Once again, @Juggly was right - not only will Softbank Mobile offer ala carte SIM cards for unlocked phones from July, any Apple iOS device that was not purchased from SBM will indeed be currently excluded. As such, no microSIMs will be offered. SBM indicates that this may not be a permanent situation, so service for iPhones could be announced at a later date.
This is excellent news (though for now, effectively nothing has changed).
Most importantly, SBM is offering data service for the reasonable price of ¥5985, unlike Docomo who is charging over ¥10,000. Rarely, if ever do you see one carrier offering the same service at half the price of another. Hopefully this and the compelling products from Japan Communications, Inc. (b-mobile) will have a positive effect on Docomo's data product offerings.
Details of service:
- ¥5985 per month for data
- ¥2,835 new contract fee (apparently not necessary for current subscribers)
- One of the following required for new contract:
- Japanese driver's license
- Japanese passport
- National health insurance card + address verification by a utility service bill
- National health insurance card + credit card
- National health insurance card + student picture ID
- Foreign registration + passport
- Disability certificate
- Normally priced voice plan
- No guarantees that everything will work and no support if it doesn't
- Handset must support 2100 MHz
- Heavy users subject to reduced data speed (no direct mention of tethering)
- Depending on network conditions VoIP, streaming and "heavy usage" may be throttled.
- Handset must be certified for use in Japan and display the "lightning 〒 mark" and relevant certification numbers either:
- as a sticker placed by the manufacturer, or
- on the screen, or
- as a physical stamp
The better question is, how many of those handsets actually indicate they are compliant? (The Nexus One is an example of a compliant phone with no certification mark.), I'd wager that none are stamped as certified. This means that you are still going to have to jump through the hoops (outlined here) to get your phone working with the flat rate data plan.
Don't blame SBM for this, it is simply the law. If Docomo were to allow unlocked phones to access the packet houdai APN for only ¥5985, you can be sure that if your phone is not officially marked as certified, that you won't be getting that price.
Finally, the officially cited reason for the lack of iPhone and iPad support is an APN issue that would result in iOS devices not being billed at the flat rate.
The flat rate APN cannot be set on overseas iPhones and iPads, resulting in very expensive per-packet charges that may exceed several hundred-thousand yen (¥100,000+).This is interesting, to say the least, because Android users are even using the black SIM cards from SBM iPhones and successfully connecting to the iPhone-only "smile" APN. So this makes me doubt that this is simply an APN problem, especially since an unlocked iPhone 4 from Hong Kong costs roughly half the price of a locked one from SBM.
Update: See this comment for an indication that APN settings can't be changed on a locked iPhone, which brings more perspective to this. My thinking now is that, since there is a difference in data price for an SBM iPhone using the smile APN, the issue could be in charging non-SBM-branded iPhones the slightly higher rate (¥4410 versus ¥5985), not necessarily about protecting sales. The difference in data cost is ¥37,800 over 24 months, which I bet compares favorably with the profit turned on the sale of an iPhone, given SBM's heavy subsidizing.
(Thanks for Ouroboros for the link to the official info)