Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Docomo users beware of possible extra packet charges with CyanogenMod

UPDATE2: this post has been edited throughout as the error in CM's APN list has already been fixed Here are more details.
UPDATE: added information on APNs included with Docomo ROMs at end of post.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to figuring out why billing went awry for some of us recently. I am now virtually certain that it was not skype/voip or tethering, since so many of you report no issues.

The good news: It doesn't seem that Docomo is dinging people for using Skype or actively searching out people tethering. The bad news: you alway must it now appears that not being careful with APN setting on any ROM CyanogenMod could cost you. More specifically, you must verify the APN setting on CM6 or any ROM based off CM6 or any ROM using the Cyanogen list of APNs especially if the ROM was compiled in mid to late October 2010 and CONFIRM that it is set to mpr2.bizho.net.

[The above list is not being updated as frequently. See the source code of CM6's apns-conf.xml on github for the current and complete list. Be aware that any ROM developer who uses CM's APN not drawn from the github code could incorporate the old errors.]

This is not good. Someone has added mopera.net to the Cyanogen APN list. I cannot think of any reason at all for including it because 1) any Docomo user running cyanogen is doing so on a Docomo-branded phone, and 2) Docomo requires purchasing the unlimited FOMA data plan (ASFAIK). (Am I missing something? Is there indeed a legitimate reason?) Even if you are subscribed to the unlimited Docomo data plan, you will be charged extra if you transmit packets using the mopera.net APN. I am actually the person who added the mpr2.bizho.net APN to the list (and named it NTT Docomo) but I purposely didn't add the other one for this very reason.

Credit reader Apiddo, who has already been charged for November, for working to test what types of packet transmission would trigger the charge:
I think I have found my problem. No, it wasn't the tethering or my voip calls. It was my changing of custom ROMs that did it. I have been tethering and making voip calls a lot last week, but there still wasn't any increase on my FOMA 一般 packet usage.

But on saturday, my phone was crashing heavily, so I wiped and flashed the same ROM I have been using from the middle of this month. (it's CM 6 nightly build based ROM by alan90 http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=723520), and my 一般 packet increased the next day. I thought it was my tethering that did it, so I stopped tethering on sunday and yesterday, but the usage still keep on increasing.

Just now, I checked my APN setting and found out that the ROM had set mopera.net as the default APN, and not mpr2.bizho.net (although the option was there as well). So I guess that was the culprit in my case. But it could have been skype in your case. Sorry I couldn't test skype as well since I don't have any skype credit.
You may recall that I got charged 4200 yen for "general" 3G packet usage on my October bill ( FOMAパケット通信料[一般]). I was told by Docomo that this could result either from either setting the incorrect APN or tethering. At the time, I was unaware about the other APN having been added to Cyanogen's list, so I assumed the reason was for tethering. The only thing that I could think of that I did differently that month was use skype, so I have been trying to figure out if skype was the reason.

It turns I did one more thing differently in October without realizing it. I flashed a ROM that included the mopera.net details included in the apns-conf.xml file.

I think I have narrowed down the exact date that the change was made to 10/19/2010 based on the fact that this ROM (TMUS CM6 Remix) from 1/18/2010 does NOT include the mopera.net APN while this ROM (CM6 nighly 209) from 10/19/2010 does. All subsequent releases of CyanogenMod until the end of October/beginning of November, including 6.1 RC1 include this APN. I have confirmed that CM 6.0 Stable does not.

I used ROMs with the mopera.net APN included for about half of October, which includes CM nightly 209, 222, and 6.1 rc1. I then switched back to TMUS CM6 Remix just before the beginning of the November billing cycle, which could explain why I have no extra charges for November.

I actually reflashed TMUS CM6 Remix on October 29, 2 days before the start of the new billing cycle.

There is no way for me to go back and confirm that in my case the APN defaulted to mopera.net. I yanked my SIM card and relfashed my last backup of CM 6.1 rc1 hoping that I could then see what APN was last selected. But alas, without the SIM card inserted, the APN list was empty. Since I don't currently have any extra charges on my bill for November, I am not about to experiment with the SIM card inserted.

How to ensure that you don't get charged. This shouldn't be a problem now, but it is always a good idea to double check the APN. As far as I understand, transmitting just one packet on mopera.net will add the 4200 yen charge, so if you are concerned it is best to double check

The best but most technically complicated way is to
  • unzip the ROM
  • Edit system/etc/apn2-conf.xml
  • Confirm that the mpr2.bizho.net APN is ABOVE the mopera.net APN, as in the Docomo code below but NOT like the screen shot above.
  • If not, make it so.
  • remove this line: <apn carrier="mopera" mcc="440" mnc="10" apn="mopera.net" type="default,supl,mms" />
  • Rezip and resign.
You'll need to look into signing ROMs. If you are using Clockwork recovery, I believe there is a setting to flash unsigned zips. Amon_RA recovery will not flash unsigned zips.

You may also:
  • Boot into recovery and flash ROM
  • Remove your SIM card
  • Boot the phone normally without SIM card
  • Uncheck "Data enabled" in Settings/Wireless & networks/Mobile networks/
  • Shut down phone, insert SIM, restart
  • Go to Settings/Wireless & networks/Mobile networks/Access Point Names
  • Verify mpr2.bizho.net is selected
  • Go back to Mobile network settings and enable data - DO NOT enable if mpr2.bizho.net is not selected.
For the time being, it may be a good idea to unzip any ROM before flashing and verify that the only APN for Docomo (mmc ="440 mnc="10") is bizho. Verify that it is the first Docomo APN listed.

As far as I can tell when you reboot your phone, the data network setting will remain disabled, allowing you to set the proper APN before enabling data. APNs cannot be selected without the SIM card in place, hence the need to boot once without the SIM card and disable data.

I yanked out the apns-conf.xml file from a nand dump from a stock Docomo 1.6 ROM. As you can see, and as Jan mentioned, there is no "mopera.net address" so whoever added it added something strange that still seems to work. Japan's mobile country code (mmc) is 440 and Docomo's mobile network code (mnc) is 10, so this should be a Docomo APN.

Contents of stock Docomo apns-conf.xml file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<!--
/*
** Copyright 2006, Google Inc.
**
** Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License");
** you may not use this file except in compliance with the License.
** You may obtain a copy of the License at
**
** http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0
**
** Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software
** distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS,
** WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied.
** See the License for the specific language governing permissions and
** limitations under the License.
*/
-->

<!-- use empty string to specify no proxy or port -->
<!-- This version must agree with that in apps/common/res/apns.xml -->
<apns version="6">

<apn carrier="mopera U(Biz・ホーダイ)"
mcc="440"
mnc="10"
apn="mpr2.bizho.net"
user="none"
server=""
password=""
mmsc="none"
/>
<apn carrier="mopera U設定"
mcc="440"
mnc="10"
apn="0120.mopera.ne.jp"
user="none"
server=""
password=""
mmsc="none"
/>

</apns>

Friday, November 26, 2010

Google Nexus S: dual-core 1 GHz processor, Android 2.3

UPDATE: Nope, not dual core. Komugi-san is giving it a pass.


Someone leaked the details of Samsung's Nexus S to XDA Developers. Sounding pretty good. Oh, and we now it seems gingerbread will in fact be 2.3 as opposed to 3.0.
  • Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
  • Dual Core Orion 1GHz CortexA9 (most likely)
  • Open GL ES Supported
  • 512 or 328MB Ram (Not 100% known)
  • 1GB or 2GB Internal Memory (Not 100% known)
  • 800×480 Screen Resolution
  • 4″ Screen Size
  • SuperAmoled2 – Possibly
  • 720P HD Video
I am keenly interested to hear how Google handles the Nexus S. So the nexus one was a bit of a failure business model wise. Of course, cutting out the carriers and buying the handset you want and then choosing the carrier would be great... in a perfect world. In this world...

The problem that we need to overcome is being dependent on the carriers to push updates. Case is point is the ht-03a, which I purchased just over a year ago. Before I had even owned it for a year, it became clear that Docomo was giving up on it. Docomo will still provide repair support but there is no indication they will update it to 2.2, even though HTC finally released an official version for the HTC Magic, which also includes a new bootloader and radio that gives an extra 15 MB of RAM to make Froyo run much more smoothly.

(To be fair, I would have no intention of accepting the OTA update even if Docomo pushed it because I prefer to do it myself with a custom ROM, but of course I (and many of you) are the minority. Most people don't want to think about updating their phone, or fixing permissions, or flashing radios and bootloaders, or debugging issues with the latest, bleeding edge experimental build.)

Apple has done it right, in some respects. Apple provides the updates regardless of carrier. Google does the same for Nexus one owners. Hopefully the with the Nexus S as well, consumers won't be dependent on carriers to push updates. Let's face it, it is not in the best financial interest of the carrier to keep your old phone running the latest and greatest OS. They want to sell you phones, especially in Japan (see the end of this post for background or handset sales and carriers).


And one more thing, the Samsung Galaxy Tab went on sale today on Docomo. I popped into a shop quickly and confirmed that it would be in excess of 40,000 yen for an existing customer who keeps their number and enters a 2-year contract with subsidy. If you paid in 24 installments, you could get it for about 1500 yen out of pocket with around that amount added to your monthly bill. If you have enough Docomo points, you can get it with nothing up front.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Softbank apparently throttling Tokyo iPhone uplink

For obvious reasons, I've recently been thinking about softbank allowing skype on the iPhone while Docomo prohibits it. While searching for instances of recent softbank issues with tethering or skype, I ran into a post indicating that softbank is limiting uplink speed in the Tokyo area to around 64 kbps in an attempt to more fairly distribute bandwidth.

Well, I guess Tokyo iPhone users won't be using skype over 3G for a while.

Check it out on Yoski's site (Japanese). There are a lot of responses from around not just Tokyo but the general Kanto region reporting very very slow uplink speeds.

Basically, Yoski has 3 iPhones and none have gotten over 64 kbps in the Tokyo area since the end of summer. So after some backs and forths, he gets the below response via twitter:
@yoski SBCareDenpaの大東です。ご不便をおかけし申し訳ございません。帯域制限ですが、皆様に公平にご利用いただけるよう実施しているものになります。解除などを行うことはできませんので、ご了承をお願いします。その他、ご不明点やお困りのことあればツイート下さいませ。
@yoski SBCareDenpa's Mr(s) Daito/Ohigashi here. Deepest apologies for the inconvenience. Bandwidth restrictions are in effect to ensure fair usage for everyone. Please understand that we are unable to remove the restrictions. Please tweet any additional questions or concerns.
From here it get's a little funny. Take a language like Japanese that tends to omit subjects and compress it down further to a tweet, and you get Yoski thinking that @SBCareDenpa was implying that he alone was being throttled:
これだけ読むと、「お前、パケット使いすぎで規制対象な」...
Reading just this, it's like they're saying "look buddy, you're using too many packets and were shutting you down...
The reason being that he claims to have spent some time abroad recently and to have not been using the phones that much. He also finds it odd that all of his phones are being throttled, even though one is on a separate account. He queries an acquaintance regarding iPhone uplink speed:
ははは、オレは大丈夫だぜ、ほら 54kbps もでてるぜ・・・・っておい!
Hahaha, I'm fine - yo, check it out, getting... 54 kpbs?! wtf?!
Yoski responds to @SBCareDenpa saying that everyone around him in Tokyo is also getting no more than 64 kbps, wonders if there is a regional restriction, and announces, somewhat sarcastically, that they will... um, how's the best way to say this in English... happily endure/persevere/"gaman", in all fairness, a 64 kbps uplink.

To which he received the following response:
@yoski SBCareDenpaの大東です。我慢という事ではないのですが、結果的にみなさまにご不便をおかけし申し訳ございません。ご意見につきましては、私より担当に報告させていただきます。実際にご利用頂いている方の声を聞くことができ感謝しております。
While you don't need to endure/persevere/"gaman," we apologize for the resulting inconvenience to everyone. I'll pass your opinion to the supervisor. Thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to hear the opinion of someone actually using the service.
I'm sure that everyone reading this has "endured" a lame response from some random customer service representative. While Mr. Son wants his employees to use twitter, I don't think he wants those lame responses archived on the internet.

Yoski concludes that softbank, in fairness to all customers, is throttling the uplink of just everyone in Tokyo and notes that the 3G highspeed network is advertised as having 3.6/7.2 down and 1.4 Mbps up, though the iPhone 4 is not listed as compatible. Since there are people also reporting higher uplink speeds, I wonder if this isn't just normal network congestion, though.

In case the links to the tweets die, here are screenshots.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Is the price of one skype call on Docomo's FOMA network 4200 yen?

The Answer to the question posed by the title of this blog is NO.

[Long story short, someone added a completely unnecessary Docomo APN to Cyanogen's APN list. This list is used by many ROM developers. The APN was added ABOVE the proper flat-rate APN causing this unnecessary APN to be the default when flashing for may users (perhaps those flashing after a full wipe?). Sending of just one packet on this unnecessary APN would result in the 4200 yen charge. (What are the chances of a background packet being sent in the time it takes to navigate to "Access point names" in settings after first booting a new ROM?) This "bug" in cyanogen's list persisted for 2 weeks until Takuro Kurame aka northeye found and fixed it. The bug was fixed prior to the start of the November billing cycle but the existence of the bug was not publicized in English or Japanese, so people who flashed CM6.1rc1 or any ROM using the buggy APN list got charged an extra 4200 yen for November. The bug persists in CM6.1rc1 which should be avoided by Docomo users. Ok maybe this wasn't very short.]

UPDATE: It seems that I'm not the only one hit with a charge. Please leave a comment with information on your tethering and voip habits. If you could specifically answer the following questions, it would be helpful to all. I am trying to figure out if Skype is in fact going to a problem to use, or is Docomo has started policing for tethering, or if some of us just got unlucky.

1) Have you ever tethered?
2) Have you ever used skype?
3) Have you ever used another voip client?
4) Have you even been charged 4200 yen extra for tethering?
5) If so, when were you first charged?
6) During the billing months prior to being charged had you ever used skype?
7) During the billing months prior to being charged had you ever used another voip client?

Skype for android was introduced in early October. Prior to October billing, I had never heard of ANYONE being charged for tethering. Of course there is also fring and SIPdroid, but perhaps since they are less well known, their usage doesn't raise flags (?)
/UPDATE

Probably not, but I'll need to hear from you to confirm. Has anyone who has been using skype last month been assesed a tethering charge by Docomo?

I just got hit with one on my October bill. I used a total of 511.31 MB - up a whopping 25.69 MB from September. The charge was an additional 4200 yen that I was told could be incurred for two reasons 1) not using the unlimited biz-houdai APN* or 2) tethering. Docomo broke down my packet usage and assigned about 175 MB to my phone and the remainder to tethering.

Fortunately, Docomo just adds a flat fee on top of your bill for tethering, which is not even in violation of the terms of service - just imagine my bill if they would have charged me the standard packet rate for the remaining 330+ megs (like softbank has been known to do).

Of course I was tethering last month and had been this month, as well (until I got the bill at least), but Docomo has confirmed that there are no tethering charges on my bill for this month. So what gives? If they caught me last month, why did they stop looking at my packets this month? Either I was unlucky last month, Docomo was looking more closely, or I did something to attract attention.

What did I do differently? Nothing I can think of other than attempt a call over 3G with the skype android app at the beginning of the month. I didn't realize at the time, but skype (and all VoIP usage) is banned on the FOMA network.

Could it be that the skype usage flagged me and triggered inspection of my subsequent packet headers? Who knows, maybe it's just karma - after all, I did recently write a post on my data usage and tethering.

This actually has me reconsidering my perspective on data caps. It is conceivable that with a 5 GB cap, any usage will be allowed, since bandwidth is bandwidth, nothing more nothing less. But with an unlimited data plan, the carriers obviously have a very good incentive to keep PCs off their mobile networks. For my personal usage, I don't even come close to 5 GB. In fact, I haven't even exceeded 0.5 GB (last month was 0.499 GB).

So part of me feels it is ridiculous to be slapped with a tethering charge for using half a gig when people can easily chew up 5 10 times that with youtube, pods casts (especially pod casts), and generally heavy usage of their handsets. The rest of me knows the rules and that tethering is subject to an additional charge, whether you use 1 byte or a billion.

----

* I was previously told at a different Docomo shop that connecting to the wrong APN will actually result in no flat rate whatsoever and a very expensive bill.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Softbank mail for android

This is a topic that just won't seem to go away because so many people are unsuccessful when trying to use their @softbank mail addresses with their android. And, I am of no help because I don't (obviously) use softbank.

I've been discussing this with XDA member gilrad and below is his solution. If this can be refined to figure out issues with battery usage, etc., I'd like to include this in the general information post.

Northeye's blog also seems promising (Northeye is the developer of the MSS Req apk mentioned below). I also recently found mod.Email for Froyo, which is based off the default mail client, supposedly supports emoji, and seems to support softbank mail according to some commenters.
In the market, I searched for Softbank, two of the higher apps on the list is Softbankメール, I think that's the official android app from Softbank. Lower on the list is Softbank MMSReq, by Northeye. After adding in the Softbank MMS APN info (google search can get you that, there's a thread at Modaco iirc that gives it all), I run MMSReq, and manually request messages. After it does its magic I am able to download MMS's from the Softbankメール app. Since Softbank's servers handle the MMS->email conversion, there's really not a whole lot of configuring needed outside of adding the proper APN info.

Though as I mentioned before I have this suspicion that either the Softbank app or the request app eats away at battery life, so I disabled all automatic updating and basically manually check my mail once a week or so while relying on gmail for everything else. It looks like the request app can automatically download messages, though I never tried it.

From what I understand the way Softbank's email system works, 1) emails are sent to the Softbank-side servers, 2) they're converted into short text messages, then 3) they're sent to your phone number as an MMS notification at first, the process of which is automatically routed by their servers. 4) From there the notification is flagged for download (most phones automatically download them without telling you about the notification, but Android phones give you the option to manually choose and download them), at which point the Softbank servers check your phone's UserAgent, and 4) if it matches a whitelist then they will send you the full text.

For the Softbank mail application, its pretty much a modified version of the default Google MMS app. Pretty much by the time you receive the email, it's treated entirely like an MMS, so I would say its apt that the app used is an MMS app. In fact, you can actually receive MMS notifications under the default Google MMS app, but downloading them results in failures, likely because they see a nonstandard useragent. There's also some modified MMS apps available from Modaco which spoof the UserAgent, but I couldn't get them to work on my hardware, Dell Streak (one force closes, the other fails to download).

If I were to guess (though I haven't even read the description of the MMSReq app as its all in Japanese and I already got it to work so I don't really care), the MMSReq app probably checks any non-downloaded MMS notifications, then sends a download request with one of the whitelisted UserAgents. Its possible this could work with other MMS apps, but as of now the only combination I found that works with my hardware is this and the Softbankメール app.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Comparison of four major carriers improved data networks

While all carriers are eventually moving to LTE, Docomo will be the first to start service with their Xi (pronounced "Crossy") network. 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).

AU
Docomo
Emobile
Softbank
Service
WIN High Speed
Xi
G4
Ultra Speed/SBM 4G
Standard
EV-DO Rev A
LTE
DC-HSDPA
DC-HSDPA/TD-LTE
Speed (u/d) Mbps
9.2 / 5.5
37.5 (75) / 12.5 (25)*
42 / 5.8
42 / 5.7 **
Monthly price†
?
¥4935
¥4480 (¥5580)
?
Data cap
?
5 GB
5 GB (none)
?
Overage
?
¥2,625 per 2 GB
Stop service (?)††
?
Start date
Winter/Spring‡
12/24/2010
11/19/2010
2/2011
Launch products
IS06, X-RAY, S005, IS04, G11, S006
L-02C, F-06C
D41HW
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)
Frequency
2100 MHz
2100 MHz
1700 MHz
1500 MHz/2600 MHz
Bandwidth
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.
†† I've read conflicting reports on what Emobile does if you go over 5 GB. Some say throttling, others says shutting you off completely. Throttling seems more likely. According to wikipedia, service will be stopped.
‡ No official start date, but service is supposed to start with release of compatible winter/spring lineup handsets.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to exceed 5 GB in data usage per month

After seeing the 5 GB cap for "unlimited" usage on Docomo's Xi LTE data plan, I went through the past year's cellular bills to figure out how much data I was using and how I would be potentially effected if I started having to meter my data usage.


The answer, with a caveat, is not at all. Over the last year, I have used on average 250 MB of data per month. If you recall, I rooted my phone in April. Prior to that, I average only 130 MB per month. Since then, more like 360 MB. But, I am admittedly not a heavy user of data. I really don't stream much of anything. The most data intensive app I use is Google Maps, which I do use quite a lot. Since rooting, I do tether my notebook or iPod Touch, but not to excess, though I may do that more often now that I see that I am well under any potential red-flag-raising bandwidth consumption. (CEO Yamada said 99% of FOMA users are below 5 GB.)

Now for the caveat. If I was using Xi, I'd have a more powerful handset that could tame that CPU hog Skype, which is worthless on my older handset. I'd also be more apt to browse more pages simply due to the higher speed of the handset and the connection.

As far as streaming content, last I checked, none of the free streaming music apps allowed Japanese IPs, and if someone surreptitiously removed the youtube app from my phone, it might take me several months to notice, if ever.

So, Let's make some assumptions about my future usage. First lets assume that my data usage doubles, which would mean that I'd be using about 0.7 GB per month, still well under the cap. Next let's add in 30 minutes a day of skype, which is assuming a lot. Let's assign a rate of 200 kbps for skype usage.

200 kb/s streamed for half an hour = 0.0429 GB * 30 days = 1.29 GB per month.

Adding this to my doubled usage gets results in 2 GB per month. I'd still be at only 3.3 GB per month if I  used skype for an hour a day.

Finally let's assume I am so enamored with the video capabilities of my new dual-core handset that I am streaming video encoded at 500 kbps, also for 30 minutes a day.

500 kb/s streamed for half an hour = 0.107 GB. * 30 days = 3.22 GB per month.

So, for me, doubled usage, plus 30 minutes of skype and 30 minutes of streaming video would put me just over 5 GB.

How would this work out for the rest of you?

(Granted, the idea of making every phone call over a cellular data network through skype is appealing, but the call quality I get with skype just doesn't quite cut it.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Docomo Xi LTE data plan pricing and products announced



Docomo's Xi LTE service will begin 12/24/2010. So far, two products focusing on business customers have been announced, a USB dongle (L-02C) and Express card (F-06C). Each of these products supports the full 100 Mbps/50 Mbps down/uplink of the LTE standard, though Xi will not, at first, support these speeds.

Nothing yet on handsets.

Data plans


There are two plans, the Xi Data Plan (Xiデータプラン) and the Xi Two-Year Data Plan (Xiデータプランにねん). The two-year plan results in a significant discount but requires a two-year contract.

The XI Data Plan (XI Two-Year Data Plan) has a base fee of ¥2470 (¥1000) per month, which includes 3,177KB of data. After this is passed, fees increase linearly  at ¥0.315 per KB until 20 MB. From 20 MB to 5 GB, the fee is a flat ¥7,980 (¥6,510) per month. During the campaign, the flat rate is ¥6,405 (¥4,935).

Exceeding 5 GB will incur a charge of ¥2,625 for an additional 2 GB, which is significantly different from how data has been billed previously but inline with what other carriers abroad are doing. According to Docomo CEO Yamada, 99% of current FOMA users do not exceed 5 GB, so this is why this was selected as the cap. This logic is flawed, however, because a Xi users will find it much easier to consume 5 GB than a FOMA users simply because of the higher throughput.

The end of all-you-can-eat data?

As data hungry mobile devices proliferate, carriers have been scrapping unlimited 3G data plans. So far in Japan, we've been unaffected by this trend, but beginning with Docomo's LTE Xi "4G" service, this will no longer be the case. I expect other Japanese carriers to introduce similar plans as they phase in next generation networks using the newly allocated 1.5 GHz spectrum, though Softbank remains a bit of a question mark due to their history of aggressive pricing and subsidizing.

Xi Basics

To recap,  Xi uses 1.5 Ghz with a 5 Mhz channel bandwidth for outdoor coverage resulting in theoretical maximum downlink and uplink of 37.5 and 12.5 Mbps, respectively. Dual channels will be used in select indoor locations to increase bandwidth to 10 MHz resulting in 75 Mbps down and 25 Mbps up.

Xi, like all current wimax and LTE networks, is not officially 4G because it does not meet all necessary standards, such as a 100 Mbps downlink, but this will change as the network evolves (LTE = longterm evolution). Right now, Xi is best considered 3.9G.

By March 2011 (end of FY 2010), Docomo expects to have service to 7% of the population by covering the cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka, with this increasing to 20% by March 2012 and 40% by March 2013.

Softbank announces interim higher speed 3G network "Ultraspeed"



Unlike Docomo, Softbank has no definite LTE plans, so in the interim, they recently announced a combined HSPA+ DC-HSDPA network called "Ultraspeed" that will launch from February 2011 and utilize the new 1.5 GHz band. With a 42 Mbps maximum downlink, Softbank is billing it as Japan's fastest network. This is basically standard 3G technology, so upgrading the network will proceed much faster than Docomo's LTE expansion plans, beginning with nearly twice the population coverage as Docomo (12% versus Docomo's 7%), and reaching approximately 60% by June 2011. For comparison, Docomo expects to only have 40% of the population covered with LTE by March 2013.

Sounds pretty good. Until you take a closer look.

So far, no one can figure out what the uplink speed will be because Softbank is keeping that quiet. Softbank has also not said exactly what the coverage will be for the DC-HSDPA network, which is theoretically capable of 42 Mbps, compared to the HSPA+ with a maximum of 21 Mbps. Though, to be fair, 21 Mbps would be smokin' compared to current speeds.

The speed comparison is a huge red herring.

In the real world, we never get anywhere near the theoretical maximum speeds, whether it is 3G, ADSL, fiber or whatnot. There will be no significant difference between 42 and 37.5 Mbps. Trust me. The 42 Mbps is coming from a "dual channel" setup, i.e., DC. Softbank is doubling channel bandwidth from 5 MHz to 10 MHz to double throughput. Docomo is achieving 37.5 Mbps with a single 5 MHz channel for standard outdoor coverage and is doubling up indoors to achieve 75 Mbps. Not to mention that LTE is 3x as efficient as DC-HSDPA, meaning better network utilization. A clogged up network, no matter what it's theoretical maximum is, will be slow.

Ultraspeed products

Just as with Xi, the initial products are all business oriented - no handsets. The 007Z is a mobile wifi router, and the 004Z is memory stick with a microSD slot for USG storage, each by ZTE. The 005HW is a USB stick by Huawei.

Use of existing handsets

No existing Softbank handsets support 1500 MHz. A whole slew of handsets was just announced, but it doesn't seem they will support 1500 MHz. The Qualcomm MSM8255 chipset in the HTC Desire HD, coming to softbank, supports HSPA+ (but not DC-HSDPA), but it doesn't seem that this handset is compatible with 1500 MHz.