Monday, August 1, 2011

B-mobile Talking FAIR is good for singles, less so for families

After going through all my statements from the past 12 months, I calculated what would have been the cost for voice service without a Docomo family plan. I used the pricing from two different Docomo plans and the B-mobile Talking FAIR plan. But first, here is the actual number of minutes I used each month, which is greatly influenced by being able to make free calls to family members.

The three horizontal dashed lines indicate the number of included minutes for the Plan SS, the Talking FAIR and the Plan S (25, 32.5, and 55, respectively), assuming only normally-charged domestic calls. The blue area represents minutes used in the family plan.

The Talking FAIR SIM, while not the absolute least expensive, is the best value of the plans with a one year contract. The Value S Plan is cheaper with a two year contract, but it automatically renews every 24 months. Canceling at any point except for increments of 24 months after starting service (e.g., 24th, 48th, 72th month) will incur a ~ ¥10,000 early termination fee. The FAIR's 1 year contract does not automatically renew, so you can cancel it whenever you want, after the initial 12 months, just like in most other places around the world.

What really makes the FAIR SIM compelling is data, especially if you are like me and are 1) have access to wifi most of the day and 2) have an overseas phone. The Talking FAIR may still be a good deal, even if you satisfy only one of these two conditions because of the lack of a renewing contract and no forced tethering charges for any non-docomo branded phone.

I understand that this is a bit of an unfair comparison because of the ¥4,200 yen tethering fee from Docomo, but this is the cost of using a Nexus (or iPhone) on Docomo versus B-mobile.

The FAIR is much less expensive, even if you to add a data charge every month. If a charge only lasts two months, the FAIR is still cheaper, even without Docomo's forced tethering fee. Based on how I actually use my phone, I would expect to pay on average half of what it would cost to use my Docomo branded (and aging) ht-03a on Docomo (~ ¥8,000), versus my much better Nexus One on B-mobile (~¥4,200).

However, I didn't need to look though a year's worth of Docomo invoices to know that the b-mobile Talking FAIR SIM wouldn't be a good deal for a family, since we are eligible for free calling between family members. Over the past 12 months, we used a combined 2,652 total minutes, for which we incurred ¥43,349 in voice related charges. This is an effective rate of about ¥16/minute.

All the calls in blue were essentially free. I could show you the results of a number of calculations, based on a number of differing assumptions regarding usage, but it would be pointless because in all cases the answer is the same. We'd have to significantly alter our usage if we canceled the Docomo family plan. It isn't even economical for me to cancel only my service with Docomo.

So, if you're in Japan for a year or two, perhaps even three, it is seriously in your best interest to understand how much data you tend to consume and consider the Talking FAIR SIM with prepaid data and postpaid voice. But if you have family members, then it is unlikely to be a good value.


  1. Very useful website you have here! Many thanks!

    Can I hijack your post to ask your advice about getting a smartphone in Japan? As you may have notices ( ;-) ) the system here is a confusing pain in the butt!
    Basically, I want to get a smartphone (one of the main reasons being to aid my life in japan with things like looking up kanji and translation, so i don't really want to wait very long), but I may well go back home within the next 3-6 months. So I really don't want to get tied into one of their 2 year contracts. After finding out the ridiculous prices for a docomo sim i thought i was stuck, but your posts on bmobile have given me hope.

    I'll need voice, so the bmobile talkingsim seems the best option (not the FAIR, the 300kbs limited unlimited one - most apps should still work fine on that right? (SNS, RSS reader, bbc news, etc..) Just not youtube/spotify/etc..)
    Only question on that is that i don't have a J-credit card - but the wife does, so she should be able to sign up, right?

    So the problem becomes where to get an unlocked smartphone that'll work.
    Ordering a used one from overseas would be cheapest, but you implied they might not allow non-jp certified phones?
    (which is a shame as i mostly wanted an HTC and they aren't big here).

    I guess i could splash out for a new docomo one (galaxy s, s2, optimus bright), which should be unlockable for when i go home. But do they actually sell phone with NO contract? Or would i have to sign up and then cancel?
    I heard the older docomo phones are a pain to unlock.

    Alternatively (and cheaper) i could try to pick up a used phone here in japan, and hope i can unlock it. There's a small shop in my neighbourhood with used phones, or i found which seems to sell them (and amazon jp has a few sellers). But I worry about ending up with something stolen that gets blocked. Anyone any experience with buying used phones here?

    So, basically, if you were in my position, what would you do?

  2. 60 to 100 minutes of talk time per month seems pretty low. Since moving to Japan I don't really talk on the phone much (because I'm always in the office or using GTalk/Skype), but in the US it was normal to break 1000 minutes on any given month.

  3. I could have sworn I replied to this. I guess not. Sorry.

    Actually, I am sure I replied to this. At least I remember typing a response. Must've gotten ate.

    J credit card of the wife is fine. If you have an overseas card, that might also work, but paying the bill would require having money in an account abroad, which would be a problem if you are paid locally. If you use the wife's card, then the contract must be in her name. More than one contract can be based onteh same card.

    You are correct about streaming. Other stuff works, but you will get timeouts, sometimes worse than others.

    A non certified phone will be no problem with bmobile because they just provide the SIM and never see the phone, but best to try it out first at yodobashi akiba on the weekend if you can. The problem could come if you had to take the phone to a softbank shop or docomo shop and buy a sim card. They might give you trouble.

    You will have to have a contract with docomo and then cancel that contract, I am pretty sure.

    Bmobile ideos is nothing special but cheap, unlocked, and available off the shelf.

    There is no need to unlock a docomo phone for use with bmobile because it is the same network The sim cards look identical. I had to write in a magic marker what each one was when I was switching them, like "docomo" "u300" "Fair"

  4. That is only one way talktime. I have no idea how much airtime I used, and there's no way to calculate it. In Japan, the calling party is charged for the airtime of the receiving party in addition to their own.

    There are people who do dickhead things like call you, let in ring once, and then expect you to call them back (and pay for it), but now that I'm older, I don't have anyone around me like that. I do have some talkative friends, though, so if I am billed for 100 minutes in a month, chances are I used at least twice that.

    But that is still much lower than in the US.

    Check this out:

    Compared to the US, this is stupidly expensive for voice. You could easily be paying over 10,000 yen a month if you talked for 1000 minutes. Add data at 6000 yen and that's just nuts.

    I've seen horribly uninformed articles saying how cheap cell service in Japan is compared to the US, and I've seen other articles saying that Japanese phones have all these cool features like email for the wrong reasons. Japanese phones got email 10 years ago because voice is expensive.

    I have the vonage world plan that includes Japan, so if I have to call a number that isn't free dial but is are normal number (not 090 080 070 050 etc) I use my vonage IP phone, especially if I know I am going to be on hold for a while.

  5. Thanks! Useful as always.
    The Ideos looks ok - but maybe a bit basic for a few of the things I want to do (like reading). My idea was that if i got a better phone then i could take it back to the uk and use it for a few years.
    I'm tempted to grab a used unlocked phone from overseas and put in the bmobile card. Seems the best solution for me.

    How does 300kbps compare to a standard japanese feature phone' s web speed? Since it "technically" qualifies as broadband I feel it should be ok for most purposes. Don't need streaming anyway.

    Thanks for all your help and keep up the useful blog!