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


  1. Whoohooo!!! So this won't include the phones coming out in March right? maybe I will buy a phone before I go visit America in June. Then I can just pop-in a pre paid SIM.

    My HTC Magic is just feeling old. Of course I wonder if this means that NTT Docomo will open up their pakihodai APN to foreign IMEI's.

  2. Exciting news...some kind of progress in the slowly progressing scheme of things - doesn't it seem like everything is taking FOREVER in the Android zone? Ah well.
    Yeah, hoping to replace my ht-o3a (the ORIGINAL Japanese Android!) sometime soon. For now, just looking forward to the 2/24 Docomo 発表会 to see what's in store for March. Then hold out for a dual core (Galaxy S2かな・・・), then maybe a little LTE at the end of the year?

  3. One of the Apple bigwigs said about a month or so ago, that with the expiration of Apple's exclusive US contract with AT&T, that there were no more exclusive contracts anywhere in the world. This means softbank does not have an exclusive contract for the iPhone now.

    So, docomo can get the iPhone by negotiating directly with Apple -- ditto for au and the CDMA/Verizon version. Where can one even buy an unlocked iPhone?

    Or am I missing something here?

  4. It likely means that softbank doesn't have an exclusive contract, I'd say. Japan often gets left out in sweeping, generalizing announcements. Taking what the rep said at face value, though, Docomo could carry the iPhone if it wanted.

    But, if you want to sell the iPhone in your stores with subsidies, you still need a contract with Apple.

    The terms of AT&Ts contract were unprecedented in the mobile world. I forget the details but the profit sharing with apple and the rules for how to display the phone in the stores is probably the reason why Apple and softbank partnered in the first place.

    I like to picture in my head Docomo's reaction to the terms of Apple's contract. The terms were probably "difficult" ;-)

  5. What will this mean for me? If I buy one of these new phones, I'll be able to use it in another country with a SIM from that country? How about here in Japan? Could a Softbank user just buy a SIM and then just buy a phone without a contract from Docomo?

    I can't help but feel that they'll gimp it in some really annoying way.

  6. it means as long as the phone is compatible with the network you can put any SIM in it. However I bet unless you buy the phone un subsidized or paid it off they probably won't unlock it for you.

  7. like nicholas says.

    Potentially the biggest road block could be the price.

    I see two potential scenarios. First is the worst case scenario. They could do it this way. I hope they don't. They really don't have to do it this way. Next is what they need to realistically do to protect themselves, which is the way they do it now.

    1) Unlocking the phone at the time of purchasing makes you ineligible for any of the discounts and subsidies, such as 端末購入サポート, so if it is the latest and greatest smartphone, you pay like 70,000 yen up front for it.

    Unlocking subsequent to purchasing requires you to pay back all the subsidies, like the cash you owe on top of the cancellation fee if you cancel early with 端末購入サポート. Canceling an iPhone contract early can have you paying softbank something like 70,000 to 80,000 yen I believe. Docomo could do it similar.

    2) Unlocking costs a small service charge only, as long as you don't cancel your contract. Because you're in the contract, you could be expected to continue service with Docomo. Unlocking would be for taking it overseas or something. As soon as you cancel early, though, you get hit with the big bill for paying back subsidies and early cancellation fees.

    This is how it is done now, and there is no real reason to do it differently. But we'll see.

    Buying an unlocked phone without any contract will result in no discounts for certain. You WILL pay a lot for that phone. Better to buy one overseas and use it on Docomo, as long as it has the soumu-sho certification mark

  8. Now watching the stream of the event of the three new docomo android's a clip from the slideshow (can you spot who's missing?):

  9. OK, thanks for clearing that up.

    Judging by President Yamada's comments just now, it looks like you'll need to take your phone into a Docomo shop and have them do it. That means method 2 is more likely?

  10. Looks like the unlocked phone sales may start even earlier in April according to this:

  11. You're right
    I hit the submit post button at the same time you hit the submit comment button :-)

  12. juggly is nuts (on top of it and fast!) with the up-to-date android-in-japan info! thanks for sharing more in your last post. interesting story to watch unfold. planning on getting directly involved soon: wife probably getting arc or medias / myself upgrading in summer or fall...

  13. Was just checking the price on - HTC Desire HD was available for JPY 39,000. I dont understand why anyone would go for a Docomo or SB contract with inflated prices and try to feel good with the facade of a discount.
    Directly buy the desired instrument abroad (check for 800 Mhz W-CDMA) and use B-mobile Platinum service!!

  14. Juggly is a machine - a massively prolific machine. I wonder if the guy does anything else.

  15. Mkd,

    I understand and agree with your point of view. People are basically getting ripped off. But there are still two problems for people who want to use Android in Japan.

    1) B-Mobile platinum products are limited to iDevices only. And even on an iPhone, only certain apps will get unrestricted speed. Any other app will get limited to 300 kbps. A platinum SIM in an android will be limited to 300 kbps for all apps. The only way I figure they are doing this is by letting packets with headers saying they were generated by an approved app pass through unrestricted, though that is just a guess.

    2) The only device from overseas I think of that has support for 800 MHz is the iPhone.

    3) Therefore, if you want a) 800 Mhz on an android device and b) full FOMA speed, right now you have to buy from Docomo.


    The requirement for certification is a hangup, and will continue to be even when Docomo begins to allow outside phones. If the phone does physically bear or display the 〒 like mark with a lightning bolt, it can't legally be used in Japan. When I try and think exactly why B-Mobile won't release a platinum Android product, one reason that pops to mind could be the certification issue. Having no stores, B-Mobile employees cannot verify that a device displays the 電子〒 mark. Perhaps for whatever reason, they feel they need to limit the platinum products that B-Mobile is confident are legal. The iPhone is known to be legal and displays on the screen the proper certification information.

    Or then again, maybe not ;-)

  16. I see. I think I mistook the Platinum plan as free for all. Was not aware that even after paying for platinum, speed will be restricted at 300 kbps for some apps.

    I was wondering on how would they be restricting the SIM to be used on iDevice only? (Maybe through IMEI validation?)

    Just checked their site and it seems they have launched a ZTE android based tablet which is compatible with WCDMA 800 Mhz!!

  17. Yeah, they did. I guess that would probably be the best bet to use on Docomo
    since it has 800.

    B-mobile wouldn't be able to filter simply by IMEA because the full speed
    depends on the app.

    I've always assumed they were looking at packet headers. Could be wrong.
    Just haven't got a better idea. Doing it by port number wouldn't work
    because mobile safari uses port 80 but doesn't get throtled.

    Safari on a mac tethered to an iphone also uses port 80 but DOES get

    Perhaps if your app sent packets that looked like they were from an

  18. Actually it could be based on both header as well as port.
    But if it is true that tethered connection gets throttled while a direct connection is fine on the same port, then it should definitely be based on port number atleast.

  19. indeed! a machine! ...posts more often and regularly than engadget. might just be my most viewed site.

  20. that link got pulled after the show...ht03-a was totally missing from the "docomo smartphone line-up" slide.
    no respect for the original!

  21. I don't think Softbank will be unlocking the iPhone. That's like Softbank giving up it's lifevest

  22. See this thread took its rightful place in Japan as frickin INSIGNIFICANT after the earthquake.

  23. At least one phone can be indeed unlocked from Softbank: Dell Streak 001DL and you can do that here:

  24. here in phils. docomo phones are unlocked hpe that there are available sim card to be bought.

  25. help me pls im looking for a sim that unlock my docomo phone p705iu no network here in phils. somebody can help me?