Monday, October 10, 2011

AU appears to win iPhone comparison contest

EDIT4: Added more on the "norikae" discount from SBM

EDIT3: Cleaned up mistakes throughout and added some new information.

EDIT2: @w00kie has a good post describing the "deal" on the iPad: It will cost a total of ¥44,640 (¥1,860/month) over the 24 month contract for the 16 GB version. He also has a link to SBM's price calculator.

EDIT: I copied the total handset costs directly from the parentheses, which neglected to take into account the ¥1,920 discount per month. Fixed that. Handset prices are almost identical. AU is a bit cheaper. If you get the cash back offer from AU, then their price is half SBMs if (and only if) the timing of your SBM 2 year contract is up during AU's campaign.

For those intending to purchase an iPhone 4S, it appears right now that there will be almost no compelling reason to remain with Softbank. Even if you are stuck in the middle of a 2-year SBM contract, AU will essentially pay your early termination fee if you port your mobile number. Note that it may be cheaper to not cancel, but instead shut off your SBM iPhone and pay the minimum every month until you are eligible for free cancellation.

The only reason not to move to AU would be if you call lots of SBM phones and it is impractical for those people to also move to AU. (If you still owe a considerable subsidy on an iPhone 4, you have no business updating to the iPhone 4S, and if you can't shoulder the upfront costs in cash of an AU handset, then you need to rethink your priorities.)


Normally this would be a huge point in favor of SBM for the foreign community because AU is a CDMA-2000 carrier. SBM's WCDMA phones are certainly SIM locked but this can be circumvented and the handset could be taken abroad and used after leaving Japan.

Because the iPhone 4S is a "world phone" that supports both standards, for the first time ever an AU phone is available that can be used abroad (theoretically) without roaming.  An AU iPhone will be locked - at the level of AU's subsidy, it's a virtual certainty, but this can most likely be fixed by jailbreaking. It would be best to wait and confirm this before buying, though.


Without actual reports of how the iPhone 4S performs on AU's network, any network comparison is just speculation. I was discussing this with Gen Kanai, and we think the real world difference will be imperceptible to the average user.

First off, it is unclear if the AU released a faq that indicates the iPhone 4S on AU's CDMA-2000 network will not support simultaneous voice and 3G data connections (voice and wifi is OK), which is a point in favor of SBM.

Next, while SBM's network has a significantly higher theoretical maximum downlink than AU, it is also anecdotally more congested. Early tests of the 4S on SBM's network indicate no change increase in speed, and the average speed was about one third of AU's theoretical maximum. I am waiting on some Android AU users to report back their speeds they get for comparison.

Finally, AU (like Docomo) enjoys an 800 MHz allocationwhich has much better penetration in underground and mountainous areas. If you are in a fringe area of the SBM's network, you will definitely see better performance with AU because the MIC has inexplicably refused to allow SBM equal access to the available spectrum.

One more thing: Apple has little experience with CDMA basebands, and we all saw how their first GSM revisions had a lot of issues with dropped calls. Perhaps Apple's initial CDMA offerings won't be up to par. Perhaps it will.


AU's upfront costs are so low, at most ¥20,640 (and likely half that) for the 64 GB model, that the apparent lack of a monthly payment plan is irrelevant. The difference in service charges is negligible - AU data will cost about ¥500 more than SBM, and voice charges provide equivalent service for the same price. (Though this will add up to ¥12,000 difference over the two years contract).

AU's subsidy is more than 3 times slightly more than SBM's. Add in the monthly cost of a handset and there is no difference in monthly cost between the two Japanese iPhone carriers. This is before ¥10,000 cash back from AU. Here is the total cost hardware costs compared between AU and SBM. There really is no comparison. [UPDATE: Yeah there is - the prices are almost the same. I forgot to subtract the ¥1,920 monthly discount (I just copied and pasted the amounts listed here, which is the amount SBM charges up front for an iPhone before doling out the discount each month.) The 32 and 64 GB models cost ¥480 and ¥880 per month from SBM.]

iPhone 4S 16 GB
iPhone 4S 32 GB
iPhone 4S 64 GB

If The timing is right and you are right at the month when you can cancel Softbank without a termination fee due to the 24-month automatically renewing contract, and you port a SBM phone number to AU, subtract ¥10,000 from the AU prices.

Softbank Campaigns

Even considering SBM's recently announced plans, it's hard to justify staying with them based on the currently available information.
This That and the Other plan
This adds data for an iPad. There is no universal service charge, no contract fee, and the first 100 MB of data are absolutely free. After 100 MB, the price scales by ¥0.0525 per packet to a maximum of ¥4,980. The only extra charge is the (bogus) ¥315 ISP fee (that every carrier adds in to their data prices), which is added only after exceeding 100 MB.

This plan requires buying a new iPad. It's a good deal if you plan to spend a lot of money each month and want both a 3G iPad and an iPhone. Otherwise it is not compelling. Based on this price calculator, here are the costs of the iPad in total or over the 2 years:

iPad 2 16 GB
iPad 2 32 GB
iPad 2 64 GB
Free iPhone update plan
This gives current iPhone 3G and 3GS users a route to upgrade to the latest and greatest for no additional cost. They'll just continue paying the remaining monthly cost of their current handset, plus that of the new one.

I was confused on this part as pointed out below in the comments. SBM will give ¥6,000 cash back to customers who have fully paid or their iPhone. This can be all at once or subtracted from their bill over the next 6 months. For anyone who hasn't paid off their iPhone, SBM will give you subtract the exact monthly amount you owe from your bill, each month until the old iPhone is paid off.

Considering that the effective cost of an AU 32 GB model is a one-time ¥320 payment, this plan is also not compelling, unless you recently purchased an iPhone 3GS and would owe a ton of cash if canceling softbank
Quit other carrier discount
SBM will waive the basic voice fee (¥980) for 7 months for customers who leave another domestic carrier. (You can also get gift coupons, etc., and it doesn't appear necessary to port over your number.) This can be extended by an additional 5 months if your average cost of service (excluding tax) exceeds ¥10,000 during the third to fifth months after changing to SBM. At least that is what I think this says.
This will give you an additional ¥4,900 total discount. However, if you are paying the minimum monthly amount of ¥5,705, you'll easily spend more money than you save. An additional 3 month, for 15 in total can be had by bringing a friend or family member with you to SBM.


  1. Techniker TechnologeOctober 10, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    it is kinda funny 'though, that one of the most expensive mobile phones (in the States & Europe), is kind of a bargain in Japan amongst other offers, especially from domestic makers. Of course price/value is an issue of individual perception (no one in the west would complain about the lack of a dedicated i-mode browser), but still...

  2. Thank you for the good comparison. I made an order for a 32GB iPhone at my local au shop and hope I will be able to get it on the 14th.

    Do you have any information if au can fill the orders in time? I went there on the 8th, and there was a small queue so it looks like the demand is high.

  3. あらっ、This post mistakenly didn't take account the ¥1,920 monthly discount from SBM on the handset cost. Fixed that - AU and SBM handset prices are almost identical.

  4. When you upgrade from a 3G/3GS, you pay the cost of both, but they will subtract the cost of the 3G/3GS from your 'basic usage fee' and 'transmission fee', etc. as 'cash back'. It can wipe out your remaining device payments on the 3G/3GS if you make a reasonable amount of calls and should at least recover the monthly cost of the White plan from what I can tell (although it is admittedly unclear exactly how much will be covered). Unused portions of the 'cash back' will also carry over to the following month. At the minimum you would still be paying the monthly device cost for both devices, as the discount is not effective against those charges.

  5. Wow.

    That is a level of detail I haven't seen in the description of the iPhone deal, which I admittedly don't really understand. Where did you read all this?

  6. It's from the fine print of the campaign page.

    As I alluded to, it would be good to get a clear understanding of exactly which costs would not be coverable by the the cash back. They list the handset costs themselves, contract cancellation fees, and World Keitai calls as examples of things that wouldn't be covered.

  7. I'll check it out - I was going off the press release. I'll probably need to make a new post called "deciphering Softbank iPhone 4 campaign."

  8. Don't forget that current Softbank iPhone 3G and 3GS users get a 6000 yen cash back if their old devices is completely paid off, and they upgrade to an Softbank iPhone 4S.

    Also, this isn't Apple's first CDMA-2000 phone. That would be the Verizon iPhone 4 that was released in the US.

  9. Thanks.

    That's why I said "offerings" but point taken that it isn't their first try at CDMA. Basically, I was just trying to point out that Apple has much more experience with GSM, and no experience with using both in the same device.

    I haven't had a chance yet to get more fully into SBM's offers. I have just read the press release so far. I'll need to spend more time to decipher the whole thing because it is exceedingly complex, even for a Japanese carrier.

  10. Hello! Sorry I'm not sure about the hardware bit. Does it mean that if I get a softbank iphone 4s, I can probably take it back overseas and use it but not if I get an au iphone 4s? Do you know to go about unlocking the softbank iphone?

  11. Oh yes, this is what I've been waiting for. Thanks for the help! I hope you will post exciting imformation more.