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.


  1. Hi my first comment here! I think it worths mentioning that MNP seems to be supported as well.

    Would be really great that I can finally talk on the Nexus One :)

  2. Sounds neat! though their anti-bandwidth hog practices kind of put me off... I would rather take my chances with Softbank until they wise up (I have not heard of any cases of throttling or packet preference from them yet).

    Now some questions about hardware:
    What frequencies does B-mobile use? According to this (likely outdated) list, only the 1700 band IX:

    For international phones, this might be a problem since it is a non-standard frequency and so pretty much only Docomo phones would have the modems that can connect to it.

    If the list is outdated and B-mobile has (say) all the frequencies that Docomo uses, then an international smartphone user would still only benefit from a denser 2100 band network coverage, and not the deep-penetration coverage that (I believe if I am not mistaken) the 800 band VI provides, since again this is a nonstandard frequency that phones outside Japan wouldn't have.

    Can anybody shed some light on this?

  3. Amazing!

    Am I missing something, or it looks like we should get online (possibly rooted, to avoid this 1.6 issue), and rush to buy those SIMS? Giving up my prepaid Gaijin-only Softbank Samsung would be great.

    And in the worst case scenario if for some reason it does not work after one month, I would end up with an unlocked Android phone, and... having wasted... only 4000 yens?

  4. Because B-Mobile is not a network operator but rather a virtual network operator (MVNO), they don't own/operate any infrastructure but rather resell usage of a carrier's network. In this case, they are using Docomo's FOMA network. As such, it is impossible for them to offer a truly unlimited data plan and run a profitable business. They must either sell tiered plans where customers purchase a certain amount of monthly bandwidth and pay overage costs, or offer an "unlimited" plan that is capped in transfer rate. If they offered a totally unlimited, unthrottled data plan, their overhead would quickly exceed any profit.

    I would like to see them offer a second data plan that is tiered with for example 1 GB for a set price, but my gut feeling is that the price B-Mobile pays Docomo for data is determined by a very complex equation with terms representing the time of day, the total packets used by B-Mobile, and probably some other stuff that I'm not thinking of.

    But the average user of a particular technology is a complete idiot when it comes to understanding that technology. Most people have absolutely no idea how bandwidth they use with their PC at home, much less with a smart phone. So my guess is that B-Mobile opted for the simplest option; offering an unlimited plan that is capped on speed and sustained transfers. Not really unlimited, but I don't fault them for that because there is nothing they can do about it.

    And if they did offer a pay as you go plan wrt bandwidth, and you did take full advantage of it for VoIP and youtube and pandora etc., you would find that 1 GB of data would be quickly consumed.

    So, until the carriers open up (Docomo says it will in April), this is the best and only option.


    You are confusing Emobile for B-Mobile. Emobile is Japan's 4th and smallest carrier who was only allotted the exotic 1700 MHz band.

    Docomo has the FOMA network using 2100 MHz and 800 MHz. You're probably right that the 800 won't be usable. The US is using 850, which is not compatible with Japan's 800 3G band. This means that you experience with an overseas phone would be like that of the average softbank user, with no bars in basements and other attenuating terrain.

  5. You know if it works with a HTC Magic (Google Ion) running Cyanogenmon 6RC1? I'm paying ~1500/month for voice only in a Softbank prepaid plan. But you know, Softbank sucks... :)

  6. Should be no problem. The GDD phone is listed as supported.

  7. Wow, I mean, yeah. Ahem, wow... This is like 2nd Meiji...

  8. UPDATE: US government legalizes iPhone 'jailbreaking,' unlocking

  9. -Unlimited data (symmetrical 300 kbps, no streaming)

    What is the "no streaming" part about?
    meaning no music and no skype?

  10. Yes, pretty much. Any sustained transfers of significant bandwidth will get shutdown. No skype, no youtube, no pandora, etc. Mail, maps, surfing are OK.

  11. Does anyone here know how texting will work on an unlocked Android phone?

    I'm leaving for Japan in a month, along with my unlocked milestone. I've read that Japanese cells text through email as oppose to SMS. Does this mean that the unimited data would cover texting because it is being sent via email, or do the networks convert the email to SMS or MMS when it is received by the phone?

  12. This is great news. After years of roaming fees pain and street wifi shenanigans... finally a decent solution.

    I'm definitely asking a friend to buy of of these the next time I'll be in Tokyo.

  13. Now appearing in Asahi Shimbun...

  14. Oh, another thing; reading through the terms and charges, I noticed there is also a initial set-up fee of 3150 yen, on top of the monthly charge of 3960 yen.

  15. Yeah, wrote that up Friday during lunch, but fewer details were available at the time. I'll edit it later today.

  16. Thanks, I missed that.

  17. If I have an iPhone 3G (not 3GS) from the US (AT&T), can I use B-Mobile's Talk SIM plan? If I have The Card, can I pay with an American credit card number / account?

  18. They don't accept something off the wall like Discover, but visa mc amex should be OK. I just noticed that the 3G S is listed as officially supported, but the 3G is not. I wonder why that would be? If you go to settings > certifications (or something like that), does the phone display a Japanese certification?

    If, not, that would be the reason it is not officially supported. Should be no technical difference between the 3G and 3G S, i believe.

  19. Yeah my 3G does not have any Japanese Certification screen. I am tempted to take the plunge and see how it goes. Once my Card shows up in the mail, I'll give it a whirl and report back.

  20. Thanks for this gem of an article, its really helpful (as are all of your other articles!).

    I have a T-Mobile G1 that I intend to use with this plan next month (for 6 months), but being the 外人 noob that I am, can I just confirm that I'll get a Japanese email address with this plan? Like a なになに

    So effectively, I'll be able to call, email and use data on my T-Mobile G1 with just this plan?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated =).

  21. My mistake, I just read: メールアドレス(は付与しません。(No email address ><)

  22. I am going to have to ask some people with G1s that are using them here if they are T-mobile branded. I see you replied to Frogman on the other post. The issue could be T-mobile's usage of different frequencies for uplink and downlink. I don't know if that antenna can do both up and down on 2100 MHz.

    It certainly would not work going the other way - taking an unlocked softbank android phone like the desire to T-Mobile. Give me some time to look into it.

  23. It would be greatly appreciated if you could look in to it, thanks.

    I guess after coming to the sad realisation that I wouldn't get a, my next question was whether there was another method to get a keitai mail and use it in Japan? Otherwise many of the services which require a keitai mail would be redundant...

    I'm asking because I'm going on exchange to Japan in 3 weeks for 6 months, and initially I thought my only option was to get a SoftBank prepaid phone and then get the B-Mobile USim for my data needs and use that on my G1. But then I saw your post about the talkingSIM and thought I could save a lot whilst using my trusty G1...

  24. Check the comments on the other post
    turns out I helped a guy get his t-mo G1 working with b-mobile. So it will work. Don't do softbank - do the B-mobile talkingSIM.

    I emailed two guys I know for confirmation that their phones that they use in Japan are t-mobile G1s. I am almost positive they are.

  25. But even if I was to get a talkingSIM it would leave me without a keitai mail address right?

    But otherwise fully functional?

  26. Or is there perhaps a way to access keitai mail via POP/IMAP? I'm happy to buy a Softbank prepaid phone, which should come with an email, and then use POP/IMAP to access it on my G1 with a talkingSIM?

    Thanks for your help =).

  27. Like you read, no keitai mail address with b-mobile. Only the special iphone address can be checked with imap. Honestly, I wouldn't worry about having a keitai address so much - just use gmail with b-mobile.

  28. So you think I'll be able to get by fine for 6 months without a keitai mail address? As in I won't be hindered by being barred from many services?

    If so, then I will just get the talkingSIM. Once again, thank you!

  29. Thanks a lot for this page, finding the bmobile Talkingsim saved me after a loooooot of trouble with Softbank :D

    Just wanted to add that voice&data is working fine on a (non rooted, but sim free) HTC Desire running Android 2.2

    Regarding ketai mail: Ist just an email. Just use your email program to "text". Sure you might get blocked from some services requiring emails @ one of the large carriers or some friends having only carrier emails on their whitelist, but what the heck, its working :D