Tuesday, April 19, 2011

B-mobile IDEOS is a good deal


I finally had the occasion to sit down with the IDEOS I purchased from b-mobile, and I am impressed. Reviews of this handset, which is the U8150, can be found all over the web, so I am not going to focus so much on the specs. Suffice it to say, it is nothing fancy. The most noticeable downside is the relatively small and low resolution screen (2.8 inches, 240 x 320 pixels). Screenshots below are full pixel dimensions. (The bottom of this post show a comparison to the N1 and Magic).

However, for ¥25,000 (no contract or service agreement required) you get a SIM lock free handset that will work on every W-CDMA carrier in the world (as far as I can tell) and creates proper wifi networks (not ad hoc, so you can tether another android device).

Here's a list, in no particular order, of what I like about it.
  • Reasonably priced handset
  • IP phone for less than ¥500 per month for 15 min free (additional at ¥10 per 30s), which is reasonably priced for Japan
  • ¥300 kpbs data and voice for 3000 per month (prepaid data for one year)
  • integrates well with B-mobile's SIM cards
    • Both network time and location work
    • The data icon displays, either "3G" or "H"
  • Creates proper wifi hotspots
  • Can run Angry Birds, albeit slightly laggy. (out performs overclocked HTC Magic with additional RAM.)
  • SIM lock Free
  • HSDPA/WCDMA 850/1700/1900/2100 MHz
  • Can be used with Docomo's high speed FOMA (for in excess of ¥10,000 per month in data)
  • Android 2.2
It's been pointed out that there cheaper versions available overseas, but these won't have the certification mark and are technically not legal for use in Japan. Also, they won't be able to use the IP phone service and I wouldn't be surprised if they have issues with 3G icon and network time/location, like every other Android I've seen.




Monday, April 18, 2011

BlueSIP Japanese IP phone for Android and iOS

The comments over at my post on B-mobile's Fair SIM have slid over towards IP phones, which is a topic I'd like to address more fully in the future.

Over lunch, I did a bit of googling and ran into a new service just started this month, BlueSIP, which offers a 050 phone number. New service is ¥525 to start. Monthly cost is ¥630 per month plus the ¥7.35 universal service fee. Calls are ¥21 per minute to all domestic phones (IP, landline, cellular) and to major countries. There is no discount for calling other BlueSIP numbers.

From what I understand from this IT Media article, it is relying on JCI's (B-mobile) VoIP service. B-mobile does offer IP phone service, but it is so far restricted to the IDEOS. BlueSIP is offering B-mobile U300 SIMs at a 5% discount, so you're looking at a cost of around ¥3500 or so per month for a 300 kbps data connection and an IP phone.

This would not be a good idea to use with a B-mobile Fair SIM because you'd be eating into your limited bandwidth and paying for calls. Docomo flat rate data plans prohibit VoIP, including skype, though I don't know if it would technically work if you tried it. (Docomo blocks UDP ports 2427, 2727, 4661 - 4665, 4672, 4673, 4711, 5060, 5061, 5662, 5773, 5783, 6085, and 6257 with their flat rate data plans for tablets, routers, etc., though I am not sure if they do the same with the unlimited packet plans for phones.)

The service requires downloading an app for making calls. The voice is not routed as traditional voice would be, so you can't use a bluetooth handset. They have confirmed it working on the following handsets:
  • Xperia arc (SO-01C)
  • SAMSUNG Galaxy S (SC-02B)
  • HTC Desire
  • HTC HT-03A (above Android 1.6)
  • HTC Nexus One
  • Huawei IDEOS
  • Camangi FM600 Tablet
  • iPhone OS 3.2 +
This can be used outside of Japan for no extra costs.

Friday, April 15, 2011

B-mobile "Fair" SIM data price is half Docomo's - for me

EDIT: added a new label, "Fair data cap" for all posts about testing the B-mobile Fair SIM.

Cell phone service in Japan is expensive. I have spent approximately ¥100,000 for unlimited data over the 17 billing cycles that I've owned an android handset.

However I don't need an unlimited plan given my personal usage. Until now though, the only economical way of using mobile data on a smartphone was an unlimited plan, which costs in the area of 5000 to 6000 yen per month depending on contracts, carriers, and discounts. This is because per-packet charges add up quickly, topping ¥100,000 in just one month.

I've been testing a prepaid b-mobile Fair SIM over the past few days. This SIM is officially on sale today. (See below for a quick review.) It is a data-only SIM that comes with 1000 MB of data for ¥9800 initially and ¥8350 for each 1000 MB thereafter. While the price per gigabyte is high compared to other countries, it is valid for 4 months, bringing the minimum monthly cost to about ¥2000 per month if you average only 250 MB bandwidth usage per month.

Hypothetically, if I had purchased a b-mobile Fair SIM 17 months ago, and only used 250 MB each month, three additional charges (every four months) would have been required, costing me ¥34,850, which is about one third of the total cost that I actually paid to Docomo from November 2009 to March 2011. I would have just charged the SIM at the beginning of this month, which would have me covered until August 2011. That is nearly two years of data service for ¥43,200.

But is this scenario realistic? For me, close but not quite.

I tallied my actual usage over the past 17 months, I consumed a total of forty-three million, six-hundred thirty-seven-thousand, and one-hundred fifty-one packets. (43,637,151), or in human-readable output, 5.2 gigabytes (To put this into perspective, 5 GB is the amount allowed in one month for Docomo's Xi LTE data service, without incurring additional charges.)

I primarily use Google maps, train schedule apps like jorudan, an RSS reader, and Gmail. I don't download podcasts over 3G, nor do I watch youtube or use VoIP. I do tether to my notebook but certainly not every day and not for extended sessions.

My usage is shown in the graph below. The blue is my monthly usage in gigabytes, and the green is the cumulative usage in megabytes, with points plotted every 4 months or 1000 MB, whichever comes first.


For the first eight months, I would have not used the full charge. In fact, over the first four months, I only consumed 551 MB, half of the allotted bandwidth. I used 967 MB over the next four month period. My subsequent data consumption was significantly higher and would have required a charge every two to three months. Over the 17 month period covered in these bills, I would have paid a total of ¥51,550. However, in reality I paid ¥101,745 to Docomo (17 months at ¥5985).


Voice Not Currently Included

As currently available, this would have required carrying around two devices, one for voice and one for data. At this point in time, I have no information regarding what other services with which this data SIM could be bundled. B-Mobile offers both traditional voice (talkingSIM) and a 050 IP phone service (Mobile IP Phone), though the latter is limited to only the IDEOS currently. It would be good to see this "Fair" SIM bundled with either or both of the above voice options.

The zero-five-zero IP phone would probably be the least expensive for consumers but would likely be more challenging to properly implement given the five versions of Android currently in the wild, not to mention all the carrier/maker-specific firmware builds. A traditional voice option would be easier to implement and also fix some of those niggles we see on Android, but it would likely come with relatively higher service fees.

B-Mobile FAIR SIM Performance

The SIM is just as fast as a normal Docomo SIM. In fact it is identical in outward appearance. I have used it flawlessly with skype over a 10 minute phone call. There are no filters, so I can use non-docomo handsets. The relatively slow uplink is because Docomo has suspended hi-speed uplink (HSUPA) in Kanto and Tohoku following the March 11 quake and tsunami


However it lacks a circuit switch component which causes some issues with Android firmware. First off, HTC handsets running 1.6 are incompatible. Next, the 3G icon does not display. On my ht-03a (HTC Magic) running Android 2.2, not only is no 3G icon displayed, the signal strength indicator has no signal (an "X"). On Android 2.3 and the Nexus One, the signal strength icon works as expected, as can be seen in the above and below screenshots (Gingerbread displays a green signal icons when connected to Google servers). When starting up a new browser session, the native browser throws up an alert saying there is no internet connection when there actually is, and as you can see below, the page is loading just fine.


As far as lack of features, I am not sure if this is just an issue with Android, or with HTC, or with the SIM as provided by Docomo, but I cannot use network based location and time information.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Will be testing a B-Mobile Fair SIM


The B-Mobile Fair goes on sale Friday 4/15/2011. Details here and the product page here (Japanese). If anyone has any specific questions about performance, please let me know in the comments section or via twitter and I'll include it in the testing. While in the Kanto region, I won't be able to test the upload speed to full capacity because Docomo has suspended high speed uploads following the earthquake, as you can see below. The downlink was in excess of 2 Mbps, but the upload is currently capped at standard speed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

MVNO RStream's first product is not compelling

ADDITIONAL COMMENT: It has been pointed out to me that the fact that R-stream brought in their own handset is not only very significant and costly (certification, etc.), but something that would have been unheard of a few years ago. Here's to hoping that they can bring down the cost of future products.

EDIT: added screenshot from B-mobile IDEOS for comparison of tethering options. Also displayed images at original pixel dimensions.


The other day I introduced RStream, an MVNO offering unlimited data and voice (through a "050" IP phone) using Docomo's FOMA network and an Android handset, the Muchtel A1, aka the "RStreamA1." Now that I have more information, the price of monthly service is compelling, with the cost of voice calls being significantly cheaper than B-Mobile's IP phone service, but the entire package is not. At least not in its current form. My reasons for this are listed below, but it boils down to 1) high handset price, 2) lack of clear information, and 3) No built-in tethering support that results in 4) tethering for windows clients only.

Here's to hoping these can be resolved for the sake of consumers in Japan.

First, the fact that data speed is indeed a symmetrical 300 kbps (Thanks Sam) is not included on their website. At least I couldn't find it. I looked but ended up clicking in circles while searching for basic information. I much prefer the clear style of B-Mobile's website, but of course this could simply be personal opinion because I much prefer an interface like this as opposed to something like this. I also prefer the fact that B-Mobile advertises loud and clear that their U300 SIM is limited to 300 kbps.


Next, like B-Mobile, the "zero-five-zero" IP phone requires the use of the RStream's exclusive low-end handset. However the price of the handset is **RIDICULOUSLY** expensive: ¥54,800 with a one year contract for the yearly plan (年間特別プラン), ¥64,800 with no yearly contract but signing up for the standard plan (通常プラン), or ¥79,800 for just the handset!

It is running Android 2.1 Eclair (with no guaranteed update), meaning no wifi tethering, and is equipped with an aging ARM v6 processor that will might struggle with skype and but probably not as much with angry birds and is incompatible with the Flash binaries released by Adobe. On top of this, while the handset is unlocked, no definitive information is available about what frequency bands are supported.

Compare this to the cost of an unlocked Huawei IDEOS that supports enough frequencies to work will all W-CDMA carriers globally (as far as I can tell) and ships with Android 2.2 Froyo with built-in wifi hotspot support. It is available from B-Mobile for about ¥25,000 with no contract and no service plan, or from EMobile for about ¥20,000 with no contract but requiring signing up for a service plan (that can be immediately cancelled). The RStreamA1 does indeed trump the IDEOS spec-wise with a more advanced chipset and larger, higher resolution screen. But nearly eight man for an ARM v6? Maybe for a v7 "snapdragon," when they first hit the market, over a year ago. Certainly not for a v6 chipset and certainly not now.

The MIC enacted guidelines in 2007 for carriers to clearly separate handset and service costs. I don't know how MVNOs are considered because I am unfamiliar with MVNO guidelines. Assuming that each MVNO incurs identical costs to Docomo, the differences I'm seeing in pricing are interesting.

I spoke with an RStream rep at Yodobashi Akiba, but he was unable to answer the question regarding supported frequencies, though he did indicate that it probably does not support the 800 MHz FOMA Plus Area. This is consistent with the product page [Chinese] that indicates WCDMA/HSPA: 850/1900/2100 MHz. However, handsets for different markets ship with different radios, so lacking specific information in Japanese for the Japanese market, I am obliged to guess conservatively and assume that it only supports UTMS 2100. Worst case is no support at all in the US. Best case is support for AT&T but not T-Mobile (or if regulators approve, half-@$$ed support for T&A - sorry, couldn't resist).

The rep was also only able to say that updating was under consideration, which brings up another issue: the lack not only of wifi tethering but also of  built-in USB tethering, which has been included in cyanogen mod since version 4.2.3 based on Android 1.6 Donut (changelog). The rep actually didn't realize the missing support for USB tethering until I showed him Froyo on my ht-03a and Gingerbread on the N1. He consulted the books and discovered that enabling tethering via USB requires software to be installed on the client PC and the software is Windows only. For me, if none of the above was a deal-breaker, this last bit is.

All images below are at unaltered pixel resolutions.

Tethering options in stock Gingerbread on Nexus One.


And in US T-Mobile's Froyo release.


B-Mobile IDEOS screenshot


Monday, April 11, 2011

Tethering from an Android Phone to a WIFI only Android Tablet

*Update*

I found a great link here that shows how to tether the Xoom over Bluetooth


Yesterday I just picked up a WIFI Xoom from AU for 65,100円 I was planning on just using my house WIFI and my phones data connection but started to run into problems right away.

Interesting note for those of you who are thinking about buying WIFI only tablets and tethering. Android is not able to connect to ADHOC wireless networks for some reason. The pocket WIFI devices use infrastructure mode so it is not a problem. The WIFI analyzer apps can see the adhoc networks but the built in WIFI application will not show them. One wonders if this is not by design ... don't be evil Google remember?

Apparently this bug is a few years old
http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=82

On most phones when you are tethering it the connection is a adhoc connection since most phones do not support the wireless card to be in "Master Mode" (Same for most laptop wireless cards too). On my Xoom I could not even see the wireless tether connection from my phone.

After spending a long time trying to figure out how to share my laptop wired connection over wireless to my Xoom I found I was doomed from the start since my wireless card does not support "Master Mode"

What I ultimately ended up doing is just using bluetooth to tether my Xoom to my phone. It actually works pretty nicely I wonder if it will be any better or worse on my phones already feeble battery life.

In honeycomb once I paired my phone with the Xoom with "Wireless Tether for Root" with the Bluetooth tethering options enabled it gave me the option to tether right from the Bluetooth menu. I didn't try doing the PAN from my laptop since I don't have Bluetooth on it.




Full review to follow when I have more time to get used to the Xoom ...

Docomo access point names (APN)

Updated 5/2013 with reformatting.

Never change the APN of a Docomo branded FOMA phone because it will cost you money - I have the bills to prove it.

FOMA (3G) APNs

Standard FOMA (3G) APNs for phones
Name APN MCC MNC Usage Comments
Mopera U (Biz ・ ホーダイ) mpr2.bizho.net 440 10 Docomo-branded smartphones  restricted to Docomo IMEI numbers
SPモード spmode.ne.jp 440 10 Docomo-branded smartphones SP mode (E) subscribers use this APN (extra monthly cost; provides @docomo.ne.jp address); restricted to Docomo IMEI numbers

Special APNs for FOMA (NEVER USES THESE UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING)
Mopera mopera.net 440 10 Tethering, unbranded, unlocked smartphones (iPhone)  Costs ¥8,190/month (reduced cost) with no IMEI restrictions. No additional costs with Xi SIMs.
Mopera U 初期設定 0120.mopera.ne.jp 440 10 pay-as-you-go packets Never use this outside of setting a new Docomo-branded device in the shop
? mopera.flat.foma.ne.jp 440 10 Data only tablets, routers, etc. Costs less than 6000 yen/month.
? mpr.ex-pkt.net 440 10 128 kbps limited APN Why would anyone pay for this?

Xi (LTE) APNs

Name APN MCC MNC Usage Comments
Mopera  mopera.net 440 10 Xi APN No IMEI restrictions; Use with unlocked phones; has some ports commonly associated with malware closed.
Open Mopera open.mopera.net 440 10 Xi APN No (additional) port restrictions (Best for unlocked, non Docomo phones
Open Mopera spmode.ne.jp 440 10 Standard Xi APN sp-mode APN (IME restricted to Docomo phones)

MVNO APNs

This list is very incomplete. Reference your MVNO details for the correct APN.
Other APNs
JCI APN*** dm.jplat.net 440 10 APN used service is through an MVNO APN if MVNO's MVNE is JCI. [that sentence has more acronyms than full words...]

JCI usernames and passwords (freely available)
SIM typeUsernamePasswordComments
bmobile U300 / talkingU300 / microU300bmobile@U300bmobileLink to fullsize and micro SIM settings and supported handsets
bmobile Fairbmobile@frbmobileSmartphone settings page; I have also used bmobile@sw
bmobile plantinum talking micro and fullsize; platinum microbmobile@iosbmLink to fullsize and micro talking SIM settings and supported handsets; data only micro SIM link
bmobile Aeon SIMsbmobile@aeonbmobileAll SIMs use the same APN
Rstreamrs@r-phone.jprsHandset manual (PDF J, see p. 43)

Data speed comparison between Docomo and Softbank

I found on Nikkei Trendy a comparison of prices and speeds for iPhones on Docomo and Softbank. This will also apply to Android handsets. The results can be summed up in one word: "twice." In Tokyo, downlink speeds were typically twice as fast with Docomo, but the cost of service is twice as expensive.

However, in the Shonan area, along the Tokaido Line, the difference was much less. For most people, it will be difficult to justify the price of service with Docomo. It could make sense for people suffering network congestion issues in urban areas or no service in rural ares, since both the iPhone 4 and 3GS are compatible with the 800 MHz FOMA Plus Area. For everyone in between, there doesn't seem to be any compelling reason to switch, especially since you'll lose some functionality like visual voicemail, MMS, and carrier mail, as well as potentially experience less accurate cell tower location information.

First, a comparison of costs and features. The article did not properly compare uplink speeds because they compared a 3GS to an iPhone 4. The former lacks HSUPA and is limited to 384 kbps, while the latter if used on Docomo would have a theoretical maximum uplink of 5.7 Mbps (in Tokyo and other limited areas) [NOTE: 5.7 Mbps uploads are currently suspended in Kanto-Tohoku]. It seems the reason for this was the relatively lower cost of an iPhone 3GS.

Softbank NTT Docomo JCI B-Mobile
Handset Locked iPhone 4 Unlocked iPhone 3GS Unlocked iPhone 3GS Unlocked iPhone 3GS
Voice PlanWhite Plan (i) Type SS - LL value NonetalkingSIM
Data PlanUnlimited Packet Flat Packet Houdai Double Flat Data Plan
Expected Monthly Cost*¥5705 ¥11690 ¥6510 ¥3960
Data Speed**Down: 7.2 Mbps (HSDPA) UP: 1.4 Mbps (HSUPA) Down: 7.2 Mbps (HSDPA) Up: 384 Kbps Down: 7.2 Mbps (HSDPA) UP: 384 Kbps 300 Kbps symmetrical
Voice Capable×
Visual Voice Mail×××
SMS
MMS×××
Carrier Email×××
Tethering×
* Lowest price for voice plus flat rate data and standard options
** Difference in uplink speed is due to different hardware used in the test. Docomo max uplink is 5.7 Mbps.

The article also used the speedtest.net app to compare speeds in several areas around Tokyo and found in general better penetration underground and differences in crowded areas or on moving trains, especially during peak times. (Softbank is well known to have bandwidth issues during peak hours). It should be noted that, even though there were large gaps in performance, these were often not perceptible. Indeed, there will be no difference when receiving a text email with an uplink of ~ 300 Kbps versus ~ 750. Uploading a 5 megapixel image from Shibuya crossing at 1 pm would be frustrating, though.

Softbank NTT Docomo
iPhone 4 Unlocked iPhone 3GS
LocationDownlink Uplink Downlink Uplink
Shinjuku Station
(weekday 6 am)
2501 1231 3535 356
Shinjuku Station
(weekday 7 pm)
287 231 768 114
Shibuya
(weekday 1 pm)
25 1119 919 202
Shimbashi
(Sunday 8 pm)
701 236 1443 322
Tokyo - Shinjuku
(Weekday 6 pm)
78 47 597 187
Shinjuku - Shinagawa
(weekday 6 am)
2602 1253 3150 320
Bandwidth in Kbps. Speed is the average of 5 successful tests using the speedtest.net app.

Outside of Tokyo is a different story altogether. There were very little differences, and at times Softbank was faster. Below are the results of testing on the platforms of different Tokaido Line stations. Each test was performed only once.

Softbank NTT Docomo
iPhone 4 Unlocked iPhone 3GS
LocationDownlink Uplink Downlink Uplink
Shinagawa (16:00)1369 1218 1461 302
Yokohama (16:20)1046 957 1832 351
Fujisawa (16:40)2040 1100 2115 355
Hiratsuka(16:53)2150 265 1771 316
Odawara (17:18)2363 262 2115 322
Atami (17:49)2339 234 1642 319

Thursday, April 7, 2011

B-Mobile Fair data-only SIM details


Details are up at B-Mobile for the Fair 1 GB SIM product. Unfortunately, this is currently data only, so it would be good for an unlocked tablet, but not a phone. (B-Mobile does offer a VOIP 050 service, but it is only available for the IDEOS.) There is also no microSIM. For HTC Android 1.6 firmware, this product is not listed as compatible, so ht-03a users will need to root their devices and up/downgrade to 1.5 or 2.2.

Price is ¥9800 for 1 GB that can be used over 4 months. 8,350 per GB additional. A credit card will be required for charging. No details whether the SIM can be purchased C.O.D. to a courier.

If the SIM is not used for 2 months after the initial charge runs out, it cannot be recharged and a new one must be purchased. Charging can be done though the B-Mobile website or with the android app bCharge.


B-Mobile recommends the Auto Airplane Mode app to use the charge sparingly. Though of course you will get no push notifications when using this. When used an in iPhone 3Gs, there is no way to automatically stop background data usage when the phone is asleep, according to B-Mobile. Another way would be to connect to wifi as often as possible. Based on my data usage, if I relied solely on wifi at home and work, I would not use 1 GB in 4 months, bringing my data bill down to 2000 yen per month.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Japanese MVNOs to the rescue with reasonably priced data plans

Just when everyone got all excited about unlocked phones and ala carte SIM cards, only to be let down when Docomo decided to charge an absolutely absurd amount of money for data plans, here come some options from two MVNOs, RStream and B-Mobile. The irony of both these services is that they are using none other than Docomo's FOMA network.

It really does seem like Docomo rammed through SIM unlocking to get at the iPhone, but now that they got what they wanted, they have absolutely no clue what to do with it. Here's a hint if Yamada-san is reading: offer a pay-as-you-go data plan - several GB for several thousand yen a month. The lack of the non-tethering list, for phones that are eligible for the reasonable flat rate, is evidence that there really is no such thing as an unlocked handset that can't tether. I could have told them that months ago.

Hopefully they're taking notes from B-Mobile, who announced a plan today would have me spending about 2000 yen on data each month. If not, as I was just discussing, we really do need dual SIM handsets; one SIM for the family voice plan and one for a data plan through an MVNO.

****

Unlimited FOMA data plans coming from MVNO RStream for 4980 yen/month

These plans will be sold exclusively through Yodobashi Camera's stores in Akihabara, Shinjuku, Yokohama, and Osaka Umeda. I'm still fuzzy on the details, but RStream will be selling a physical android handset called the "RstreamA", as well as a data plan called "R-sky". Instead of cellular voice service, all calls will be through VOIP using RStream's IP phone service called "R-Phone". Confused yet?

The handset will have a 050 VOIP number, which means that it could be more expensive to call than a standard prefix like Tokyo's 03. Last I checked many overseas carriers bill 050 numbers at the same rate that bill 090 or 080 cell phones.

Being VOIP, when data is down so is your voice service, but on the flip side, when the lines are jammed, like after the quake, your 050 number will likely still work. Many of you surely noticed that sending email from your phone went though fine and surfing the net was not problem after the quake, but calling was impossible. Also, both my US and Japanese IP phones, which are both on NTT Flets, worked fine during this time.)

Two plans have been announced
  • 年間特別プラン Yearly special plan: ¥4,680/month (includes unlimited data) + ¥700 worth of free calls*
  • スタンダードプラン Standard plan: ¥4,980/month (includes unlimited data) + 180 minutes free calls**
* applied to calls to other R-Phone numbers, domestic land lines, and domestic cell phones
** limited to other R-Phone numbers and domestic land lines. After 180 minutes, ¥16/120 seconds. Cell phones ¥14/40 seconds. (These are advertised as ¥8 and ¥18, but it seems like you'll be billed in ¥16 and ¥12 chunks.) Calls placed over wifi will be charged the above rates.

According to the FAQ, unlocked handsets can be brought and used but performance is not guaranteed. (Q: 他社の端末を持ち込んでの回線契約は可能ですか?A: 可能ではありますが、持ち込まれた端末の動作保証は致しかねます。) I have no idea how this VOIP software would be integrated in this case.

The Handset:
  • Price unknown (on sale at Amazon for 60,000 yen, which is way too much for the hardware!)
  • WCDMA/HSPA: 850/1900/2100 MHz (according to manufacturer but could have different radio for Japanese version)
  • Muchtel A1 designed by Foxconn.
  • Unlocked
  • Android 2.1 (originally released with 1.6)
  • Updates not guaranteed (being studies - バージョンアップにつきましては検討しております。)
  • 3.2" 320x480 capacitive touch screen 
  • Bluetooth 2.0+EDR but not compatible with the VOIP service (弊社提供のSIMカード及びR-Phone(VoIP)ではBluetoothはご利用できません。)
  • 1230mAh battery (on the small side)
  • Qualcomm MSM7227 600Mhz
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 512 MB ROM
  • 802.11 b/g
  • Micro SD slot
  • GPS
  • Accelerometer
  • 3.5 mm audio jack


In addition, there is this. The first half of this article I pulled directly from the Nikkei.
ヨドバシカメラは8日から東京の秋葉原と新宿、横浜、大阪・梅田の主力4店舗で、利用できる通信会社を限定する「SIMロック」がかかっていないスマートフォン(高機能携帯電話)など携帯端末向けの通信サービスの取り扱いを始める。パケット使い放題プランで月額4995円からと、NTTドコモの同様のパケット使い放題サービスに比べ約半額に抑えた。携帯端末と通信会社を自由に組み合わせたい消費者に売り込む。

通信ベン…

Not a full translation but the main points: Yodobashi Camera will offer data plans for mobile phones at its Akihabara, Shinjuku, Yokohama, and Osaka Umeda stores from the 8th. The flat rate plan will be unlimited and at ¥4995, half the price of what is being offered currently by NTT Docomo.

I found what appears to be the rest on 2channel.
通信ベンチャーのアールストリーム(大阪市)が提供する通信サービスの契約をヨドバシが代行する。契約の際にNTTドコモの回線を通じて他の通信会社を使えるようにする専用のSIMカードを無料で貸与する。アールストリームはドコモから携帯回線を借りて独自の通信サービスを展開する仮想移動体通信事業者(MVNO)。
Communications venture rstream (Osaka) is providing the service, which will be sold by Yodobashi. rstream is an MNVO using Docomo's network. Honestly, I really couldn't decipher what NTTドコモの回線を通じて他の通信会社を使えるようにする専用のSIMカード is supposed to mean. Either it is stating the obvious, that you can communicate with people on other carriers, or it is saying something that really doesn't make any technical sense to me - a special SIM that allows the use of another carrier through Docomo's FOMA network.

NEXT, B-Mobile is offering an unthrottled, pay as you go data service from 4/15.

From the B-Mobile press release (via Juggly君):
b-mobile Fairは、NTTドコモの3Gネットワークをフル活用することで、下り最大7.2Mbps、上り最大5.4Mbpsのネットワークを、1ギガバイト(GB)単位でご利用いただけるデータ通信専用SIMです。有効期限4ヶ月で1GBを利用できるb-mobile Fair 1GBを9,800円(税込、日本通信ネット販売価格)でご購入いただき、その後は1GBを8,350円でオンラインチャージして継続利用いただけます。
B-Mobile Fair (as in a fair price) is a pay as you go service that offers unrestricted access to NTT Docomo's 3G network with a best effort 7.2 Mbps/5.4 Mbps down/uplink. Price is ¥9800 for 1 GB that can be used over 4 months. 8,350 per GB additional.

I haven't updated this lately, but this is how much data I typically use, without using wifi.


With light tethering, I average about one third of a GB each month. I rarely use wifi in the interest of saving my battery, but if I did use wifi more often, I could easily go 4 months and not use 1 GB of data. 9800/4 = ¥2,450 per month for the first 4 months, with the price dropping to about ¥2000 per month with subsequent charges.

When I first saw this come across Juggly's site, my first reaction was that 9800 yen is ridiculous for 1 GB because I failed to notice that this can be used over 4 months. Charging the data plan can be done with the bCharge application to be installed from the Android Market. Unfortunately, there is yet no word on a TalkingSIM plan that includes this.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Trying to get an unlocked phone working on Docomo is a waste of time

UPDATE: A Shukan Ascii article sums up the issue:
“テザリング対応機種かどうか”は、ドコモが「今後発売のSIMフリー端末を検証してサイト上で公開する」(ドコモ広報部)とのこと。実際にユーザーがテザリングを利用したかどうかではない点には注意したい。ドコモが認定した機種以外は通常料金用のアクセスポイント(APN)に接続不可で、テザリング端末用料金になる。4月1日時点では、公開端末がないため、パケット代はどの機種でも10395円かかると考えてよい。
Docomo will publish on it's website at a later date which phones it determines are capable of tethering. It doesn't matter whether a user actually tethers. All other handsets will be prevented from accessing the mpr2.bizho.net APN and be automatically assessed a tethering fee (because they will use the mopera.net APN). As of 4/1/2011, there are no approved handsets, so all handsets will be charged 10,395 yen at the moment.

(You'd think that people who work at Docomo would have access to this information.)

/UPDATE

Docomo is now allowing unlocked phones to be brought and used with their unlimited data plans.

However, it would appear that procedural information has not been circulated to the people working at the call centers or at the shops. Basically, they know that Docomo is now allowing unlocked phones to be brought it and SIM cards to be purchased ala carte, but they don't have any idea of what they should do to make it work.

I tried to get an android handset working with the capped data plan yesterday, which requires connecting the phone to a specific access point (mpr2.bizho.net). This access point has been, as presumably still is, filtered by the phone's IMEI number such that only phones bought from Docomo can connect to it. This is common knowledge among readers of this blog, but is not advertised by Docomo. Many shop staff don't know this.

Last night, I spent an hour at a shop as a staff tried and failed to get the phone to connect to the mpr2 APN. I tried telling them it wasn't going to work, but that information fell on deaf ears. Finally, the staff connected the phone to the pay-as-you-go APN (0120.mopera.ne.jp).  I also tried to tell them that was going to cost me money, which it has, according to my online statement.

I spent another hour on the phone this morning with basically the same result. Since it is not their phone, they say that they don't know how to connect it. The problem is obvious, though: the IMEI number must be registered. Until someone at Docomo figures this out, there is no need to try and connect.

On top of this, they can't seem to figure out how much it will cost. The original press release indicated that any unlocked handset would be eligible for the capped data rate, which is less than 6000 yen per month, unless it was capable of tethering, then it would be charged around 10,000 yen per month.
他社のSIMロック解除端末をドコモSIMカードでご利用いただく際、各種料金プラン、割引サービスなどはドコモブランド端末をご利用されるときと同様の料金体系となります。

なお、総合プランをご契約の場合、他社のSIMロック解除端末がテザリング非対応であることなどをドコモで確認できた端末については、パケット定額サービスをご契約いただくことで、パケット通信料の上限額は5,460円3 もしくは5,985円4 となります。当該端末については、ドコモで上記の確認が取れた時点で、ドコモホームページにてお知らせします。その後、お客様が当該端末に指定のアクセスポイント(APN)を設定していただくことで、それ以降のパケット通信が上記パケット通信料の対象となります。その他の端末については、上限額10,395円となります。

また、定額データプランをご契約の場合は、テザリング対応可否にかかわらず、指定のアクセスポイント(APN)を設定していただくことで、ご利用料金の上限額は5,460円5 もしくは5,985円6 となります。
However, the above is not included in the official information, which is much more vague and simply says that the plan may cost about 10,000 yen:
各種料金プラン、割引サービスなどについては、ドコモブランド端末をご利用されるときと同様の料金体系でお申込みいただけます。なお、他社携帯電話機を利用した国内パケット通信にかかるパケット通信料については、以下のような取り扱いとなりますのでご注意ください。
  1. パケ・ホーダイ ダブル、パケ・ホーダイ シンプル、パケ・ホーダイ フラットまたはパケ・ホーダイ ダブル2をご契約の場合、他社携帯電話機のブラウザ機能をご利用になった通信であっても、ドコモのiモード通信・ iモードフルブラウザ通信・スマートフォン定額通信には該当せず、通信料金の上限額は、10,395円となる場合がございます。
  2. パケ・ホーダイ、パケ・ホーダイ フル、Biz・ホーダイをご契約の場合、上記と同様の理由から、定額通信の対象とはならず、従量課金となる場合がございますので、パケ・ホーダイダブル、パケ・ホーダイ シンプル、パケ・ホーダイ フラットまたはパケ・ホーダイ ダブル2への変更をお勧めします。
  3. 定額データプランをご契約の場合、定額対応アクセスポイントへ接続した通信に限り定額通信の対象となります。
    なお、VOIP、ファイル交換など一部ご利用いただけない場合があります。定額対応以外のアクセスポイントへ接続した通信は、定額通信の対象とはならず、従量課金となりますのでご注意ください。
But what I've encountered so far wouldn't even result in the price being capped at 10,395 yen because the staff tried to set the wrong APN. I know from an expensive experience that correct APN in this case would be mopera.net, not the 0120 APN.

Neither the shop's staff last night, or the smartphone call center this morning, could tell me how much I would be charged.

I understand that Docomo has more important things to be concentrating on right now, so don't even bother trying to get a handset working with Docomo's capped data plans for the time being.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Japanese carriers reduce fees for quake and tsunami victims

Each of the four carriers are taking steps to reduce fees for people affected by the quake and tsunami. At the very least, deadlines are being extended.

Softbank

Softbank Mobile is doing the following for all customers in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima, and for customers in affected areas of Aomori, Ibaraki, Naganao, Niigata, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures:
  1. One month billing extensions for February and March usage (March and April bills, respectively) for customers who pay in person at a Softbank shop.
  2. Reduced handset repair and replacement costs
  3. Providing loaner phones and chargers
Masa Son has also promised free phones and service for all children orphaned in the March 11 quake and resulting tsunami until they turn 18, regardless of their carrier. He also says he'll replace destroyed iPhones (via Serkan Toto)

Docomo

According to this press release, NTT Docomo is doing the following for people in affected areas of Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Aomori, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Chiba, Nagano, and Niigata until May 31, 2011 at Docomo Shops thoughout Japan.
  1. Billing extensions
    • March Bill (for February usage) deadline extended until May 2, 2011
    • April Bill (for March usage) deadline extended until May 31, 2011
  2. Reduced handset repair costs
  3. Free data recovery for water damaged handsets (Regular cost of ¥5,250)
  4. Up to ¥10,500 discount on new handsets
  5. Free replacement SIMs
AU

KDDI is doing the following for people in affected areas:
  1. Payment support
    • Customers of home services such as AU Hikari will have their bill reduced during times they were forced to evacuate
    • March Bill (for February usage) deadline extended for one month
  2. Reduced handset repair costs until 4/30/2011 at selected AU Shops in affected areas
  3. Providing loaner phones and chargers
Emobile

Emobile is doing the following:
  1. April Bill (for March usage) Voice and SMS fees are capped at ¥2,000 for all customers in Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Aomori, Ibaraki, Naganao, Niigata, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures
    • This includes the entire prefectures
    • This excludes basic service fee, packets fees, international calls, internatinal roaming, video phone fees, additional content fees, and optional services
  2. Reduced fees during the time a customer was without a handset due to loss or damage until 4/30/2011 for people in affected areas of Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Aomori, Ibaraki, Naganao, Niigata, Tochigi and Chiba
  3. Reduced fees for home ADSL service for people in affected areas of Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Aomori, Ibaraki, Naganao, Niigata, Tochigi and Chiba
    • Apply by 4/30/2011
    • Maximum of 2 months free (April and May bills for March and April usage, respectively).
  4. Providing loaner phones and chargers here