of the sort. Use at your own risk and when in doubt confirm with other sources or ask questions.

Mobile phone common sense in Japan


In the mid 1990s, when cellphone usage in the US for example was extremely low and required paying a fortune to purchase and use a literal brick of a phone, mobile phones were quickly spreading to all segments of the population in Japan. For much of the last decade, Japan was widely regarded as having the most advanced infrastructure and handsets.

The typical Japanese cellphone today is of a "clam shell" design and is often referred to as a "feature phone" or "Galapagos keitai," due to the rich set of features and functionality that was developed in isolation from the rest of the world. By the late 1990s, all carriers had introduced proprietary platforms for providing mobile internet and e-mail, in addition to SMS, to handsets.

The explosion in smartphone popularity in Japan, driven primarily by Apple's iPhone (though the original Android-based Xperia X10 quickly became Docomo's best selling smartphone ever - at the time), raises questions regarding the future viability of the standard feature phone, which offer neither applications of comparable quality nor the full internet at a reasonable price. (Most phones include a "PC site viewer application, often Mobile Opera, but packets used viewing the real internet are not subject to unlimited data discounts and are bill at the full rate). However, the iPhone and some Android handsets lack many popular features, such as infrared, one-seg TV tuners, and RFID-based payment systems for train fares, etc.

A number of Android handsets have been development domestically to bring some of these features to smartphones. A consortium of handset makers and Docomo are also currently developing a linux/symbian-based OS (WTF?), that may or may not be compatible with Android (whatever that means), is expected to be available around the end of 2011, and will be offered to overseas makers. [This literally has FAIL written all over it - IMHO handset makers should stick to making the hard and leave the development of the soft to others. Why not take Android and modify it to do what they want? Since Android is licensed under the proprietary-code friendly Apache license, as opposed to the GPL, they don't have to publish any source code they modify, as long as it doesn't touch the GPL'd linux kernel.]

Carrier platforms

Today, the three major carriers platforms are i-mode, ezweb, and yahoo! keitai for Docomo, AU, and Softbank respectively. These platforms are incompatible between carriers, so if a softbank phone were unlocked and used on Docomo, that phone would not be able to browse mobile-specific websites or send and receive email. It would be limited to voice and SMS transmission, which would not be a problem for most of the world, but in Japan, sending emails between phones appears to be a much more common means of communication than calling. This is probably because of the high cost of voice service (see below), and the inability to send SMS to handsets on a different network. (Japan now has cross carrier SMS.)


Unlike the US but similar to many locations in Europe, incoming calls are billed to the caller, who pays for the network time of both parties. While the basic plans can be inexpensive, they typically contain very few included minutes and extremely high charges for overage. An exception is Softbank's white plan which includes zero minutes but free calls to other softbank phones except between 9PM and 1AM with any other calls be charged at ¥21/half minute. All carriers now offer unlimited family calling plans.

Someone coming from the US would expect to see the number of minutes in their plan subtracted from the number of minutes actually used, with the remaining number of minutes being charged at the set overage rate, with all fees clearly listed. Japanese carriers do not indicate directly the actual number of minutes used; this must be calculated by the customer based on knowledge of the rate for excess minutes, which is also usually not displayed. A typical bill will show an extremely high number, which would have been the bottom line if no rate plan was applied. For example, If a rate plan allows for ¥4000 worth of included calls, and the customer actually used ¥10,000 worth of calls, ¥10,000 would be displayed, ¥4000 would be subtracted resulting in ¥6000 plus the basic fee for the rate plan. The same approach is often used for displaying data charges.

This is probably because the government stays relatively uninvolved in regulating carriers with respect to customer treatment.

2008 changes to billing

Up until around 2008, the "1 yen keitai" was quite common in Japan. Problem was that the marketing was misleading because the real price of the phone was paid in jacked-up monthly service fees. So someone who uses the same phone for an extended period of time ends up subsidizing the purchases of those who consider a cell phone to be a fashion accessory and buy a new one with the changing of the seasons.

The government released a set of guidelines changing billing practices and killing off the 1-yen keitai in its previous form, resulting in a sharp drop in handset sales, shown by this chart from Softbank. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Communications often releases guidelines that the carriers are not officially required to follow. Unofficially, everyone is expected to follow the guidelines and, to date, everyone has.

(NOTE: Handsets that were purchased prior to the rules going into effect are STILL subject to the higher service fees today, and will be forever, so if you have a phone bought prior to 2008, you will save money on your monthly bill by buying a new one.)

Present business model

This did not change as of fiscal (April) 2011 when Docomo half-assedly implement the MIC SIM unlocking guidelines.

According to Softbank's SIM lock presentation, carriers shoulder the cost of handset development. Most handsets are produced by domestic makers exclusively for carriers. Apparently, much of the flow of money centers around the selling of handsets. Each carrier releases a new lineup of phones each season, and competition between carriers is primarily centered around which one offers the most desirable handsets.

Governmental interference resulting in decreased sales of handsets has not been traditionally welcomed by the carriers. The reason that Docomo is in support of unlocking is most likely because they do not carry one of the most desirable handsets in Japan today, the iPhone.

The handset market is basically saturated.

Smartphones in Japan

Disadvantages of smartphones in Japan

The disadvantages are quickly disappearing, though much of the following is still applicable.
  • On the software side, the current generation of smartphones are incompatible with carrier specific platforms for walled-garden internet and disaster announcements. Compatibility with carrier-provided email is also limited.
    • Softbank's S! Mail ( is available on all softbank smartphones except for the HTC Desire, though a modified MMS.apk has been created that spoofs the iPhone's user agent to allow sending S! Mail with this handset.
    • The iPhone has an additional standard IMAP account ( that can be accessed with a mail client address.
    • Docomo will be providing carrier mail ( to select smartphones with SP Mode and already offers a "mopera" account. 
  • Emails between members of a family plan incur no additional fees when all parties are using feature phones, but, because the free email is limited to usage of the carrier platform (e.g., i-mode), email sent to a smartphone is treated as normal packet usage, even for the iPhone's address (see note 2 here).
  • Some mobile sites include location services that are only compatible with carrier platforms (e.g., the post office mobile site can use a phone's GPS to display the closest branch or ATM), but this is likely to change as specific applications are developed.
  • Email sent from smartphones to feature phones mail may be bounced by default depending on the recipient's spam filter settings, which often block all mail not sent from a,, or address, requiring recipients to "white list" smartphone addresses on an individual basis or loosen their spam settings. This includes the iPhone address.
  • On the hardware side, many smartphones do not include an infrared transceiver for sharing contact informatioin (赤外線セックス), a one-seg TV tuner, an IC-card for making payments with your phone (携帯お財布), as well as other common features like pedometers, solar panels, and water proofing. As domestic makers begin releasing more Android-based smartphones, expect to see some of the features included. For example, many of the phones in Docomo's summer 2011 lineup include these features.
Compatible carriers for overseas phones
  • B-Mobile (MVNO)
  • Docomo (from April, 2011)
  • Softbank
It is possible to use a foreign smartphone on Softbank, though technically not allowed. B-Mobile (not to be confused with Japan's smallest carrier E-mobile) is an MVNO using Docomo's network. Docomo announced that foreign phones will be allowed from next fiscal year.

Which phones can be used
  • Phones displaying Japanese certification either stamped directly to the phone or on the screen.
  • Phones that support W-CDMA 2100 Mhz.
  • iPhone (850, 900, 1900, and 2100 MHz

Why can Softbank be used?

All Japanese carriers attempt to prevent unauthorized handsets, i.e., any device they did not sell you from connecting to the unlimited data plans. Some carriers do a better job than others. Softbank controls access through a user name/password scheme. The password is easily google-able (which is not a good thing, since Softbank could change the password).

As of July, 2011, Softbank now officially allows unlocked phones on their data network, though they are still not unlocking phones.

Docomo's method for restricting non-branded phones

While an unlocked phone is fully capable of working on their network, it is prohibitively expensive to do so because the "biz-houdai" unlimited data APN is filtered by IMEI number, even for people who have properly subscribed to the unlimited data plan. You can only connect to the mopera APN, which adds an additional ¥4,200 to the monthly bill. The reason for this is non-branded, unlocked phones are likely able to tether.

Essentially, think of it as Docomo has done a better job than Softbank obtaining the goal of not allowing non-branded devices from using unlimited data.

However, Docomo allows data-only tablets that are compatible and certified for use in Japan on their network at the same data cost as smartphones. Tethering from a data-only tablet is also allowed for no additional cost. There is no immediately apparent logical reason for this.

AU's method for restricting non-branded phones

AU, along with Sprint and Verizon in the US CDMA-2000, while most carriers use W-CDMA, which is an evolution of the GSM standard and was originally developed by Docomo. Chances are your phone is not compatible with AU's network.

Even if it were compatible, the SIM cards used by AU 3G phones are actually locked to one specific device (according to KDDIs SIM lock presentation). It is not even possible to switch an AU SIM card from one AU device to another.

Frequencies in Japan

  • Docomo: W-CDMA; 800, 2100 MHZ
  • AU: CDMA-2000; 800, 2100 MHz
  • Softbank: W-CDMA; 2100 MHz
  • E-Mobile: W-CDMA; 1700 Mhz
800 MHz is only used in Japan. 1700 MHz and 2100 MHz are the frequencies used by US T-Mobile, but AFAIK, one is used for uplink and one for downlink, so US T-Mobile phones are equipped with an antenna that is not compatible in japan for 3G. US AT&T uses 850 MHz and 1900 MHz.

  • Docomo: 1500, 2100 MHZ
  • AU: 800, 2100 MHz
  • Softbank: 1500 (DC-HSDPA), 2100 MHz
  • E-Mobile: 1700 Mhz
AU will rely on the CDMA-based network for voice, so AU handsets will only be compatible for data.

Procedure for using an overseas phone with Docomo

Main article: Trying to get an unlocked phone working on Docomo is a waste of time

Using an overseas phone on Docomo is not recommended because of the high price of data, which is over 10,000 yen. Only phones that appear on an official list compiled by Docomo of will be allowed access to the biz houdai APN and reasonable data rates. Phones that are incapable of tethering will be on the list. No phones are on the list because phones that 1) unlocked are 2) generally capable of tethering.

Procedure for using an overseas phone with B-Mobile

Main article: Comparison of all b-mobile SIMs

B-Mobile has no retail stores and is therefore a very low overhead operation. They offer the least expensive plans in Japan. Registration is done over the internet. They offer several products:
  • B-mobileSIM U300 for data only
  • talkingSIM for voice and data
  • B-mobile FAIR 1GB over 120 days SIM
  • Aeon exclusive SIMs for data only (post paid by credit card), each compatible with b-mobile VoIP.
    • Plan A ¥980/month (100 kbps - no streaming)
    • Plan B ¥2980/month (400 kbps - no streaming)
    • Plan C ¥4980/month ("carrier speed -steaming allowed)
Neither product requires a contract. Data only SIMs can be used non residents.

The data-only U300 SIM is prepaid for 1/6/12 months and may be purchased with cash on delivery and is an option for anyone with an address at which deliveries can be received. HTC handsets running Android 1.6 do not work and must be either upgraded to 2.x or downgraded to 1.5. A new radio does not need to be flashed. Only Japanese certified phones are officially supported but B-mobile customer service is very helpful even to people without certified phones. The data-only SIM lacks a circuit switch component of SMS and voice) which may cause the 3G icon not to display, even though 3G is in fact connected.

The voice and data SIM requires a credit card and proof of residency in Japan. Only Japanese certified phones are officially supported. Because this SIM contains a circuit switch component, the 3G icon and other issues (Android 1.6) may be alleviated.

B-mobile also offers a 050 VoIP service for the IDEOS handsets, which is now offered standalone, though performance can only be guaranteed on the ideos. MVNO BlueSIP offers a standalone service that is usable with the U300 data SIM for Android and iOS. NTT Communications also offers a VoIP service.

Procedure for using an overseas phone with Softbank

Softbank will now officially sell ala carte SIMs for unlocked phones that support 2100 MHz, except for iPhones, apparently due to way Apple handles APNs. The phone is supposed to be certified for use in Japan, but I can imagine that some shops may not care/notice if a phone is not certified.

If you can't get a SIM through official channels, you must have a softbank plan for a regular feature phone, and  then switch the data plan to the unlimited plan for smartphones, set the proper APN on the smartphone, yank the SIM from the softbank phone, and slip it in the smartphone. (NOTE1: a compatible "dumb"phone with no need for a data plan can be used by simply slipping in the Softbank SIM card. NOTE2: if you are slipping a black iPhone SIM into another phone, you don't need to do steps 1-4 because you are already subscribed to the proper plans)
  1. Start service with any phone on softbank, this includes "feature phones" (the galapagos keitai with all the famously Japanese functions)*.
  2. Subscribe to the S! Basic Pack (¥300/month + 5% - soon to be 10%? - tax).
  3. Subscribe to the Unlimited Packet Discount S plan.
  4. Change you data plan to the Unlimited Packet Discount for Smartphone plan (¥1029 - ¥5985/month).
    • Sign up for online billing (¥100/month + 5%).
    • Access the My Softbank site from a PC **.
    • Click on the green icon 料金プランや割引、ご契約住所の変更など各種お申込みはこちら (Service plans and discounts, address change, all service applications).
    • Click on the button next to "割引サービス" (Discount Services).
    • Select the second option " パケット通信料割引サービス変更 例)パケットし放題など"
    • Change the plan to パケットし放題 for スマートフォン. (Unlimited Packet Discount for Smartphone).
  5. Set the proper APN*** for your SIM card.
    • The gray/silve SIM uses the "opensoftbank APN"
    • The black iPhone SIM uses the "smile APN"
  6. Swap the SIM from your Softbank phone to your smartphone once you have confirmed that the proper data plan is active.
  7. Check this thread for information on getting your address working on an Android device.
* You may be unable to start service with a second-hand softbank phone.
** It is possible to have a softbank rep at the store or on the phone change your plan to the smartphone plan, but it is easier to do it online because the rep will invariably not understand why you want the more expensive smartphone plan when you don't have a smartphone, and it would not be recommended to tell them what you are doing.
*** Google for the proper password but do not post it here or on other random sites, as it got too widely known and changed once, leaving everyone screwed. This is unlikely to happen again as it would be a nightmare to update everyone's phones to work again, but it is still a bad idea to go around randomly posting the f***king password.

Can Softbank know that I am using a different phone?

Yes, the can easily see that the IMEI number of your phone is different and could shut you down as a result. But the fact is that there have been no reported cases of this happening, so it appears that Softbank is not, for the time being at least, actively looking for this.

Common and expensive problems with Softbank

If you set the proper APN but fail to subscribe to the correct plan, data will work and you will receive a huge bill. If your phone is capable of tethering, you also run the risk of getting a huge bill because the packet discount is not applicable when tethering. In practice light tethering is OK, but don't be stupid and download 1080p movies using bit torrent.

Softbank should send you an SMS if you exceed a certain amount of data charges, but some people report not getting this promptly. At full packet rates, 100 MB costs nearly ¥70,000. (100 MB*1024 = 102,400 KB*1024 = 104,857,600B/128 = 819200 packets * ¥0.084 = ¥68,813) Assuming that bit torrent movie is 1GB you'd pay ¥704,643 for the download.

If you ever plan on owning another cell phone in Japan under your own name, you have no choice but to pay the bill. Reports are mixed regarding the success of negotiating for a reduced bill.

Confirming proper configuration with Softbank

Softbank recently changed their billing practices so that it is no longer difficult to tell if your phone is correctly setup.

Sim locking in Japan

Main article: Japanese mobile phone SIM unlocking procedures

Is the government going to require carriers to unlock phones?

No, the government is only going to urge carriers to unlock phones, leaving the decision up to each carrier. Only phones sold from 2011 are subject to this recommendation. Docomo and E-mobile supported unlocking, AU and Softbank were against it. For reasons listed in this series of posts, it is unlikely that Softbank will unlock any phones at first. All carriers are expected to comply with MIC guidelines, even though they are not required, and all have complied with the various MIC guidelines to date.

Perhaps Softbank wins a concession from the government (like an allocation of the 800 MHz band)?

If all carriers voluntarily unlock phones, will the iPhone be included?

Softbank CEO Son has said he has no intention of unlocking the iPhone.  For example, AT&T in the US unlocks all phones except the iPhone because lock status is maintained by Apple who will not unlock an iPhone unless forced to do so by the government. Since these are only guidelines, officially at least, it is hard to say what will happen with the iPhone.

Can Japanese smartphones be unlocked

Most Docomo Android firmware contains additional lock protections. A simple IMEI-based will likely not work. Docomo will unlock all phones that went on sale after April 1, 2011. Any phone introduced prior to that date is ineligible, even if it was purchased after April 1. To unlock these phones, custom firmware must be flashed and then an IMEI based code used.

LTE in Japan

When will LTE be available in Japan?

According to KDDI's presentation, the plans for each company regarding the start of LTE service are:
  • Docomo: 12/2010
  • AU:12/2012
  • Softbank: Unannounced
  • E-mobile: 7/2012
E-mobile and Softbank are both rolling out DC-HSDPA planned for 11/19/2010 and 2/2011, respectively, which could result in an effective 10x increase over current data speeds.

Prospects for an LTE iPhone 5 on Docomo

Unsure. While Docomo will have the only LTE network in Japan when the next iPhone is released, presumably next July, there is no guarantee that it will support LTE, though this is highly likely.

More importantly, the 7/2011 planned activation of Softbank's DC-HSDPA network coincides with the presumed released date of an LTE iPhone 5.

Should I buy a new phone now or wait for LTE

It depends on how desperate you are for a phone now and if you are locked into a contract with a carrier other than Docomo. Docomo will introduce an LTE phone in Winter 2011.

Comparison of Next Gen Networks

See here for updated information.

While all carriers are eventually moving to LTE, Docomo was the first to start service with their Xi (pronounced "Crossy") network. Plans for FY2011 include roll out in Sapporo, Sendai, Kanazawa, Takamatsu, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka and 20% population coverage by April 2012. Once fully implemented, LTE will be a true 4G network with speeds up to 100/50 Mbps down/up. For now Xi is a "3.9G" network. The other carriers will be making improvements to their existing 3G networks prior to rolling out LTE service.

Softbank and Emobile, the number three and four carriers, will employ dual carrier waves to boost downlink speeds, using a standard first proposed by Emobile called "dual cell high speed downlink packet access (DC-HSDPA). AU, Japan's second largest carrier and only carrier using CDMA2000, plans to introduce a multi-carrier network using up to three carrier waves (click here for Japanese, or here for an English machine/MyGengo translation).

For now, AU's network will be by far the slowest but will launch simultaneously with the winter-spring line up of handsets and will have a number of handsets that support the increased downlink speed, including some androids (IS04 and IS06). The other carrier's launch products are all corporate-oriented data dongles or mobile routers, no phones. The only price I've seen so far is for Emobile's D41HW mobile router for ¥41, 580 (¥19,980 with 2-year contract... ouch).

WIN High Speed
Ultra Speed
Speed (u/d) Mbps
9.2 / 5.5
37.5 (75) / 12.5 (25)*
42 / 5.8
42 / 5.7 **
Monthly price†
¥4480 (¥5580)
Data cap
7 GB
none (10 GB)††
¥2,625 per 2 GB
Start date
Launch products
IS06, X-RAY, S005, IS04, G11, S006
L-02C, F-06C
007Z, 004Z, 005HW
Initial (subsequent) population coverage
Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka (7% 3/2011; 20% 3/2012; 40% 3/2013)
Major Cities (40-50% 3/2011)
Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka (12% 3/2011; 60% 6/2011)
2100 MHz
2100 MHz
1700 MHz
1500 MHz
15 MHz [5x3]
5 (10) Mhz [5x1(5x2)]
10 MHz [5x2]
10 MHz [5x2]

* 75/25 Mbps will be accomplished with dual-carriers in select indoor locations.
** Based on highest uplink of current handsets. DC-HSDPA seems to only increase downlink. Softbank has not announced uplink speed.
† Assuming 2-year contract and campaign pricing.
†† No cap until 5/2014.
‡ No official start date, but service is supposed to start with release of compatible winter/spring lineup handsets.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Yahoo Japan announces plans to use Google search engine

Yahoo in the US will begin using Microsoft's "Bing" search engine - hey, at least someone will be using it. This opened the door for Yahoo Japan, which is an entirely separate entity, to look into a new search Engine. Softbank owns about 40% of Yahoo Japan, I believe.

There was speculation over the past few days that such an announcement of a google-yahoo search tie-up in Japan was imminent. Google, who dominates search world wide only has about 30% of the market in Japan. Yahoo has about 60%. This will give them a combined 90% of the search market, which has at least the Mainichi wondering if this deal won't end up dead in the water due to antitrust issues. Rest assured that Microsoft will have something to say about it to government regulators.
日本のヤフー:米グーグルと提携 検索エンジン採用






US allows DMCA exemption for unlocking phones

This comment deserves it own quick post.

The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a prime example of legislation that was either extremely poorly thought out, designed to solely served the purpose of a particular industry group to the determent of the people (who elected the legislators), or both.

The US news is abuzz this morning that the Library of Congress added exemptions for unlocking cell phones, including jailbreaking an iPhone and rooting an Android, as well as circumventing of the DVD CSS encryption by certain people like film students et al. From
  • allow the unlocking of mobile phones to change carriers.
  • allow the cracking of video game digital rights management controls to probe security flaws.
  • allow the breaking of DVD encryption by professors, students and documentary makers so the clips can be used for education and commentary.
  • allow the blind to circumvent locks on e-books to enable read-aloud features.
  • allow the bypassing of broken or irreplaceable dongles.
What does this have to do with Japan? A lot.

The US was used as an example in the SIM locking debate. Now that the US government has expressly added DMCA exemptions to cover unlocking and jailbreaking, this will only make unlocking in Japan more likely.

In a recent conversation with some people in the Japanese cell industry, I was reminded how government guidelines in Japan actually work: while it may be a voluntary guideline, everyone is expected to comply. Of course there will be debate and concessions, though.

Friday, July 23, 2010

B-Mobile talkingSIM: BOTH voice and data for under 4000 yen per month

Here we go.

B-Mobile will add voice service to their data SIMs by the end of the month, with applications being accepted from July 30th. We now have the very first truly legit option for overseas smart phones in the B-Mobile talkingSIM. Unfortunately for tourists, a credit card is required, as well as proof of address in Japan, though foreign residents are not required to show The Card. And before anyone asks, they don't have a microSIM.

Applicants must produce one, and only one, of the following (scroll down):
  • Drivers license
  • Japanese passport
  • Mental/physical disability or medical treatment "notebook" (手帳)
  • Alien registration card
  • Any of a number of insurance cards
The basics of the service:
  • No 2-year contract required
  • 25 free voice minutes
  • Additional minutes @ ¥21/half minute (same typical rate of the big three carriers)
  • ¥5/SMS sent; free to receive
  • Unlimited data (symmetrical 300 kbps, no streaming)
  • ¥3960/month
  • ¥3150 one-time new contract registration fee
Though only handsets with proper Japanese certifications are officially supported, there is absolutely nothing preventing the product from working with overseas phones. In fact, I am extremely impressed with B-Mobile customer service, who patiently worked with a reader to get his US T-Mobile G1 working.

Data transfer terms are the same as their current data-only SIM, which is plenty fast for email, surfing, and maps. Steaming apps, such as youtube and skype don't work, basically because B-Mobile must buy bandwidth from Docomo, so they are unable to offer a truly unlimited data product (if they plan to stay in business, that is). Overall, readers are happy with its performance.

There is a potential caveat for users with HTC devices running Android 1.6 "Donut." Xperia is unaffected.

Some sort of apparent incompatibility between the data-only SIM and HTC's baseband prevents connection with Donut. Interestingly, the same handset with the same baseband works with other versions of Android. Until it is clear if this will also affect the new voice+data SIM as well, it would be best to hold off purchasing one if you are running 1.6 and unable to upgrade (i.e., not rooted). The voice and data SIM should also fix the no 3G icon issue with some handsets. According to "likethesite":
My understanding is that the "no 3G symbol" and other niggles are caused between the radio and the host network (DCM). The b-mobileSIM SIM card is purely "data only". This means it is purely for packet transfer. It does not have a circuit switch component (SMS, voice etc). As most SIMs (even data only ones) will have SMS at least, certain features on devices (such as displaying "3G" symbols can require a circuit switched attachment.

Therefore, on some devices b-mobile SIM works as per any carrier SIM, and on others there can be minor differences such as the "3G" icon issue above.
So, since this SIM will now support voice, this should cease to be an issue.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Docomo to bring address to smartphone users

Only five of the current eight models will be compatible, leaving out the android ht-03a and the two Blackberries. The spモードservice is planned to start from September and will cost ¥300 (plus tax) per month.

ht-03a users have long been able to use the PC version of i-mode mail, This doesn't bode well for the prospects of an official update to the ht-03a.

Unlocked iPhone likely coming to Docomo next April, via Hong Kong

Some quick quotes from NTT Docomo's CEO, who gave the keynote speech yesterday at the Wireless 2010 exposition, during which he expressed optimism for SIM unlocking from the next fiscal year. From the Nikkei:

From April 2011, we will include unlocked handsets in our lineup. While we will not be able to unlock current handsets, any Docomo shop will have unlocked phones.
He also went on to confirm that the current generation of smartphones will not be unlocked by Docomo, but that users would have to wait for the next generation to go on sale from April.
As of now, he is thinking to offer the same service plans for any phone brought to Docomo from another carrier.
And finally, something concrete on overseas smartphones:

Also of interest is whether overseas smartphones will be supported. There are a number of appealing handsets not available in Japan. In response to the question whether these will be useable on Docomo's network "will depend on if they are certified for use in Japan."
Few overseas phones bear the certification seal. However, since April 28 of this year, the MIC has stated that "the mark only needs to be displayed on the screen [as opposed to being physically present on the handset]." The unlocked Hong Kong version of the iPhone does not currently physically bear the mark but does display it under the "certification" information setting.
So there you have it Big Al, the reason I kept saying to wait to buy that HTC Desire in Germany until you knew for sure if/when it could be used on Docomo and under what conditions.

Maybe the first Android app I write will be one that displays the Japanese wireless certification mark ;-)

Softbank begins properly displaying current monthly data charges

According to general_k, a new member at XDA forums, Softbank has recently changed the way current monthly charges are displayed on the My Softbank site. Previously, the site displayed current usage fees prior to the application of any discounts, which resulted in a number of panicked posts to the definitive smartphone on Softbank thread.

Now the actual cost to be paid by the customer is apparently displayed - I say apparently because I am still a bit confused by the information.

In the above screenshot, one day of usage of the iPhone data plan is shown, resulting in ¥744 worth of packet charges (9,300 packets). At this rate, the maximum price for this particular data plan (¥4,410) would be reached in about a week. Previously, the site would continue to show charges increasing above the cap, which would reach around ¥20,000 by the end of the month.

The individual packet charges are subtracted, leaving only the charge for the flat rate plan displayed (¥4,200 * 5% tax = ¥4,410). However, this person has only used 9,300 packets, which should result in current charges of ¥980, the minimum (excluding tax), which doesn't matter because this user is subscribed to a new plan that charges the maximum, regardless of actual packet usage, in exchange for an additional ¥480 discount [See comments]. The original iPhone data plan scales linearly after 12,250 packets to the maximum, which is reached at 71,250 packets.

Here is another shot from a different user illustrating the same thing. Also, notice the flat rate price for the previous month seems to be prorated, which also doesn't make sense since the user consumed well over 71,250 packets.

The below screenshot provided by an admittedly heavy users shows one day of ridiculous usage under Softbank's old way of displaying current charges.

Someone who followed all the directions properly and just slid an iPhone or other Softbank SIM card into their overseas smartphone would be right to panic when seeing this information - especially if they were not so comfortable reading Japanese and didn't notice the fine print (not shown) saying this is the price prior to any discounts.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

CyanogenMod 6 (2.2 Froyo) release candidate available

CyanogenMod-6.0.0 RC1

The link to the change log was broken so here it is.

Just flashed but haven't done much with it yet, but there is good news:
  • According to the change long, wysie contacts has finally been ported from Android 1.6 meaning we now have proper support for furigana in contacts again!
  • Docomo's APN is now added to the official APN list (because I added it ;-)), so the proper APN was automatically set.
Remember to backup your current ROM, and best to also use Titanium backup for your apps so you don't download them all from the market again. And don't forget to wipe!

So far the things are aren't working so well are:
  • Titanium backup isn't able to do a batch reinstall of applications
  • The market force closes a lot but it's not impossible to down load an app - just a pain.
  • Simeji sometimes freaks out and rapidly flips between English and Japanese input.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reader comments on rooting Xperia X10

Updated with more comments from the km and some screenshots (launcher is ADW Launcher).

My comment about there being no reason not to root sparked a bit of discussion concerning the custom UIs. Now that the Xperia X10 has been rooted, reader km weighed in with his experience. In short, SE's custom UI and apps remain intact after rooting (for better or for worse).
My story: After a long wait and a couple of hoaxes, a tried-and-true method for root was finally posted on the xda-developers forums. However, with all the activity on the forums, the discovery of various issues with the root methods, and the continual updates and expansions to the root method, it was a mess keeping track of everything. There was no way I would be able to work through the thousands of posts to get a grip on every angle of the process, so I decided to just go for it.

I eventually decided to follow the root method outlined in this video: [Embedded below.]

However, I live in Japan and I had my Xperia's locale set to Japanese, so I was weary of loading the generic UK R2BA020 rom because I was afraid of losing the ability to have the phone be fully functional in Japanese on the Docomo network like I need it to. After reading a few blog posts from Japanese bloggers who had tried the original procedure, but not the new rom, I eventually decided to give it a go.

One thing that is seldom mentioned is that you must install the Sony Ericcson Update Service (SEUS) available on the company's website to get the necessary drivers to make the root commands work successfully. You also need the latest version of Sun's JRE, and some people say you also need JDK (I installed both just in case).

The procedure outlined in the video worked perfectly for me on the first try after I set up these requirements. The POBox Touch keyboard was still there, working in both Japanese and English after I set my locale to Japanese again. As an added bonus, you get the excellent keyboard from HTC's Sense UI which is blazingly fast and has excellent error correction for English. Timescape and Mediascape, two big resource hogs on the X10, were programs I wanted to remove immediately, but apparently doing so has the potential to cause problems. The Timescape app in particular seems to be tied to the connectivity functions on the phone. This will be remedied when roms are released that do not include Sony Ericcson's Rachael customization of the Android UI.

The procedure I followed installs the ADW home screen, which is a big improvement over the stock Launcher because it allows multiple screens, has nice bouncy physics when scrolling, and a more attractive application list instead of the slide-up drawer standard to most UIs.

As I mentioned, I was worried about setting up the phone properly without any of the Docomo pre-loaded software on the device, but by putting in the appropriate APN information for my data plan (which I confirmed with you) I was able to get 3G working. Normal phone calls worked without any trouble. The proof about whether it is set up properly will be on my next bill, but I am assuming that since others have done the same without issue it should be OK.

Wireless tethering works flawlessly with Barnacle after putting athwlan0 as the LAN device in the preferences, and the connection speeds in my area (Kobe) are good on Docomo's network. SetCPU has really improved my battery life by keeping CPU scaling to a minimum when the screen is off. I can keep a charge with moderate use for well over and entire day now, whereas the original software on the phone back in April when it was released wouldn't give me more than 12 hours or so.

Another major benefit is that the interface is snappier with the R2BA020 rom than it was with the Docomo rom that came with the phone. Menus appear more quickly, buttons and confirmation dialogues respond soundly with no lag, and the touch screen algorithms are as good or better than the recent software updates from Docomo that were distributed a few weeks ago.

Overall, I am very happy with my rooted phone and I notice no issues whatsoever. I am looking forward to custom roms of more recent versions of Android coming out. Of particular interest is whether the touchscreen on the Xperia will support multitouch or pinch-to-zoom functions. SE reps have stated conclusively that multitouch is impossible due to hardware limitations, but that is just really hard to believe on a phone with these kind of high-end specs. However, pinch to zoom (which is the primary use of multitouch, aside from faster keyboard typing with two fingers) may still be possible. We shall see!

The Rachael UI is still in tact, and I haven't bothered theming the phone yet, so my phone looks and acts similar to before, just *better*. As such, screenshots probably wouldn't be all that interesting... just my wallpaper and icons, or maybe some settings shots if you wanted them for reference.
Some selected new comments from km on taken from the original post
Now, a final point of caution: some people (myself included) will want to remove several of the bundled apps that came with the phone. You can do this with one of the many cleanup scripts available in the xda forums. I personally removed the Moxier suite of applications, along with the Korean and Chinese keyboards, PlayNow, and a couple of other annoying programs in my applications list. However, I accidentally deleted the excellent POBox Touch keyboard that allowed fast and easy switching between Japanese and English input. Be weary of following the cleanup script instructions you find without taking a look and understanding what you are removing with each instruction, and be sure to backup to SD before deleting. This should definitely be the last consideration when you root your phone, as it is not strictly necessary, nor does it provide any functionality other than a few more free megabytes of storage and a cleaner applications menu. As I mentioned, removing Mediascape and Timescape is probably not a wise decision for now since they are so firmly tied with the Rachael UI.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

Poll on changing the name of this blog

EDIT: wow, how many typos can I manage to slide into one poll? The correct answer would be two. I guess that's what happens when you're in a hurry.

I've added a poll to the sidebar, if most people think the name should be changed, then that is probably the best thing to do. Comments are also welcome here.

Should this blog get a new name?

  • Yes, the it isn't about Softbank and the name is lame
  • No, even though the focus change, karma's a b****
  • Meh, I don't care

Saturday, July 3, 2010

One year of softbank sucks

On the one year anniversary of this blog, I have one thing to say.

Thank you Softbank.

Well, I guess I have a few more things to say.

Like, thank you readers! If no one visited this site, I probably wouldn't have the motivation to continue posting. I installed code for Google Analystics at the end of January, and have seen a modest but steady increase in unique visitors per day.

For work, I've been pretty much required to use Macs, which used to be a real chore until Mac OS X was released with a UNIX-like kernel. So, if it wasn't for Softbank, I would have certainly become an iPhone user, even though I've always been a fan of linux.

While an iPhone can be jailbroken to get root access allowing installation of otherwise unavailable applications, the fact that the iOS is closed source means users will never have access to custom kernels or an entire custom ROM compiled from source.

The iPhone is certainly a slick package, but as a whole Android and the linux kernel are where it's at.

The focus of this blog has changed in ways I never imagined a year ago. So now that the point of this blog is no longer about trying to figure out exactly what qualifies one to become an iPhone owner and customer of Softbank, I'm thinking about making a few more fundamental changes.

Changes to what? I'm not really sure yet. I've been thinking of changing the name of the blog, but not sure if I want to invest the time to do it properly. I'd probably need to leave this as is with a redirect to the new blog so that readers can continue to find it. I've also briefly considered getting hosting service, but the amount of time I have to put into this blog means that it is probably not worth the expense.

And besides, is being squatted, since before Android was first released, but some twat in Saitama.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Final thoughts on SIM lock presentations (part 4)

So now we know the four carrier's official opinions regarding SIM unlocking, and perhaps what they really think as well. Looking through each of the presentations was quite insightful and cleared up a few things in my head about why some things are the way they are. Unfortunately, it also raised more questions. Here I will try and put all this together, but there are a number of uncertainties. Trying to make sense of this industry and the government is like herding cats.

What are the real motivations of each carrier?

Docomo and E-mobile are both in favor of unlocking, though E-mobile would like to see a more fair allocation of frequencies, since they only have the 1700 MHz band, which no one else really uses. Docomo comes off looking like the good guy to customers, but it doesn't take a genius to see what they really want is the iPhone and iPad and could just as easily use their muscle against SIM unlocking if they already had what they want.

As they said in the press conference prior to the meeting, AU is against it because they are left out of the party with their incompatible CDMA-2000 network, which will most likely be used for voice even after the introduction of LTE. If this is the case, AU should focus on selling high-speed data plans for the slew of LTE data-only tablets sure to follow the iPad.

Softbank is naturally against it, offering up a number of arguments based on questionable logic, but then again it is easy to understand their real thinking, especially since Son already admitted that Softbank's network is inferior to Docomo's and an unlocked iPad would have left them at a severe disadvantage.

Will SIM unlocking happen?

No, it didn't.

I haven't had a chance to read the new guidelines released two days ago, but the government will only "urge" carriers to unlock phones sold from 2011. Docomo may do it, Softbank most certainly will not. So no iPhone or iPad on Docomo, at least for the time being.

Given the circumstances this is probably the correct decision, though not because I think the government was convinced by Softbank's arguments, which I would classify as FUD.

The government shares in the blame for softbank's comparatively poor network by denying softbank's request for an allocation of the 800 MHz band, which gives Docomo's network better penetration inside buildings, underground, and in mountainous areas. Softbank is trying to compensate by supplying free femtocells to customers. Government mandated unlocking would almost certainly result in a one-way flux of customers from Softbank to Docomo. That would be very unfair.

What about the incompatible platforms?

The argument that incompatible platforms are grounds for not mandating unlocking is erroneous.

The walled garden internet and carrier mail platforms (i-mode for Docomo, EZweb for AU, and Yahoo Keitai for Softbank) will simply not work if a "feature phone" is taken from one carrier to another. This will effectively prevent people not using smartphones from switching carriers.

But, as far as I know, the reason the MIC began reconsidering SIM locks was due largely to increased usage of smartphones, which are incompatible with the above platforms in the first place (the iPhone being somewhat of an exception). And, as shown by E-mobile, it is projected that smartphones will soon account for around 40% of all handsets globally.

What will be the effect of LTE?

Probably none at all, in the beggining at least.

Docomo is planning to start LTE service at the end of the year (See AU's chart). For the next couple of years, Docomo will be the only option for LTE (3.9G) handsets, so there is no reason for the MIC to reconsider unlocking. Of course LTE handsets will also be compatible with 3G, so it is conceivable that a "4G" phone could be released by AU or Softbank.

So if the "iPhone 5" is a "4G" phone, the only place for it will be Docomo? Yay!

Not necessarily.

According to AU's LTE chart, Softbank plans to begin operation of a DC-HSDPA network in January 2011 and begin offering service in July 2011. Who knows what real world speeds this network will get, but assuming the average iPhone user gets 2 - 3 Mbps, it is likely that users could see a 10x increase in speed. That is a significant increase and would certainly seem like "4G".

And of course, Apple releases the new iterations of the iPhone, pretty much like clockwork, right around July of each year, 6/29/2007, 7/11/2008, 6/19/2009, and 6/24/2010, respectively for the four iPhone generations. If this pattern continues, the "iPhone 5" should be released right about the time softbank can begin boasting of a ten fold bump in network speed. Hmm....

Could this result in IMEI Registration with Docomo?

Perhaps, but not necessarily for overseas phones.

It is well known among the smartphone-toting foreign community that Docomo refuses to sell ala carte SIM cards. While an unlocked phone is fully capable of working on their network, it is prohibitively expensive to do so because the unlimited data APN is filtered by IMEI number, even for people who have properly subscribed to the "biz-houdai" plan. This means that if you didn't buy a phone from Docomo, you cannot get unlimited data. Rather you will pay the full packet rate, which would result in monthly bills easily in excess of ¥100,000. Check out this post for an epic screenshot showing a guy on softbank who used ¥13,805,678 (currently $156,217.01US) worth of data packets in one month prior to the flat rate being applied (Login my be required.) That amount is so huge, I initially misconverted it in my head to only $13,000!

Softbank's presentation included the threat of very heavy network usage from handsets that can do things like tethering and heavy streaming, such as skype over 3G. Now that I think about it, this is probably the reason Docomo doesn't register IMEIs.

Now that the MIC is only recommending that cellphones be unlocked, after being so strongly for unlocking, Docomo would appear very hypocritical by not accepting unlocked phones. On the other hand, if no other compatible carriers (i.e., softbank) unlock phones, then there will be no unlocked phones to accept. Fortunately, according to Docomo's comparison slide, Docomo also uses the 1700 MHz band from Osaka to Tokyo, covering a large chunk of the population. So technically, E-mobile is also somewhat compatible with Docomo.

But overseas phones could still be excluded.

The preliminary unlocking guidelines made no mention of overseas handsets, and I assume neither do the final guidelines (will have to confirm later). In fact, the guidelines require carriers who participate in unlocking to begin sharing IMEI numbers to prevent the use of stolen phones, but this database would contain no information pertaining to overseas phones. The easiest and logical way of setting up a database would be to share blacklisted IMEIs and deny service to those devices. But what if the carriers decided to share all IMEIs and only approve service to those on the list? This would not be an efficient way of doing things but it would have two benefits (from the carrier's point of view):

  1. Remove the risk of/responsibility for providing service to someone in possession property stolen from overseas.
  2. Soften the anticipated decline in handset sales that would accompany unlocking.

Anyone living in Japan long enough has encountered the bazooka/fly swatter scenario.  Though a fly swatter is perfectly capable of fixing the problem of an unwanted, winged insect, a bazooka is brandished, effectively killing the fly while taking out the entire wall and anyone unfortunate enough to be standing behind it. A good example of this is, as a means for combating spam, the default bouncing of any email not sent from a Japanese cellphone, which assumes all mail from PCs to be spam. Similarly, any phone purchased overseas could be stolen.

If the carriers perceive there to be even the slightest risk of one phone stolen from overseas being used on their network, they could just outright prevent all overseas phones from being used. A good "tatemae" for the "honne" of selling handsets, indeed.

Is SIM unlocking really going to increase phone theft?

Of course not, but that doesn't matter. What matters is whether risk is perceived.

For people involved in the fencing of stolen handsets, with the technical means of spoofing the IMEI number to circumvent blacklisting, a simple SIM lock isn't going to be anything more than a mild annoyance at most.

In this respect, locking down of hardware is similar to DRM in digital content, which serves only to annoy and alienate loyal law abiding customers while doing absolutely nothing to prevent the spread of pirated video.

(Side note: For those of you who's first experience with linux was Android, watching a DVD on a linux computer is actually in violation of the terms under which one bought - I mean "licensed" the right to posses - said DVD because the CSS decoder must be licensed for a fee by the maker or the hard/software that decodes and plays the video, which is something that obviously no one involved in linux development has done. Many popular Linux distributions do not contain the required library pre-installed, but it is typically in the corresponding repository and easily downloaded. This is also the case when watching a DVD with the very popular VLC.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Summary of Softbank SIM lock presentation (part 3)

Softbank's 13-slide presentation (archive) defended SIM locking, employed lots of cartoon images of crying and confused customers, and generally included more negative language than the other carrier's presentations. (The other carriers used the term SIMロック解除 - unlock; Softbank often used the term SIMロック禁止 - prohibition of lock.)

Softbanks lists four advantages to locking phones, 1) a "one stop" place to shop for cell phones and service, 2) a high degree of service though the linking of handsets to a particular network, 3) lower costs for consumers, and 4) a strong deterrent to cell phone theft. Softbank argues that mandated unlocking will remove the option for inexpensive, feature-rich phones, leaving the consumer with fewer choices.

Softbank also argues that the removal of SIM locks will not be of any advantage for Japanese handset makers attempting to enter global markets, and of course mentions that, at home, someone who switches carriers will lose access to the walled garden internet and carrier mail (i-mode, EZweb, yahoo keitai).  Even if a multi-band, multi-radio, multi-platform handset were created, it would take time to get it to market, be expensive, be very large, and have horrible battery life.

If phones are indeed unlocked, churn will increase, causing carriers to remove subsidies and handset prices will soar, which will severely limit the adoption of LTE because new handsets will be so expensive that customers will be forced to continue using their old 3G handsets. Network performance will seriously degrade due to the use of unauthorized handsets that haven't been stripped of bandwidth-hungry functionality (i.e., neutered). Customers will be confused and know not where to turn in the even of problems with their handsets, to the carrier? to the content provider? or to the handset maker?

Ultimately, this will result in a crime wave due to the utter loss of theft deterrent, with thieves running amuck in Japan, stealing handsets and selling them overseas as the entire Japanese infrastructure crumbles and society collapses all because of one... little... unlocked phone. (OK, maybe not.)

Finally, the last slide - the money shot, if you will -  showing that yearly shipments of new handsets decreasing sharply the last time the government dared to tell the industry how to behave.

Up until around 2008, the "1 yen keitai" was quite common in Japan. Problem was that the marketing was misleading because the real price of the phone was paid in jacked-up monthly service fees.  So someone who uses the same phone for an extended period of time ends up subsidizing the purchases of those who consider a cell phone to be a fashion accessory and buy a new one with the changing of the seasons.

(NOTE: Handsets that were purchased prior to the rules going into effect are STILL subject to the higher service fees today, and will be forever, so if you have a phone bought prior to 2008, you will save money on your monthly bill by buying a new one.)

The government eventually told the industry to stop that silliness.

Softbank complains in the last slide about the huge decrease in shipped handsets that resulted and fears a further decrease in handset sales if handsets are unlocked, since people won't be forced to purchase a new handset when moving to a new carrier.