Sunday, May 30, 2010

NTT East announces Hikari Portable 3G router, price drop on flet's spot wifi access

NTT East made several important announcements last week. Flet's spot hotspot access will drop from about 800 yen per month to 200 yen in June. This gives access to nearly 10,000 hotspots across Japan, including just about every station in Tokyo, as well as several coffee shops and restaurants, and even several trains.

More interestingly, they announced an extremely inexpensive option for tethering any wifi device to a cellular network, the Hikari Portable 3G router. The Hikari Portable will be offered from June for a 300 yen per month rental fee to subscribers of NTT East's Flet's internet services, which includes Hikari Next and B Flet's.

Actually, with the cradle that includes both a 10/100 Mbps LAN and WAN port, this is a standard wireless router for home use. Unplugged and on the road, like the B-Mobile wifi, it becomes a 3G router. You must supply your own data SIM.

According to the FAQ, there will be two versions, one that is SIM lock free and one that is locked to NTT Docomo's network. Hmmm... I (sarcastically) wonder which one will be usable on Docomo? Presumably, B-Mobile's 300 Kbps product is the only current option for the SIM lock free version.
A: NTTドコモ社のSIMロックのかかった機種と、SIMロックフリーの機種の2機種をご提供する予定です。
It also has a micro SD slot (up to 32 GB), and mini USB port. Sans cradle, it is just under 4 inches long, about 2.5 inches wide, and weighs 105 grams. Battery life is listed at 6 hours (30 hours standby). See tech specs (Japanese).

Unlike the B-Mobile wifi, however, it can be rented for a nominal monthly fee. For someone who is dead set on getting a 3G router, this is, all in all, the best option for people in the NTT East service area.

Not only does it double as a home wifi router, but the LTE roll out is coming, after which 3G equipment will be obsolete. Even if it takes 2 years from now before LTE is widely available, compare the cost of purchasing B-Mobile's 3G router to the cost of renting for 2 years the Hikari Portable: 19,800 yen for buying 3G equipment versus 7,200 yen (7,560 yen including tax) in rental fees.

If you live in the Kanto region and find this compelling but are unfortunately subscribed to Yahoo BB, see my rambling rant on how to avoid their "落ちる穴", which was added to the cancellation terms in 2008 with the sole purpose of squeezing more money out of customers who got fed up with their consistently high latency and decided to switch ISPs. (I was located less than 1 Km from an ADSL base station but always, no matter what time of day, had about 150 - 200 ms latency which resulted in timeouts when initiating multiple connections at once, even though my download speed was always in excess of 30 Mbps.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Xperia to get Android 2.1 and i-mode mail

Apparently, Docomo announced on April 28 during the third quarter earnings report that the Xperia is getting i-mode mail in September followed by an update to the 2.1 eclair in October. I guess I haven't been paying attention these days. (Thanks for the tip, Ahmed!)

I have heard no updates about when HTC will release 2.1 firmware for the magic (ht-03a) - it appears to still be scheduled for this summer. From this ridiculously cluttered slide I found at IT Media, it appears that the only smartphone that will get a docomo cell phone email address is the Xperia.

B-mobile wifi for iPad

EDIT: I see now, you buy the router and slip in any SIM card you want. The TOS are for the U SIM 300, which is why there are the same...

B-mobile announced the b-mobile wifi, a 3G wifi router for the iPad or any other wifi-enabled device. It will cost ¥19,800 and come with unlimited data transfer at unrestricted, full 3G speeds in is usable with any SIM card, such as b-mobile's U SIM 300 prepaid plans for 12, 6 and 1 months. Details of data plan pricing have not been released. At the end of the post are the terms of service (in Japanese). Basically, it is very similar to their SIM product in terms of p2p, throttling of streams, and the 3 day 3 million packet cap. So, don't expect to be able to watch youtube or use skype with it.

Thanks to "likethesite"

  • Up to 5 connected devices
  • 7.2Mbps up 5.8Mbps down
  • IEEE802.11b/g
  • WEP/WPA/WPA2/WPS encryption
  • GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900MHz
    HSUPA/HSDPA/WCDMA: 800/2100MHz
  • 4 hour battery life
  • 80 grams (with battery installed)
・迷惑メール対策としてOutbound Port25 Blockingを実施しています。

Softbank admits network suckage is reason for iPad SIM lock

Not surprising. Mobile in Japan as a good summary of how the confusion progressed regarding the iPad SIM lock.

The "money shot" comes from a Cnet Asia post quoting Masayoshi Son, the CEO of Softbank and Japan's richest man:
"We (Softbank's spectrum allocation) are at a disadvantage compared with NTT. We will lose massive customers if we did not lock the Japanese iPads to our network," thus admitting the main reason behind the lock. Son's candid and honest admittance that its network isn't as robust and stable as NTT DoCoMo's own did not come as a surprise to listeners, as this has been widely discussed and known.

What surprised me was his comment that he will consider unlocking the iPad if he can get the much-anticipated 800MHz spectrum, which he has been fighting for over the years through legal battles and discussions with the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
This is basically the same thing I said, though I didn't realize that softbank's lack of a lower frequency band was not by choice, when softbank complained about MIC's SIM unlocking decision.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Steve Jobs says the Japanese iPad is not SIM locked

EDIT: Thanks to Durf, it is all clear now. When I read the FAQ, my mind just skipped over the part that said "in Japan." So, I read the FAQ as saying "you cannot use a micro-SIM card purchased overseas in the iPad," when it really said "you cannot use a micro-SIM card purchased overseas in the iPad in Japan."

So, I guess that settles it. You can take the damn thing to the US and use it with At&T if you like but you can only use it with Softbank in Japan.

According to a post at mobile in Japan, one of their readers emailed Steve Jobs and got a reply saying:
Actually, the version of iPad sold in Japan does accept international SIMs.
Well that is interesting. So which is it? Apple posts an FAQ (see Edit3 here) that is a direct translation from the US site, then updates the FAQ the next day (edit5, same post) to say it cannot be used with a micro-SIM other than Softbank's.

One thing is for sure, Apple sure screwed up this one. Either Steve Jobs is mistaken or we are looking at the third FAQ update by Apple Japan in as many days. If this was the US, it would be pretty easy to get your money back on a pre-ordered iPad due to the incorrect information being given out by Apple.

But I am 99.9% positive this will not happen for anyone in Japan who paid money thinking they were getting an unlocked device. Not only are you dealing with Apple, but softbank on top of that.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

WTF? Japanese iPad will be SIM LOCKED???!!!111

EDIT 6: Thanks to Durf, it is all clear now. When I read the FAQ, my mind just skipped over the part that said "in Japan." So, I read the FAQ as saying "you cannot use a micro-SIM card purchased overseas in the iPad," when it really said "you cannot use a micro-SIM card purchased overseas in the iPad in Japan." So you can use the damn thing with AT&T in the US, but only with softbank in Japan. I guess that settles this issue once and for all.

Now everyone, back to work.
EDIT 5: A commenter at mobile in Japan says the following:
I can confirm that the cut down b-mobile SIM works fine on US iPad 3G's. It says "No Connection" but works fine.
And Apple fixed the FAQ:
Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルは、iPad向け3Gデータプランを提供しているソフトバンクのmicro-SIMカードに対応します。日本では、その他の国で購入したmicro-SIMカードをiPadで使うことはできません。

Does the iPad support world wide SIM cards and carriers?
The wifi + 3G model supports softbank's micro-SIM for the iPad. micro-SIMs purchased overseas cannot be used in the iPad.


Can the iPad be used overseas?
The iPad can be used at wifi hotspots world wide. Contact softbank for information regarding international roaming.
Softbank and Apple are beginning to seem like a match made in heaven... or would that be hell?
EDIT 4: Reconfirming the first edit; time for a b-mobile SIM and a razor blade, though I can't say if there will be a conflict with b-mobile's SIM and the iPads baseband like there is with android devices running 1.6. I likely won't have time in the next few days to search the intertubes for instances of people getting iPhones to work with B-mobile's SIM, but if the iPhone's radio has no problems, then perhaps neither will the iPad's. But keep in mind that, as shown by HTC, the same radio may or may not work with different versions of a particular OS.

Oh yeah, and there is this interesting tidbit. Communications Minister Haraguchi imported an iPad from the US, only to realize the US version's wifi had not yet been certified for use in Japan. Personally, I like the guy, so I won't be too hard on him ;-) since he is pushing for unlocking phones in Japan.
EDIT 3: Apple now has an FAQ on the 3G iPad:
Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルは、iPad向け3Gデータプランを提供している通信事業者のmicro-SIMカードを使用します。

Does the iPad support world wide SIM cards and carriers?
The 3G models accepts micro-SIM card from carriers offering 3G data plans for the iPad.
That answer kind of avoids answering the question. Another question implies that the iPad is indeed unlocked:

Can the iPad be used overseas?
The iPad can connect to wi-fi hotspots worldwide. In order to use 3G overseas, service must be purchased from a local carrier. Please contact your domestic provider regarding international roaming.
HOWEVER, it is being reported that softbank stores are currently telling potential customers that the iPad IS LOCKED to softbank networks, prompting speculation whether the information on apple's site is a direct and incorrect translation of the US site, or if softbank is spewing misinformation.
EDIT 2: According to Asiajin, there are conflicting reports about if only the softbank version will be locked, or if versions from the Apple Store will also be locked.
EDIT: Sounds like it's time for an imported iPad, a B-mobile SIM, and a razor blade

So, the news is out and Softbank is offering the iPad in Japan (Thanks for the tip Big Al). Just a week ago, Yamada, the CEO of Docomo said they were preparing a micro SIM card for the iPad.

From Mainichi (full article pasted for archival):



NTT Docomo revealed plans to sell a mini (sic) SIM for the iPad.

But it appears they not only lost out to softbank to sell them damn thing, but that it is going to be FREAKING SIM LOCKED. JUST TO BE CLEAR, I had no plans to buy one, even if it was offered by docomo.

Also from the mainichi (full article):
iPad:ソフトバンクが販売 4万8960円から




Softbank mobile announced on the 8th that they will be selling the iPad from the 28th...

Docomo expressed a strong desire to sell the iPad, but softbank, already with a firm relationship to Apple, succeeded in winning the contract. The 3G version will be SIM locked and only usable on softbanks network for mobile data.
So what about the agreement for SIM unlocking in Japan? According to the yomiuri, unlocking will only apply to handsets (is the iPad a handset?) sold from the end of 2010. More importantly, what happened to Job's announcement to the world that the iPad will be unlocked? Who knows.

I've been using Macs for years and think the Mac OS is simply the best OS for what I do. I know people in the open source community criticize Apple for "taking from the open source community and not giving back," but technically, Apple is not breaking open source licensing terms with their implementation of OS 10.

However, the iPhone OS is really starting to piss me off, especially with their latest developer agreement requiring iPhone apps to be developed on Apple's dev tools. It seems every week I am having a "WTF Apple?" moment. While we android users are a bit annoyed waiting for updates, there is no way in hell that I'll ever buy anything that runs the iPhone OS. And if this is the road map for where OS 10 is going, then I'll start working on my migration plans as soon as I hit the Publish button.

Softbank is offering the wifi 16 GB version for ¥48,960 (24 payments of ¥2,220). The 16 GB 3G version has two prices:
  1. ¥61,920 (24 payments of ¥2,760) with a prepaid SIM
  2. ¥58,320 (24 payments of ¥2,430) with a 2-year data contract
Now this is going to piss some of you off - you must register a credit card to charge the prepaid SIM, according to Engadget Japan. Prices are also from Engadget, who didn't have any information on the 32 and 64 GB models. Yeah, they did, I just didn't see it.

Three data plans are offered:
  1. ¥1,510/charge for 100 MB of data (prepaid)
  2. ¥4,410/charge for 1 GB of data (prepaid)
  3. ¥2,910/month for unlimited data (2-year data contract)
So how does this compare to what is offered in the US? Not well at all.
  • The US version is unlocked.
  • The US 16 GB version costs $50 less with no data contract (according to today's exchange rate).
  • The softbank's cheaper, subsidized version (with the 2-year data contract) STILL costs about $10 more than the US version.
  • 3G version can only be purchased through softbank.
  • The US version can be theoretically used on other carrier's networks.
  • AT&T offers two data plans, neither of which require a contract and both of which are cheaper than softbank's.
Like I said, I didn't plan on buying one in the first place. I thought it may be a good thing for some of my family, but I am going to make sure that they don't intend to buy one under these conditions. Once the dust settles from the SIM unlocking decision, then we'll see where things stand.

You could bring one in from the US and try to use, as softbank's unlimited 3G data plan can be used with non-softbank devices. BUT, I would not recommend being the first person to try this out in case they change the APN details or actually begin trying to filter out non-softbank devices. I don't see why they would do this with the smart phones SIMs, but we are talking about a micro SIM here. Yeah, technically it is the same thing as a regular SIM, but who knows how things will be implemented.

I mean, Jeezus, I though the iPad was supposed to be this unlocked device you could use on any carrier's network...

More on SIM unlocking here.

B-mobile's "best effort" seems pretty good

Elliatab, a reader with a the B-mobile USIM 300 data-only SIM card has been using the product for a few weeks now and is satisfied it's performance. He used the app over a few days traveling between Kyoto and Fukuoka, and the results so far indicate he is getting the advertised speeds. Obviously, more testing is needed, though. But, so far so good. Click the above image to enlarge. Click here for related posts.

From elliatab:
My general feeling after two weeks (I received the sim on 25 April, 3 days after order) is positive. The speed limit does not affect the experience for applications I'm using the most: Gmail, google chat, Facebook or twitter are working great and speed is not an issue (uploading pics from the Facebook app is reasonably fast). Even Google map application is working good. Of course the maps are downloading a bit slowly but if you are using Directions (with android 2.1), you are very likely to stay in the same area or to update infrequently.

Youtube is actually working, but it needs a very long buffering time before the video starts. Do not expect much on this side.

Browsing is a bit frustrating because of the speed limit, and probably because the speed is not constant. The pages appear quite fast, but it usually takes a long time to finish downloading. Nevertheless, it is still useful to get a full browsing experience (btw, skyfire beta is great) and it does the job if you're patient.

Market is working and downloading an application of 3Mo is no problem (takes about a minute).

Docomo's network coverage is really good. I am using softbank (prepaid card) and I now understand this smile on my docomo-using friends faces when I bitch about the "no signal" message when having dinner in an underground izakaya. It's actually so good that I could use it in the shinkansen from Fukuoka to Kyoto (not all the way of course, but still).

Final thoughts, for me the price is right for the service. It's half what you would pay for softbank's packet plan and it works for most of the scenarios I need. The only down-side of this b-mobile sim is the fact that it cannot register on the network to receive calls. So I still need to carry my old softbank prepaid cell and this is why I will probably not stick to this option but only activate it from time to time.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Timing is the key to getting the best exchange rate


I just discovered something today that has me kicking myself for not figuring it out sooner. How many times have you transmitted an international wire only to realize the next day you should have waited? Or perhaps maybe you waited too long and the previous day's rate was significantly better. If only you could see the future or visit the past. Well, it appears that in a way, you can.

Yesterday, the US stock market went nuts due to an apparent trader error coupled with events in Europe. I was planning sometime in the near future to remit some yen back to the US, and when I saw what the yen/dollar rate had done overnight, I figured that I would be up $100 compared to sending money yesterday.

It was about 10:58 am this morning by the time I had filled out the paperwork and was standing at the postal bank counter. There was no sign up with the rates for buying and selling foreign currency, so I told the clerk the amount in yen I wanted to transfer and she gave me what it would be in USD. I was surprised to see the number was about $100 less than I expected.

The clerk at the next position over suddenly says to wait because the rate is about to change, and by the time everything is processed, the rate I was just quoted won't be valid any longer. So we wait a minute and then the clerk attending to me says, "oh yeah, it did change" and hands me a piece of paper with an amount in USD that was $100 more than the amount I was quoted just two minutes previously.

It turns out that the postal bank updates the USD-yen rate once a day at 11 am. This particular branch opens at 9 am. So that means for 2 hours you can send money at the previous day's rate.

After all the times I have sent money to the US, why am I just finally figuring this out now? I must be an idiot. In case any of you didn't know this, now you do. I searched a bit on the internet and see that this is no big secret and not limited to just the postal bank.

If you wake up one morning and say oh crap, I should have sent that money yesterday, then get to your nearest post office and submit the paperwork before 11 am.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Properly ordering Japanese contacts on HTC android devices


It is well known among Japanese people that Gmail's contact system is totally broken for contacts in Kanji because it doesn't support furigana (the half-width katakana "reading"). I've known of a way to fix on this the ht-03a that I mentioned here, but figured I'd make a post about, as the epic thread on google's support board has  gotten even longer since the last time I checked it.

For this to work, there are two requirements that many of you aren't going to like, though.
  • You must be running android 1.5 or 1.6 if you have a Magic or G1
  • You must set your system language to Japanese
NOTE and REQUEST: anyone with an N1, chime in and let us know if the fix below results in properly ordered contacts or not.

I stumbled onto this fix when I first got the ht-03a because google maps, annoyingly, uses system language to set locale. So, searches for Japanese place names are routed through instead of, which serves up weird, inconsistent results. This happens both on a computer and an android device (which has language and locale as one setting). On a PC you can simply point your browser at the whichever domain you want to search. But, on an android device, you have to set the system language to Japanese.

So I set my system to Japan and noticed all my contacts were properly ordered in Android 1.5 (and remained so after updating to 1.6).

The reason for this is that I used my SD card to copy all my contacts from my old AU phone to the ht-03a, inadvertently importing the all important Name (phonetic) field.

The Fix

Log in to Gmail, click contacts, select a Japanese contact, and hit edit. Near the bottom of the contact's information, just above the "Notes" filed is and "Add" drop down button. Add a "Custom" field, name it Name (phonetic), type in the reading (last name first, no space) in HALF-WIDTH KATAKANA, save and sync. Now you'll find that with your contacts will be ordered properly, if and only if you set your system language to Japanese.

Why This Does Not Work With Eclair

I am only guessing here, but I think that HTC, being a company from a country that uses Kanji (Taiwan), added support for furigana in their custom firmware. This works with Cyanogen's version 4 ROM (based on HTC's 1.6 firmware). It does not work on Open Eclair or Cyanogen's experimental 2.1-based ROM on the ht-03a (thanks nanno!). This leads me to believe that the fix was provided by HTC. And until HTC gets around to releasing the 2.1 firmware for the Magic, we'll just have to keep waiting. 

From Gmail, create a new contact and add a custom field.

Call it Name (phonetic) and enter the reading in half-width (1 byte) katakana with no spaces, last name first.

When viewing the contact, you'll now see that the reading is included with the name.

You'll also see that a "reading" 読み field has been added.

And now, you'll see that regardless of wether a contact is in hiragana, katakana, or kanji, it will be properly ordered.