Here is another wiki style entry to go along side the general information post. As more information comes out, I will update this post.
Unlocking of Docomo Handsets
Docomo's official SIM webpage indicates the following:
- Date Effective: From April 2011 but current handsets are not eligible.
- Eligible Handsets: All handsets that originally go on sale from April 1, 2011, which is effectively the "summer models" to be released in June 2011.
- Ineligible Handsets: Every handset sold prior to the release of the summer 2011 models.
- Eligible Unlocking period: No restrictions (unlocking immediately after purchase is allowed)
- Service Charge: 3,150 yen
- Procedure: Requires visiting a Docomo Shop (no unlock code sent)
- Unlocked Handset Price: Same as locked handset
- Unlocked Handset Discount Eligibility: Fully eligible
The price a buyer must pay in total will NOT INCREASE.
On 3/14/2011, the previous subsidy program "Handset Purchase Support" （端末購入サポート）was discontinued in favor of a "Monthly Support Program"（月々サポート）. The main differences is the monthly support program discounts the cost of service, not the cost of the handset, but does so for the exact amount of the monthly handset payment. Contrary to a really bad article in the Mainichi Docomo WILL NOT remove discounts on unlocked handsets.
After unlocking, all discounts services such as the Family Max 50 and the hitoridemo 50 can be continued. However, if service is cancelled, cancellation fees will be applied and monthly support will be cancelled.
Overseas Handsets on Docomo
From April 1, 2011, Docomo began selling microSIMs and allowing approved handsets to access the flatrate data plans for less than 6000 yen. However, currently no handsets are approved for use pending determination by Docomo of which ones are capable of tethering. Therefore, all handsets brought to Docomo will be incur 10,395 yen data fees currently, which is the exact same price that would have been charged previously.
Nothing other than the stamping of micro SIMs has changed as of 4/3/2011.
It is well known that Docomo prevents non-Docomo-branded handsets from connecting to the flat-rate data APN by filtering the connection by IMEI number. (There is an option for data on these devices but it is so expensive and so slow that we don't refer to it by name.) Docomo does not register IMEI number of phones they didn't sell, making it effectively impossible to use a phone for anything other than voice.
Requirements for an overseas phone according to Docomo:
- being physically stamped with the certification mark, or
- displaying the certification information on the screen, or
- having someone sloppily slap a sticker on it with the proper information (OK, he didn't say that, I did).
I recently purchased an unbranded Huawei Ideos from B-Mobile for work because it is 1) unlocked and 2) supports 850, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz, which covers every W-CDMA carrier I can think of in the world. Check out the back. Yup, that's a sticker. EMobile sells the same handset, which probably sports the same sticker.
Unlocked Apple iStuff on Docomo
The US FCC disclosed that the iPhone 4 supports UTMS Band VI (800 MHz), which would make it a pentaband W-CDMA phone (800, 850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz). Docomo uses 2100 MHz (FOMA) and 800 MHz (FOMA Plus), so the iPhone 4 will be better supported by Docomo than Softbank which has no Band VI allocation.
It also appears that, due to the overlap between Bands V and VI (850 and 800 MHz, respectively), the iPhone 3GS and iPad will also work in the FOMA Plus Area. In addition to several claims to that effect, wikipedia ja user Osakanataro (awesome name) discussed the FCC reports in the relevant wikipedia talk page. In short, it appears to depend on the specific frequency range of a particular device's radio, so other 850 MHz handsets may or may not work.
Before starting service with Docomo, if you are unsure, a good way to test if your unlocked Apple iThing works in your area, especially if you live in the FOMA Plus Area, is to buy the cheapest, slowest, B-Mobile U300 microSIM.
You'll want to check out Hong Kong for the best prices.
Unlocking of Softbank Handsets
Update: Softbank to begin unlocking from August, 2011 with the 008Z by ZTE under similar terms as Docomo.
The MIC has created a "guideline" that urges but does not require all carriers to unlock phones beginning in FY2011. Unlocking is therefore supposed to be a two way street, but Softbank's Son has already said he has no intention of unlocking the iPhone and that perhaps he'll unlock one or two other handsets as a test. However it is my understanding that the MIC always issues guidelines and never forces the carriers to do anything, but the carriers have historically always complied, even though they are just guidelines.
During an interview with the Yomiuri, a couple of Docomo execs insinuated that Softbank would unlock phones. At least I think they insinuated. We never really figured out what they meant. They said that if the other carriers hadn't agreed to unlock, then neither would have Docomo, but at the time there had been no official word from any of the other carriers.
I'll leave it to you to decide what all this means.
My feeling is that softbank will comply, eventually, probably after winning some sort of concession. If it is indeed really true that all of Apple's exclusive contracts with carriers are finished, then there is less reason not to unlock, since Docomo could start offering the own iDoodads. But when Apple talks in absolutes, history tells us that it absolutely does not necessarily apply to Japan.