Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Japanese MVNOs to the rescue with reasonably priced data plans

Just when everyone got all excited about unlocked phones and ala carte SIM cards, only to be let down when Docomo decided to charge an absolutely absurd amount of money for data plans, here come some options from two MVNOs, RStream and B-Mobile. The irony of both these services is that they are using none other than Docomo's FOMA network.

It really does seem like Docomo rammed through SIM unlocking to get at the iPhone, but now that they got what they wanted, they have absolutely no clue what to do with it. Here's a hint if Yamada-san is reading: offer a pay-as-you-go data plan - several GB for several thousand yen a month. The lack of the non-tethering list, for phones that are eligible for the reasonable flat rate, is evidence that there really is no such thing as an unlocked handset that can't tether. I could have told them that months ago.

Hopefully they're taking notes from B-Mobile, who announced a plan today would have me spending about 2000 yen on data each month. If not, as I was just discussing, we really do need dual SIM handsets; one SIM for the family voice plan and one for a data plan through an MVNO.


Unlimited FOMA data plans coming from MVNO RStream for 4980 yen/month

These plans will be sold exclusively through Yodobashi Camera's stores in Akihabara, Shinjuku, Yokohama, and Osaka Umeda. I'm still fuzzy on the details, but RStream will be selling a physical android handset called the "RstreamA", as well as a data plan called "R-sky". Instead of cellular voice service, all calls will be through VOIP using RStream's IP phone service called "R-Phone". Confused yet?

The handset will have a 050 VOIP number, which means that it could be more expensive to call than a standard prefix like Tokyo's 03. Last I checked many overseas carriers bill 050 numbers at the same rate that bill 090 or 080 cell phones.

Being VOIP, when data is down so is your voice service, but on the flip side, when the lines are jammed, like after the quake, your 050 number will likely still work. Many of you surely noticed that sending email from your phone went though fine and surfing the net was not problem after the quake, but calling was impossible. Also, both my US and Japanese IP phones, which are both on NTT Flets, worked fine during this time.)

Two plans have been announced
  • 年間特別プラン Yearly special plan: ¥4,680/month (includes unlimited data) + ¥700 worth of free calls*
  • スタンダードプラン Standard plan: ¥4,980/month (includes unlimited data) + 180 minutes free calls**
* applied to calls to other R-Phone numbers, domestic land lines, and domestic cell phones
** limited to other R-Phone numbers and domestic land lines. After 180 minutes, ¥16/120 seconds. Cell phones ¥14/40 seconds. (These are advertised as ¥8 and ¥18, but it seems like you'll be billed in ¥16 and ¥12 chunks.) Calls placed over wifi will be charged the above rates.

According to the FAQ, unlocked handsets can be brought and used but performance is not guaranteed. (Q: 他社の端末を持ち込んでの回線契約は可能ですか?A: 可能ではありますが、持ち込まれた端末の動作保証は致しかねます。) I have no idea how this VOIP software would be integrated in this case.

The Handset:
  • Price unknown (on sale at Amazon for 60,000 yen, which is way too much for the hardware!)
  • WCDMA/HSPA: 850/1900/2100 MHz (according to manufacturer but could have different radio for Japanese version)
  • Muchtel A1 designed by Foxconn.
  • Unlocked
  • Android 2.1 (originally released with 1.6)
  • Updates not guaranteed (being studies - バージョンアップにつきましては検討しております。)
  • 3.2" 320x480 capacitive touch screen 
  • Bluetooth 2.0+EDR but not compatible with the VOIP service (弊社提供のSIMカード及びR-Phone(VoIP)ではBluetoothはご利用できません。)
  • 1230mAh battery (on the small side)
  • Qualcomm MSM7227 600Mhz
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 512 MB ROM
  • 802.11 b/g
  • Micro SD slot
  • GPS
  • Accelerometer
  • 3.5 mm audio jack

In addition, there is this. The first half of this article I pulled directly from the Nikkei.


Not a full translation but the main points: Yodobashi Camera will offer data plans for mobile phones at its Akihabara, Shinjuku, Yokohama, and Osaka Umeda stores from the 8th. The flat rate plan will be unlimited and at ¥4995, half the price of what is being offered currently by NTT Docomo.

I found what appears to be the rest on 2channel.
Communications venture rstream (Osaka) is providing the service, which will be sold by Yodobashi. rstream is an MNVO using Docomo's network. Honestly, I really couldn't decipher what NTTドコモの回線を通じて他の通信会社を使えるようにする専用のSIMカード is supposed to mean. Either it is stating the obvious, that you can communicate with people on other carriers, or it is saying something that really doesn't make any technical sense to me - a special SIM that allows the use of another carrier through Docomo's FOMA network.

NEXT, B-Mobile is offering an unthrottled, pay as you go data service from 4/15.

From the B-Mobile press release (via Juggly君):
b-mobile Fairは、NTTドコモの3Gネットワークをフル活用することで、下り最大7.2Mbps、上り最大5.4Mbpsのネットワークを、1ギガバイト(GB)単位でご利用いただけるデータ通信専用SIMです。有効期限4ヶ月で1GBを利用できるb-mobile Fair 1GBを9,800円(税込、日本通信ネット販売価格)でご購入いただき、その後は1GBを8,350円でオンラインチャージして継続利用いただけます。
B-Mobile Fair (as in a fair price) is a pay as you go service that offers unrestricted access to NTT Docomo's 3G network with a best effort 7.2 Mbps/5.4 Mbps down/uplink. Price is ¥9800 for 1 GB that can be used over 4 months. 8,350 per GB additional.

I haven't updated this lately, but this is how much data I typically use, without using wifi.

With light tethering, I average about one third of a GB each month. I rarely use wifi in the interest of saving my battery, but if I did use wifi more often, I could easily go 4 months and not use 1 GB of data. 9800/4 = ¥2,450 per month for the first 4 months, with the price dropping to about ¥2000 per month with subsequent charges.

When I first saw this come across Juggly's site, my first reaction was that 9800 yen is ridiculous for 1 GB because I failed to notice that this can be used over 4 months. Charging the data plan can be done with the bCharge application to be installed from the Android Market. Unfortunately, there is yet no word on a TalkingSIM plan that includes this.


  1. I am not really sure how much data I use on my phone but 9800円 for 1GB just seams too much. Meanwhile in the US T-Mobile is launching a unlimited Talk, Text and Data plan for $60 a month. It does have a soft 2GB data ceiling though after that they throttle your speed.

  2. bCharge can only be done with Android? Pretty much rules out anyone using an iPhone.

  3. You should calculate how much you're using. 1GB for that price is not
    cheap, but the roll over of unused bandwidth is a novel concept. At
    least I'm not aware of anyone doing that. Depends on your usage, but
    it really could save money.

    By the way the disqus android app is worthless.

  4. Sorry, I should have said can be done. Edited

  5. You should calculate how much you're using. 1GB for that price is not
    cheap, but the roll over of unused bandwidth is a novel concept. At
    least I'm not aware of anyone doing that. Depends on your usage, but
    it really could save money.

    By the way the disqus android app is worthless.

  6. Techniker TechnologeApril 7, 2011 at 2:05 PM

    I am seriously considering B-Mobile now. Of course I'd need to use my current Handset, which is sim-locked... Any experience on unlocking a docomo HT03a? I know this is somewhat legally questionable, though afaik legal in several countries, so I kindly ask to not remove this comment...

  7. I don't think it is illegal at all. Changing an IMEI number is a different story.

    Well good news and bad news. First the bad news: if you haven't already, you are going to have to root and up/downgrade the phone to 1.5 or 2.2 because B-Mobile SIMs have issues with 1.6 HTC firmware.

    Good news: you don't have to unlock your ht-03a because it is locked to Docomo and B-Mobile is using Docomo's network. Any phone locked to Docomo will work with any MVNO using Docomo. The B-Mobile SIM is actually just a regular looking Docomo FOMA SIM. It even has Docomo written on it!

  8. It seems like you're looking at 500MB at 2500 yen hitting 1GB at 4months. Right? With an eMobile phone, you'd be paying 4800 yen per month, but usage would be unlimited -- WiFi tethering included -- and it is fairly fast. I'm all for unlocked SIM usage on a metered basis. I do think that is the way of the future, but nothing comes close to what eMobile is offering now unless you are sure you will not and could not use more than 500MB per month. Watching one 5 minute 720p is 50MB. Having an eMobile phone means you can do it and not worry. You can also freely buy or carry any device with WiFi and use it without needing to deal with configuring another device to use the same SIM . . .

  9. Greg, I was calculating the price after the first 4 months, when the recharge is cheaper, since anyone using this would be paying that price in the longterm. I don't watch streaming video much at all. I rarely watch youtube on my computer. I almost never watch it on the phone. This is why I could justify a plan like this.

    Don't get me wrong, Emobile offers a fast service at a very good price compared to the other carriers. But even so, it would cost me more than twice as much per month (in the long run) as this.

    A metered plan like this certainly isn't for everyone, and if you consume online video at all, it certainly isn't for youね。

  10. For anyone who does want to sim-unlock for traveling, etc., 20 Euro at for an unlock code.

  11. I have personally used both and

    While unlock-now is good, same service is available on htcimeiunlock at USD 15 only.

  12. I read on 2ch today that Rstream/Rsky is capped at 300kbps and uses the same APN as BMobile.

  13. Hmm... This make sense. I think a trip to yodobashi is in order.