Before getting to mobile, consider for a moment VoIP service in the home as a replacement for POTS (plain old telephone service). Yes, it is less expensive for the consumer, but not nearly by the amount it could (should?) be. The entity that benefits the most from IP phone service is not the user but the service provider, who enjoys both the slashed cost of overhead and premium product pricing.
VoIP was first introduced to Japan in 2001 by Masayoshi Son's Yahoo BB, much to the displeasure of NTT, who, up until recently was able to sell physical phone lines (a concept I never fully understood) for upwards of $1000US. The traditional Gatekeeper of Japanese Telecommunications must be in a very uncomfortable position these days. While they certainly didn't benefit from Masayoshi Son's meddling, they were at least relevant.
Not this time.
Things have been changing like mad this year, in exciting and unprecedented ways that are primarily the result of JCI's arbitrated opening of Docomo's data networks to "virtual" carriers. The MIC is finally realizing that innovation is sorely needed in communications but the traditional players have no incentive to bring it. Now we have a number of innovative mobile startups, such as mobile VoIP provider BlueSIP. But all this is limited to mobile and potentially threatening to NTT's home data and telephone services.
So rather than sit by quietly, NTT began offering a VoIP softphone service from July 1st. The service is called 050Plus and is initially for the iPhone, but with planned expansion to Android and computers from early August. The terms are attractive, though this requires the download of a specialized app, which will reduce battery life.
A larger implication of this is more force against the mobile network providers, who have a vested interest in keeping VoIP off their networks. It will be interesting to see if a critical mass of consumers will defect to the virtual operators, forcing the likes of NTT Docomo to respond competitively.
And here we thought that SIM unlocking was going to be the big deal this fiscal year.
Finally, the details of 050Plus VoIP. Either there are no initial or cancellation fees, of the information is well hidden.
- Free calls to not only other "050" plus users, but also to other companies like OCN top phone (total of 270 providers included)
- ¥8.4/3 min (¥2.8/min) for all other IP Phones and landlines
- ¥16.8/min for domestic cell phones (090, 080 numbers)
- ¥10.1/min for domestic PHS (070 numbers)
- From ¥9/min for to the USA (¥10 to Canada; ¥20 to Germany, UK, Australia, France, Italy; ¥25 to New Zealand)
- Can be used overseas
- Voicemail with email notification and .wav audio attachment
Docomo mobile data services prohibits VoIP, and if this specialized app is not added to b-mobile's approved apps for the platinum micro SIM data plan, the only option for the iPhone 4 may be softbank. iPhone 3G/3Gs should be able to use the Aeon Plan C SIM.
Link to manual (PDF, J but with lots of images)