Wednesday, July 7, 2010

MobileinJapan: Docomo possibly to unlock in April 2011

Check out Paul's post at Mobile in Japan:

Japan DoCoMo to Abandon SIM Lock by 2011. Really?

I'll keep an eye out for new developments in the J-media regarding this.


  1. Thinking about it some, this strategy indeed makes perfect sense for Docomo, who is getting killed by all the hype around SB's Apple products. Like I said, Docomo comes across as the "good guy" who is thinking and caring about customers.

    (Though as I also said, Docomo could easily use their muscle against unlocking, and probably would, if they already had what they want).

    How about a killer HTC LTE-capable Android handset rolling out on Docomo next year, with the option for unlocking (depending on subsidy, contract, cancelation terms, etc.) with a corresponding ad campaign touting speed and openness while portraying the "other guy" as slow and closed, evil and greedy.

    It actually makes so much sense that it is hard to believe that Docomo is actually considering it. Something must be wrong... ;-)

  2. From what I have noticed, it seems that in not only the Iphone, Softbank seems to be trying to get the higher-end smartphones available on their side, while Docomo has been sitting on their thumbs in that regard.

    Consider, the two most recent smartphones Softbank offers, the HD2 and the Desire. Both are 1ghz snapdragon beasts, the HD2 possibly being the last winmo 6.x flagship, and of course the Desire being one of those "bleeding edge" Android phones that are finally capable of going toe-to-toe with the iPhone in terms of functionality.

    What does Docomo have? Pretty much smartphones brought from KDDI and the Xperia... And to be honest, I believe their choice in the Xperia was probably more of a marketing decision because it carries the Sony brand name, which they could justify as a brand that Japanese people would feel more comfortable shopping for, even if the phone isn't Japanese-made. From what I have read, it is not the type of phone that can compete with the iPhone.

    Considering the above, it wouldn't surprise me if Docomo's goal is to compete against the iPhone with... more iPhones! Which is kind of a waste, because I think all they really need to do to "break the spell" is to advertise a 1ghz froyo phone. It certainly has been working for non-ATT carriers in the US.

    But getting back on to the topic of sim-unlocking... If any of the big phone companies' business modelers are worth their likely humble salaries, there's another concern on the horizon, one that ATT and O2 have already nipped in the bud just before the release of the EVO 4g and Streak, respectively: Bleeding edge Superphone users like to use lots of data on unlimited data plans. Enough that I imagine that was a bit of an understatement. Considering the growing global market for smartphones (thanks for the chart, b-mobile!), this trend can be seen by carriers as an increase of low-revenue per capita users and a decrease of high-revenue per capita users.

    In fact, this could perhaps be why the iPhone is so sought after; though I have never used one in earnest, the operating system seems to be a lot less "24/7" connected than a decked-out Android phone is capable of. In other words, Softbank can have their cake and eat it too, with a highly sought-after smartphone that doesn't spell out doom for their network if it is massively adopted.

    So it would be interesting to see just how open-armed Docomo becomes with sim-unlocking, considering the only phones that actually benefit from this are smartphones. I would bet they're carefully planning their actions in such a way that it exclusively targets unlocked iPhones, with the least amount of high-cost smartphone collateral damage as possible. After all, it would be a simply TERRIBLE message to their consumers if they had to introduce data caps.

  3. I don't think that there is a significant difference in data usage between the average iphone user and android user. Yeah, on android apps can be transmitting packets in the background. With iOs now, certain apps can use background data (skype, pandora, etc.)

    I remember reading somewhere that an AT&T rep said that the iPhone used 4x the bandwidth of the average phone (whatever an average phone is).

    But keep in my Japan is a small country with large swaths covered by rugged terrain and basically no people. Much smaller area to blanket with 3G coverage.

    I can't seem to find any reliable number, but according to this page (which could be total BS) Docomo had 76,000 cell towers last year (twice as much as softbank who wants to double capacity).

    I can't seem to find how many AT&T has but I bet that Docomo has a much denser network of base stations compared to AT&T.

    So, I think they may be able to handle the traffic much much better. Heck, any company could probably do better than AT&T.

  4. Hmm, I haven't considered how the "population terrain" affected network load... While it certainly gives the carriers some more leeway in staying ahead of data demands, I would still hold that a significant uptick in data hogs could present an issue for the networks.

    But I guess this is where the Wimax rollout comes in. With Japan's high population density and the wireless standard's short throw distance (therefore fewer people connected per tower) and high bandwidth, Wimax seems like a perfect fit to keep wireless data usage under control. Considering how well it can meet demand in highly populated areas, I wonder how long they will be able to sail by on this tech, my guess is for quite a while.

  5. Yeah, certainly bandwidth is finite. Right now there is wimax in Japan (UQ Wimax), but I haven't looked into their offerings at all. All of the carriers are going to LTE, which is a further evolution of the GSM standard and not compatible with Wimax.

  6. Oh, oops. For some reason I thought they were rolling out Wimax for the next generation. I see, Sprint "4g" is actually Wimax, that's what confused me. So since LTE is an extention of 3g, then I guess the network should expect similar throw distances?