Sunday, February 27, 2011

Docomo SIM unlocking from April, effect on handset price unclear

All sorts of news from Docomo's Friday new model announcement. First and foremost, SIM unlocking is happening sooner than previously reported, from April (not June).

Regarding other details surrounding SIM unlocking, there is no real new information to present. All handsets sold from April will be eligible for unlocking even immediately after purchase. There will be a service charge for unlocking, but Docomo is still working out exactly the price. They are currently considering something in the ball park of "several thousand yen."

How will SIM unlocking effect handset price?

As usual, we have dueling opinions from Son and Yamada. Softbank's Son says:
[SIM unlocking] will result in various problems. The price of unlocked handsets will increase to by around 40,000 yen.
While Docomo's Yamada says:
SIM unlocking is unrelated to handset price.
It media points out that there is more to consider here, namely the cost of the phone versus the total cost for the phone and service.

While I was at sea, Docomo announced a new "monthly support" plan(月々サポート)aimed at buyers of new smartphones. The deal appears to be that if you pay in monthly installments over 24 months, the exact cost you pay every month for the phone is discounted from your service fees. As soon as you've finished paying off the phone after 2 years, your monthly service fees will increase to normal, but since you are no longer paying for the phone, there will be no effective change in the price of you bill.

Docomo has not said if unlocking a phone would result in the cancellation of the discount. And because of this convoluted way of administering the discount - not discounting the phone cost, but the cost of service - even if Docomo were to cancel the discount, technically the price of the phone won't increase.

In the image below, on top are the service fees, on bottom, the cost of the handset in installments.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Docomo SIM unlocking to begin from June 2011 with the summer lineup

According to the Asahi, Docomo will start selling unlockable phones beginning with the summer 2011 lineup, which will include approximately 20 models, just under half of which will be smartphones.

Docomo will be the first of the three major carriers to begin unlocking phones, a move the Asahi speculates is designed to push softbank towards unlocking the iPhone. Mr. Son, who is Softbank's founder and CEO, and is also not stupid, has said he has no intention of unlocking the iPhone and is considering unlocking "one maybe two handsets as a test."

When the US FCC released the previously confidential iPhone details, many (including me) were surprised to discover that it does indeed support Docomo's FOMA Plus area (800 MHz W-CDMA). As far as I know, the only carrier in the world using 800 MHz is Docomo. So the iPhone is specifically designed to be fully compatible with Docomo. Japanese MVNO B-Mobile also supports FOMA Plus, making their iPhone SIM products more attractive.

Unlocked versus Unlockable

The summer 2011 phones are being described as being loaded with a SIM unlocking function. One of these phones can be taken to a Docomo Shop to be unlocked. Docomo has said all along that it will NOT unlock previous models. I am not familiar enough with Japanese feature phones to say for sure if it is reasonably impossible for Docomo to easily provide an unlock code, but it certainly is technically possible. Either way it don't matter 'cause Docomo ain't gonna do it. Period. Don't even bother asking at a shop because you will accomplish nothing, other than getting frustrated.

Small steps, but at least in the right direction.

Via Juggly

Friday, February 18, 2011

Softbank enters TD-LTE global partnership

Softbank has officially announced a partnership with several other carriers to hasten development of their LTE network.

Softbank will implement TD-LTE, developed by China Mobile, as opposed to the original standard, FDD-LTE deployed by Docomo, US Verizon, and others. The primary difference between the two standards is the use of time-division duplexing (TDD) instead of frequency-division duplexing (FDD).

I'll avoid getting into details, but TDD uses the same same channel for up and downlink while FDD uses two slightly offset frequencies. There are pluses and minuses to each. Because TDD uses the same channel for uplink and downlink, bandwidth can be actively allocated between the two as needed. However, TDD increases network complexity and requires more planning with respect to base station locations.

FDD has traditionally been used for voice and data, while TDD just for data. The first demonstration of voice over a TD-LTE network was just performed by Ericsson.


Now, you're probably think CRAP! just what we need is another standard to make things incompatible. Fortunately, the same chipset can easily support both FDD and TDD. The only stumbling block is the one we trip over every day: different frequencies.

NTT Docomo is using 2100 MHz for their "Xi" LTE, while softbank will be using 2500 MHz, an allocation of which it received when pumping cash into willcom.

But with quad band W-CDMA phones common, I imagine that once LTE handsets mature, the radios will have similar frequency coverage.

Time frame

Testing is slated to begin in Japan in the second quarter of 2011. Softbank CEO Son plans to have the neXt Generation PHS (XGP) picked up from Willcom 100% compatible with TD-LTE. In addition, he says he is "committed" to having a business-oriented LTE XGP service up and running within "this year," which I assumes means this fiscal year, so by April 2012. No word on a consumer oriented service. I imagine that will be a few years down the line, so the best softbank mobile customers can hope for is their DC-HSDPA network.

Reasons for interest in TD-LTE

To finish, an excerpt from a good article Monica Paolini:
here are four main factors driving a growth in support for TD-LTE:

  • The FDD LTE and TD-LTE versions of the 3GPP standard are very similar. As a result, devices can support both the FDD and TDD interfaces through a single chipset--i.e., without any additional cost. This is a hugely important new development: TD-LTE will benefit from the wide availability of FDD LTE devices that will be able to support TD-LTE as well. Unlike WiMAX, TD-LTE does not need to prove to have a substantial market share to convince vendors to develop devices. Vendors do not need to develop new devices, they simply need to add TD-LTE support to the existing ones. 
  • There is a lot of TDD spectrum available, and in most cases it is cheaper and under-utilized. 3G licenses frequently have TDD allocations and upcoming 2.5 GHz auction in most cases contemplate TDD bands.
  • The increasing availability of base stations that can be cost-effectively upgraded will make it possible and relatively inexpensive for WiMAX operators to transition to TD‑LTE using the same spectrum allocation. The transition will still require substantial efforts and be justified only in some cases, but it will make it easier for WiMAX operators to have roaming deals and to have access to the same devices that LTE operators have.
  • Industry commitment to WiMAX 16m, the ITU-Advanced version of WiMAX and successor to the current WiMAX 16e, is still limited.

via @AveryPalos

Friday, February 11, 2011

Yup, offline maps on an android device rock

The offline maps I made for Rmaps and Maverick turned out to be a huge help for finding my way around town on foot or the middle of nowhere in a car. I ended up using the more fully-featured Maverick (paid version), which includes saving of waypoints and routes, as well as several navigation screens. However, Maverick really needs to support sqlite format. Copying several tens of thousands of individual tiles to your SD card is just stupid. Depending on how your SD card is formatted, it could really balloon the total file size, not to mention that it just takes forever to copy 100,000 individual files relative to one file of the same total size.

Monday, February 7, 2011

DoCoMo to finally provide economical Flat-Rate data in Japan

I don't know about you guys but this sounds really nice since I am sure that I am not using much data but am terrified of going over. Now buying a tablet will not be such a bad expense but I am holding out for a Honeycomb one.

"DoCoMo was so far the least competitive company when it comes to provide unlimited data plan in Japan. But this my friends will change March 15 and you will finally be able to get a cheap and unlimited flat-rate in Japan for your smartphone and/or your tablet.
Both offerings will give customers a choice between two-tiered or full flat-rate billing to suit their data-usage habits. The two-tiered option lets users pay as they go for moderate data usage up to a set limit, or pay a flat-rate monthly charge of 5,985 yen (including tax) if they exceed the set limit. Under the full flat-rate option, the monthly charge is 5,460 yen (including tax) regardless of data volume.
As a special offer, DOCOMO customers who purchase selected smartphones or tablet PCs and subscribe to one of the flat-rate billing options will receive discounts on their monthly charges for up to 24 months. Also, students and their families who purchase DOCOMO smartphones and choose to use the flat-rate data billing for smartphones will receive additional discounts of 525 yen (including tax) on their monthly charges for up to 37 months."