Thursday, December 30, 2010

No Docomo LTE smartphones until winter 2011: interim options

It's time for users of overseas phones to chime in and report which handsets have proper Japanese certification. Please also let us know the hardware revision, the date purchased, the carrier and country, and/or anything else you believe may be relevant for usage in Japan. You are looking for a mark either physically stamped on the phone or displayable through menu settings. It looks similar to the postal "〒". As comments come in, I'll append the information to this post.

I was hoping for LTE-equipped handsets to follow soon after Docomo flipped the Xi LTE switch to the "on" position this Christmas Eve, but commenter chokkan pointed out this is not to be. Via keitai watch, Docomo CEO Yamada intends to release LTE smartphones with the winter 2011 lineup.
Me and my ht-03a, overclocked to 614 MHz (ez-nightly271-cm-2708port kernel) and with a total of 141 MB RAM (110 MB real, 31 MB virtual), are probably set for the year. But I am sure a lot of you are looking for something newer and more powerful.

Either way we look at it, Softbank has many of the phones readers of this blog, er... desire, but Docomo has the more robust network. Unfortunately, Docomo infamously restricts unlimited data to their own handsets. No one has found a way around this. Even using a Docomo handset with the wrong settings can be expensive.

Fortunately, this is set to change in a few months, perhaps as early as April or May 2011, when Docomo says they will allow any phone on their network, as long as it is certified for use in Japan.

Until then, some readers are taking extreme measures. Reader Fuji Slider is using a Softbank HTC Desire HD on Docomo with a pocket wifi router after canceling the packet houdai plan. (chokkan also pointed out that in juggly's review of the Nexus S (J), the phone obviously has a Docomo SIM card, but my guess is that he is using wifi for data, not the FOMA network because wifi is connected in all screenshots.)

It is no secret within the expat community that the cost of unsubsidized handsets in Japan is often significantly higher than overseas.

For example, reader Brian is using a UK Dell Streak on Softbank and mentioned that the same handset can be purchased contract free in the US for about $400. For comparison, the pocket-busting Streak  costs 40,320 yen (1680 yen x 24 months) subsidized and with a 2-year contract or  93,120 yen unsubsidized from Softbank, which is nearly three times the cost of an imported US model.


  1. Actually, you can use Docomo unlimited data plan with non-docomo smartphones, but the catch is you won't be using FOMA hi-speed connection. You have to use the 128K通信 apn which is limited to 128kbps for downloads and 64kbps for uploads. I've changed my HT-03 to a Desire HD (which I bought overseas) last month, and have been using the 128K通信 since. My monthly bill is still the same.
    It's all written here is using the 128K apn with his Nexus S too. Actually he's been using the 128K since he first bought a N1 earlier this year. And he wrote about it here
    I had mailed him in October asking about the 128K apn, and he said he had been using the apn with all of his smartphones, so I'm guessing the Nexus S as well.

  2. Does it feel as slow as those speeds would suggest? We're so obsessed with speed these days, and having the fastest possible everything. Do you feel that the speed is holding you back, since you have such a high end phone?

  3. Hey, thanks for the info. I knew about the 128 plan, and also about the PC plan, but the former is too slow to justify the price and the latter is just too expensive.

    And thanks for the clarification on how juggly is using Docomo. (we must come up with a better way to refer to him than juggly.) That does explain why he is using wifi when available, though.

  4. Friends using the b-mobile 300 kbps symmetrical data SIM really don't complain about the speed for mail and maps. I guess that 128 would be about the same. Sending photos would probably be the biggest issue. B-mobile prohibits youtube with the SIM that android phones use. Youtube with a 128 k connection would be trying at best.

  5. I probably wouldn't care about 128Kbps, but paying ¥5700/mo for that speed would irritate me to no end.

    Pocket WiFi is cheaper and supports all my devices. But it has a real downside DON'T FORGET IT AT HOME...LOL! Google maps 5 will not even load with zero data paths. I have since begun to attach it to my keyring to make damn-sure I don't forget.
    Unless I find it to be a total drag over time, DoCoMo will have to really make it worth my while to switch back. I hope they make FOMA PakeHodai cheaper when LTE goes mainstream. I'm thinking ¥4,000 as an acceptable price-point.

    Makes me wonder though, what foreign handset vendors besides the ones already selling here in Japan w0uld bother getting Japanese FCC cert in the first place??

  6. To make all you HT-03a guys feel better: In other news, the Desire HD's antenna sucks! Some areas indoors (read concrete), my HT-03a would get 3bars. I'm getting 0 or 1 on the Desire in the exact same spot. I've flashed 2 different radios so far. And I know it's the phone because my little WiFi router does just fine.

  7. I wouldn't recommend using the 128K alone with no wifi. Just like you said, it's fine for mails and twitter as well, but I can't even watch youtube on low quality without any lags with the 128K. Even wikipedia sites take about 5-10 seconds to load with the desire HD. But I won't have to endure for long though since I'm going back home in April next year. And I also have wifi connection at home.

  8. That is probably because the HT-03a has hardware support for Docomo's bunker-busting frequency (800 iirc); all Docomo phones likely do (though the immediacy of the Tab's release causes me to question this, I have always assumed Docomo's huge delay with smartphone releases are attributed to having to engineer a new radio modem).

    All non-docomo phones don't have support for this radio frequency, which means they get significantly less reception in areas with lots of interference. Of course it still doesn't mean foreign handsets don't benefit from Docomo's superior network, one reason I really hope they will let me use my Streak over there.

  9. So is your streak certified? Check behind the battery, probably where the IMEI is stamped along with FCC and EU certs. do you see the 〒?

    Did you see this comment? He's right according to Japanese sources. the iPhone all along supports the 800 MHz of FOMA plus. Who knew. The iPhone is full-on Docomo ready.

    This means if you were using an iPhone with B-Mobile right now and you spent a lot of time in the underground of Tokyo, you'd probably get better speeds with B-Mobile, even with a 300 kbps limit. Heck, from what is going on in Tokyo with softbank uploads, you'd probably get faster uploads even above ground with B-Mobile than with SB.

    Anyways, check the links in this comment.
    Confirmed on Japanese sites.

  10. The iphone already has support for FOMA? Wow, they are really on top of this. They already have the certification thing down pat as well (, so I guess its no surprise. Sounds to me like Apple was planning ahead to get around their contract with Softbank (as you could just buy a foreign one from a corner store at Akihabara, update the latest firmware, and use it on Docomo now)

    Mine's doesn't have the certification on it, though that may be because I bought it quite some time before its JPN release. I don't know if other foreign-bought Streaks are also missing the Japanese certification, but I my money is on yes.

    What would be really helpful is if somebody who has a Japanese Streak to take a photo of the certification on the back of theirs. I would be willing to spend an afternoon hacking together some app that displays the certification using that photo as a reference, then hopefully that would be enough to convince a docomo rep to register the imei of the phone.

  11. Do you remember what date you bought it for future reference. Was it unlocked or did you have to unlock it?

    When it comes down to making the phone display the proper mark, I'm sure we'll find away ;-)

  12. I bought it around mid-september from a reseller, factory-unlocked.

  13. Yea, well, HAPPY NEW YEAR! More Android for 2011!

  14. I was talking with a Streak owner over in the Pocketables forum (, and according to him he not only is able to use his UK streak without much fuss, but he's telling me he gets no coverage outside the major cities.

    This could be a major concern if people are planning to use foreign phones on Docomo's network, I had thought previously that Docomo pretty much only uses its 2100 band except for its FOMA network. If it turns out they extensively use their 1700 band for rural areas, then this could be a deal breaker for many people, depending on how far out they live.

    There should be a way to test this. On my Streak there's an engineering mode that can diable/enable different frequency bands. If the HT-03a has a similar function somebody could try disabling the 1700 frequency and see how their reception is.