Wednesday, December 14, 2011

T-Mobile US's most expensive prepaid smartphone plan costs less than Japan's cheapest postpaid plan

On a recent visit to the US, I purchased a T-Mobile prepaid SIM card for use in my Nexus One. The entire process took less than 10 minutes, and I was quite satisfied with the service. I'd certainly use them again in the future.

However, most Japanese phones won't get 3G service because T-Mobile uses UTMS band IV (AWS), which splits uplink and downlink between bands roughly at 1700 and 2100 MHz. In Japan, Docomo and Softbank use 2100 for both, while Emobile uses only 1700. The only other US carrier that would potentially work with Japanese phones is AT&T, but they use 1900 MHz. (Nicholas thought his Galaxy S2 supported this frequency, but he is in the US right now, languishing on 2.5G EDGE.)

Prepaid Plans


Currently, T-Mobile offers both 1) monthly prepaid and 2) daily plans. I only needed service for about two weeks, so the daily plan was the best option. I got unlimited voice and SMS, and 200 MB of data per day for $3/day. Extrapolate over a month, and this would be $90, which is the most expensive way to get a month of service from T-Mobile. This converts to ¥7,200 (~ ¥80 to the dollar), which equates to the bare minimum charged by Japanese carriers. (The only way to pay less in Japan is to not use the phone at all.) The 200 MB would get around 6 GB/month of data, which is comparable to Xi's 7 GB.

To be fair, Japan's urban 3G coverage is excellent. In contrast, while in a major US city, my connection often fell back to EDGE, even though my phone is the T-Mobile version.

Item
Price
SIM card
$10
Refill
$30
Total
$40
Cost for 10 days of service with T-Mobile

There are, of course, some caveats. First off, the SIM card must be purchased for $10, though this is half of what Docomo charges (¥2,100). The SIM card expires after 90 days of inactivity and can't be subsequently refilled. Refills are purchased in $10 increments, which is why I only bought 10 days of service (for $30).

Unlimited* 4G*


In computing, an asterisk * is a wildcard that may stand for any character. To cell phone companies, it is a mathematical operator that changes the sign of the term it follows. For example, plus one (+1) becomes minus one (-1). Night becomes day. 4G becomes 3G, and unlimited becomes limited. This brings me to my only gripe with T-Mobile; their advertising is a disingenuous.

How do they get away with calling a 3G network 4G? There is a strict definition of 4G. Docomo's Xi LTE network is probably the world's fastest, but Docomo doesn't even call it 4G. Because it's not, not until it reaches a theoretical downlink of 100 Mbps. So Docomo calls is 3.9G.

This "4G" term is also used in the fine print on the unlimited* data plans, which is wrong in more ways than one.
First 5GB at up to 4G speed
A plan really isn't unlimited if data is throttled after exceeding a cap, and this statement makes it seem like you'll be reduced from 4G to 3G speed. In reality, 4G speeds don't exist, and after the cap, speeds are reduced to 2.5G EDGE speeds.

But these are really minor gripes, and I guess in the US, this type of advertising in to be expected. With every company doing, those who don't would be at a major disadvantage.


17 comments:

  1. Note that if you buy more credit with T-Mobile (e.g. $100) the account won't expire for a year. After that, you can just add another $10 and get another year. I've been doing it for years.

    Also -- how did you turn on / turn off the $3/Daily? I used the T-Mobile "My Account" app and that worked fine but wonder if I wasn't using Android how I might do it. I think there's some weird WAP site but I'm not sure.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Also -- when I got the SIM originally, I bought $100 in credit and negotiated (at the official T-Mobile shop) to waive the SIM card fee. So, my total was $100.

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  3. Good to know that I can keep credit to keep it active. Is there a link documenting that - and how much needs to be purchased?

    I didn't ever turn it off. I went to the store and activated a SIM, popped it in my nexus one, and the APN was automatically set (probably because it is in the apns-conf.xml file for CM7).

    I then just used it until the charge expired. Then I came back to Japan.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The UK is cheaper still .. Three UK has a pay as you go add on that gives you unlimited internet and 300Min for 15UKP about 23USD

    If you have a UK address to send the Sim card it's free however if you pick up the card in store it's an extra 3UKP

    ReplyDelete
  5. But that means you have to go to the UK... who wants to do that?


    J/K :)

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  6. If you didn't turn it off, then I'm pretty sure it just auto-renews each day and you burned through your credit at $3/day by now. My method is to use their App to turn it on/off when I arrive/leave (at airport) and since I originally bought $100 worth, I just make sure to buy at least $10 per year so it never expires.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I used up all the credit before I left. I was in the US for 11 days, but only bought a $30 refill. So on the 11th day it stopped working.

    Now I understand what you are saying, though. If I charge it for a small amount, I can let that amount rest on the SIM card.

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  8. I have a question:

    If I bought the Emobile version of the Huawei Honor (GS02), will I be able to use it on T-Mobile's HSPA network since it has both 1700 and 2100Mhz support?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Only if it's unlocked. Emobile's Huawei IDEOS was apparently sold unlocked. Easiest way to find out is to slip in a DCM or SBM SIM and see what happens.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've talked to at least 3 different Emobile reps-- 1 of whom is the Nakano store assistant manager, and a part time contract computer programmer (!) and I was told that it is Emobile's policy to sell ALL devices unlocked. They only care about data, and thinking about it a liitle, their operating spectrum along with the fact that all the other carriers here are stingy as hell about bringing unlocked devices onto their network, I'd gather they have nothing to worry about.

    My current setup has me using an unlocked Motorola Atrix on Softbank's network using my old iPhone plan (The iPhone broke for the 3rd time, and that time I was in that "no-zone" of the 1 yr warranty ending, but still having another year under contract; I didn't want to pay Apple Tax again) Now I want to get a tablet of some sort, but I don't want to have to pay for 2 data plans... With my unlocked Atrix, I can stick CM7 on it and do wi-fi tethering... But the speeds may be throttled (it's happened to me before) not to mention Emobile's plans clock in cheaper, even in the voice department now since they have a plan that allows for 300 10 minute phone calls for Y1560/mo now (on top of the data plan I'd get)

    That's great to me because I'm a single guy (no family plan), most people I call are on lots of different networks now, and looking through my phones logs over the past year, I've only had 8 calls that I've initiated that lasted longer than 10 minutes; and most of those were to 0120 numbers. As for the data, well I pay the max under the double white plan every month since I always use my Atrix in lapdock mode at work (They won't give part-time lecturers a laptop, and I'm not toting my MBP an hour each way on crowded Tokyo trains!) I don't mind laying out cash for the phone either-- I'd prefer to be able to change handsets when the next best thing happens...

    So my next set of questions are:
    -- is Emobile more reliable in coverage than they were back in 2008 when I used them last in your opinion? (I had a MiFi with them that rarely left my apartment in Nagoya at the time) I think they roam onto DoCoMo when you're outta range in the sticks. I can tell you that I have tested the speeds in the stores by tethering my phone to theirs and running a speedtest app. I consistantly get around 5~8mbps down and around 1~1.5 up, plenty for my mobile needs. Just on softbank alone I max out at 2mbps down/1 up.

    -- Do they sell loose SIMs (BYOP?)

    -- Is there another method you'd do this?

    THanx!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've talked to at least 3 different Emobile reps-- 1 of whom is the Nakano store assistant manager, and a part time contract computer programmer (!) and I was told that it is Emobile's policy to sell ALL devices unlocked. They only care about data, and thinking about it a liitle, their operating spectrum along with the fact that all the other carriers here are stingy as hell about bringing unlocked devices onto their network, I'd gather they have nothing to worry about.

    My current setup has me using an unlocked Motorola Atrix on Softbank's network using my old iPhone plan (The iPhone broke for the 3rd time, and that time I was in that "no-zone" of the 1 yr warranty ending, but still having another year under contract; I didn't want to pay Apple Tax again) Now I want to get a tablet of some sort, but I don't want to have to pay for 2 data plans... With my unlocked Atrix, I can stick CM7 on it and do wi-fi tethering... But the speeds may be throttled (it's happened to me before) not to mention Emobile's plans clock in cheaper, even in the voice department now since they have a plan that allows for 300 10 minute phone calls for Y1560/mo now (on top of the data plan I'd get)

    That's great to me because I'm a single guy (no family plan), most people I call are on lots of different networks now, and looking through my phones logs over the past year, I've only had 8 calls that I've initiated that lasted longer than 10 minutes; and most of those were to 0120 numbers. As for the data, well I pay the max under the double white plan every month since I always use my Atrix in lapdock mode at work (They won't give part-time lecturers a laptop, and I'm not toting my MBP an hour each way on crowded Tokyo trains!) I don't mind laying out cash for the phone either-- I'd prefer to be able to change handsets when the next best thing happens...

    So my next set of questions are:
    -- is Emobile more reliable in coverage than they were back in 2008 when I used them last in your opinion? (I had a MiFi with them that rarely left my apartment in Nagoya at the time) I think they roam onto DoCoMo when you're outta range in the sticks. I can tell you that I have tested the speeds in the stores by tethering my phone to theirs and running a speedtest app. I consistantly get around 5~8mbps down and around 1~1.5 up, plenty for my mobile needs. Just on softbank alone I max out at 2mbps down/1 up.

    -- Do they sell loose SIMs (BYOP?)

    -- Is there another method you'd do this?

    THanx!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Emobile gets the shit end of the stick, even from me. You'll often hear people talking about Japan's 3 carriers, when in actuality there are 4. If this was a professional blog, then I'd spend more time covering what emobile is up to. But since that's not the case, and since most of my reader's phones won't work on emobile (US TMo peeps aside), I haven't had much of a reason for spending the time to check out what they offer.

    So that's the long way to say "I don't know" in response to your questions :)

    A lot of folks around me use Docomo, and now that I'm rocking Xi's Talk 24 plan, I find myself taking on the phone like I'm in the US with those guys. Just the other day I was talking to Nicholas for like 15 minutes. Too bad for him that he was hungover as hell, though :)

    So, I'd do the bmobile Talking 1GB Flat rate if voice calls aren't' that important, Xi if you want to call Docomo people at all hours of the day/night and have 7 GB of data/month, or the Emobile 300@10 thing you mention.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This begs the question, why are there no HSPA pentaband phones that can support all bands?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Not an engineer, so only guessing... perhaps not practical given the needed size and efficiency of the radio?

    ReplyDelete
  15. I agree with your plan. If you want to know anything about Prepaid cards then you can get at Prepaid Cards

    ReplyDelete
  16. I wanted to know how to make cheap Unlimited Call to India from UK. Please suggest me something.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete