Japan Communications Inc. and Aeon Retail, one of Japan's largest retailers have announced three new SIM cards, one of which is priced at less than 1000 yen per month. These went on sale yesterday at 14 Aeon stores. Expect the number of stores to steadily increase. I am not sure if contracts will be required, but if not, these are perfect for visitors to Japan. [EDIT: comments indicate that these SIMs are postpaid and not available to visitors.]
In short, this is a huge development for several reasons.
Not only is it the first monthly data service in Japan that costs what amounts to pocket change, as far as I know, this is the first time such a large retailer will be directly selling communications services. Of course you can buy all sorts of services, from cell phones to satellite television in an Aeon shop, but when doing so, you are buying from Docomo or SkyPerfect staff who were set up in rented space. Not this time.
This means that the big boys have finally noticed that consumers in Japan are tired of carrier pricing models that force a choice between "no service" or "expensive as hell service", similar to cable television pricing in the US that requires paying for 100 channels of junk to only see the 5 or so good ones.
So while Docomo is literally dicking around in the old world, MVNOs and especially JCI, the MVNE supporting many new startups like Rstream and BlueSIP, are increasingly offering much more consumer focused products. I can imagine that, up until now, Docomo thought that if they ignored it, it would go away. Obviously that didn't work.
It truly is an interesting time. Expect a number of more innovative products in the future. And if you haven't already done so, dig up as many old monthly cell phone statements and figure out, just as I have done, exactly how many minutes and megabytes you are consuming each month. Before it didn't matter because you paid the same price regardless. Now it's in your best interest to understand; last month the cost for my cell phone service equated to about 4000 yen, which is less than I have ever paid in Japan
New product Summary
- 100 kbps "best effort" ¥980 primarily for mail, search and social networking
- 400 kbps "best effort" ¥2890 for general smartphone usage excluding streaming
- "best effort" (no imposed speed limitations) ¥4980 which includes streaming video.