Tuesday, April 12, 2011

MVNO RStream's first product is not compelling

ADDITIONAL COMMENT: It has been pointed out to me that the fact that R-stream brought in their own handset is not only very significant and costly (certification, etc.), but something that would have been unheard of a few years ago. Here's to hoping that they can bring down the cost of future products.

EDIT: added screenshot from B-mobile IDEOS for comparison of tethering options. Also displayed images at original pixel dimensions.

The other day I introduced RStream, an MVNO offering unlimited data and voice (through a "050" IP phone) using Docomo's FOMA network and an Android handset, the Muchtel A1, aka the "RStreamA1." Now that I have more information, the price of monthly service is compelling, with the cost of voice calls being significantly cheaper than B-Mobile's IP phone service, but the entire package is not. At least not in its current form. My reasons for this are listed below, but it boils down to 1) high handset price, 2) lack of clear information, and 3) No built-in tethering support that results in 4) tethering for windows clients only.

Here's to hoping these can be resolved for the sake of consumers in Japan.

First, the fact that data speed is indeed a symmetrical 300 kbps (Thanks Sam) is not included on their website. At least I couldn't find it. I looked but ended up clicking in circles while searching for basic information. I much prefer the clear style of B-Mobile's website, but of course this could simply be personal opinion because I much prefer an interface like this as opposed to something like this. I also prefer the fact that B-Mobile advertises loud and clear that their U300 SIM is limited to 300 kbps.

Next, like B-Mobile, the "zero-five-zero" IP phone requires the use of the RStream's exclusive low-end handset. However the price of the handset is **RIDICULOUSLY** expensive: ¥54,800 with a one year contract for the yearly plan (年間特別プラン), ¥64,800 with no yearly contract but signing up for the standard plan (通常プラン), or ¥79,800 for just the handset!

It is running Android 2.1 Eclair (with no guaranteed update), meaning no wifi tethering, and is equipped with an aging ARM v6 processor that will might struggle with skype and but probably not as much with angry birds and is incompatible with the Flash binaries released by Adobe. On top of this, while the handset is unlocked, no definitive information is available about what frequency bands are supported.

Compare this to the cost of an unlocked Huawei IDEOS that supports enough frequencies to work will all W-CDMA carriers globally (as far as I can tell) and ships with Android 2.2 Froyo with built-in wifi hotspot support. It is available from B-Mobile for about ¥25,000 with no contract and no service plan, or from EMobile for about ¥20,000 with no contract but requiring signing up for a service plan (that can be immediately cancelled). The RStreamA1 does indeed trump the IDEOS spec-wise with a more advanced chipset and larger, higher resolution screen. But nearly eight man for an ARM v6? Maybe for a v7 "snapdragon," when they first hit the market, over a year ago. Certainly not for a v6 chipset and certainly not now.

The MIC enacted guidelines in 2007 for carriers to clearly separate handset and service costs. I don't know how MVNOs are considered because I am unfamiliar with MVNO guidelines. Assuming that each MVNO incurs identical costs to Docomo, the differences I'm seeing in pricing are interesting.

I spoke with an RStream rep at Yodobashi Akiba, but he was unable to answer the question regarding supported frequencies, though he did indicate that it probably does not support the 800 MHz FOMA Plus Area. This is consistent with the product page [Chinese] that indicates WCDMA/HSPA: 850/1900/2100 MHz. However, handsets for different markets ship with different radios, so lacking specific information in Japanese for the Japanese market, I am obliged to guess conservatively and assume that it only supports UTMS 2100. Worst case is no support at all in the US. Best case is support for AT&T but not T-Mobile (or if regulators approve, half-@$$ed support for T&A - sorry, couldn't resist).

The rep was also only able to say that updating was under consideration, which brings up another issue: the lack not only of wifi tethering but also of  built-in USB tethering, which has been included in cyanogen mod since version 4.2.3 based on Android 1.6 Donut (changelog). The rep actually didn't realize the missing support for USB tethering until I showed him Froyo on my ht-03a and Gingerbread on the N1. He consulted the books and discovered that enabling tethering via USB requires software to be installed on the client PC and the software is Windows only. For me, if none of the above was a deal-breaker, this last bit is.

All images below are at unaltered pixel resolutions.

Tethering options in stock Gingerbread on Nexus One.

And in US T-Mobile's Froyo release.

B-Mobile IDEOS screenshot


  1. Unlocked IDEOS is available for JPY 15000 from HK based retailers who ship to Japan. One such site I check is www.expansys.jp

  2. Can I Post your comment on RSTREAM, and link back to your Original post please? for my website www.prepaidmvno.com

  3. Willcom will start 'WILLCOM CORE 3G' service from Downlink 42 Mbps, Uplink 5.8 Mbps, 5,580JPY / month. (only for enterprise contract and on SB network) http://www.willcom-inc.com/ja/biz/sp/core3g_trial/index.html

  4. EDIT: added screenshot from B-mobile IDEOS for comparison of tethering options. Also displayed images at original pixel dimensions.