Thursday, June 30, 2011

Comparison of all b-mobile SIMs

This post is now considered archived. The new post is here.

This post was last updated on March 17, 2013.

Japan Communications Inc. (JCI) offers the popular line of b-mobile SIMs cards. JCI is an MVNO using Docomo's FOMA 3G network and their 4G LTE network (3.9G, actually). JCI is also the MVNE behind VoIP provider BlueSIP and MVNO Rstream. Depending on your usage and needs, the b-mobile SIMs can be much less expensive than Docomo for the same quality of service. All B-mobile SIMs allow tethering at no extra charge.

If possible, before purchasing I recommend trying out their SIMs, which can currently be done at the Yodobashi Akiba in Tokyo all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, as well as Monday PM. There are other MVNOs in Japan, but I find their products not as compelling as JCI's. The data-only SIMs provided by Docomo can cause issues, but there is a workaround for rooted phones.


Overview of b-mobile SIMs


FOMA 3G SIM cards


U300


This is a prepaid data-only SIM that is limited to a 300 kbps. The one month version is popular among temporarily visitors because it can be purchased with cash and doesn't require residency status. However, the one month version is not (that I've seen) available in retail stores, though I've seen them in various small corner shops in Akihabara. These SIMs can be shipped to a hotel address and paid for COD. I've also seen them available on Ebay (for twice the normal price). There are also six and twelve month versions and micro and full size versions. This SIM card is known to have high latency that can cause relatively long delays when opening new connections.
More Information.

U300 Visitor


This provides the same service as the U300, except that it comes preactivated and has better support for English speakers. The original is no longer available. This is valid for 14 days and includes a 1) "14-day" U300 option or a 2) 14-day 1GB Flat Rate. This can only be shipped to Domestic addresses and is purchased via a credit card.
More information.

U300 TalkingSIM


This is postpaid traditional cellular phone service with 300 kbps data. It supports mobile number portability (MNP), so an existing phone number can be transferred to this service. Japanese law limits cell phones to residents. There is no micro talkingSIM - only a platinum micro talking SIM.
More Information. This SIM can be converted to the 1GB Flat Rate Talking SIM. This has a 3-month contract.

Platinum


Platinum SIMs are for iOS devices only and provide 1.2 GB of data per month. Speed is unlimited for certain predetermined apps (See note below the table). Other applications and tethered devices are limited to 300 kbps. There are prepaid data-only SIMs available to non residents and postpaid platinum talkingSIMs. Micro and full size versions are available
More Information.

Fair


The Fair is a completely unrestricted prepaid data SIM that is charged in 1000 MB units that are valid for either 1) 120 days (4 months) or 2) 30 days (1 month).

Four Month FAIR

This is not designed for heavy data users but can be very economical for those who only need 250 MB per month (a quarter of the charge). Having reliable access to wifi during the day is helpful to ration the bandwidth over a four month period. This is an option for short term visitors who don't mind paying more excellent coverage and speed. I currently use a b-mobile Fair SIM and have a series of posts under the "Fair data cap" label. Fair Micro SIMs are also available

ADDITION: The point at which the four month Fair becomes more expensive than Docomo depends on if you are comparing to the flat or tiered plans, between which there is about a 500 yen difference. Assuming the cheaper of the two prices, about ¥5,500/month, using 658 MB per month with the Fair will be more expensive than using Docomo. (I have only ever used 650 MB in a month with Docomo.)

Comparison to Docomo:
¥8,350 / 1000MB = ¥8.35/MB / ¥5,500 = 658MB

Comparison to Aeon Plan C:
¥8,350 / 1000MB = ¥8.35/MB / ¥4,980 = 596MB

This means that the Fair is not a good deal for someone who uses 650MB with a Docomo branded phone. Compared to the Aeon Plan C SIM, the Fair is not a good deal if you use about 600 MB per month.
More Information. I've written extensively on my experiences using the Fair. All related posts here.

1 GB Flat rate

After the initial 1 GB charge is used or 120 days passes, the FAIR can be recharged for ¥3,100 for 1 GB that is valid for 30 days. Be aware that the when being charged as a 30-day 1 GB product, there is only 10 days to add an additional charge before the SIM card permanently deactivates. Going back to a 120 day charge reextends the validity period to the original.
More Information.

1 GB Flat Rate


1 GB Flat Rate SIMs cannot be converted to a FAIR (thought the reverse is true), and the SIM expires 10 days after the charge is used up. Cost is about ¥3,500, though they were recently spotted at Costco for just under ¥3,000. This gives 1000 MB per 30 days.
More Information.

TalkingFair/Talking 1 GB Flat Rate


This adds a voice plan and requires a 3 month contract, though the contract has better terms than other carriers because it doesn't automatically renew. Early cancelation fee is ¥10,500. A 1GB Flat Rate talkingSIM (30 day recharge plan) would cost ¥4,350 per month
More Information on the Talking Fair and here for more information on the talking 1 GB Flat Rate SIM. The U300 TalkingSIM can be converted to the 1GB Flat Rate Talking SIM.

Yodobashi Zero-yen


Available exclusively from Yodobashi Camera. These are postpaid SIMs that are best for people who split time between Japan and another country. Currently there are no voice plans, data-only. From 0 to 100 MB, charges are incurred at a per-byte rate (¥37.8/MB) to 100 MB. (Billing increment is a byte, not a megabyte.) From 100 MB, a flat rate of ¥3,780 is charged until 1 GB. There is no charge at all during a billing cycle if no data is used. However, after 6 months on zero usage, the SIM card expires.
More Information.

Aeon


Data-only

There are three versions of these data-only SIMs. All are postpaid and only available at Aeon retail stores (current list [J] as a google map). The 100 and 400 kbps versions are similar to the prepaid U300 in that streaming is not allowed. The "carrier speed" version allows streaming. B-mobile VoIP service is possible with each of these SIMs. (See the Note below the table). Micro SIMs are not available.
More Information.

Voice

There are now voice plans available. 1-year contract required. Other terms are the same as the data-only SIMs. The table below shows a matrix of how these plans can be mixed and matched.
More Information.

Total minimum monthly cost
Voice Plan S Voice Plan M Voice Plan L
1,290円 2,100円 3,675円
Data Plan A 980円 2,270円 3,080円 4,655円
Data Plan B 2,980円 4,270円 5,080円 6,655円
Data Plan C 4,980円 6,270円 7,080円 8,655円

"Sumaho" (smartphone) SIMs


The primary difference between this and the Aeon is that the "sumaho" SIM carries a lesser contract requirement of only 3-months with a ¥5,250 early cancellation fee, compared to the Aeon SIM's 1-year, ¥10,500 requirement. Similar voice and data options are available. These are billed as post-paid, monthly recurring. See here for more information.

スマホ電話SIM
Voice Plan SVoice Plan MVoice Plan L
¥1,290¥2,290¥3,710
150 kbps ¥980 ¥2,270 ¥3,270 ¥4,690
1GB Flat Rate Data Plan ¥1,980 ¥3,270 ¥4,270 ¥5,690
2GB Flat Rate Data Plan ¥2,980 ¥4,270 ¥5,270 ¥6,690

Comparison of 3G b-mobile SIMs


SIM
Cost
Voice (1)
Speed
Tethering Speed
Data limit
Stream
(2)
Billing
Residency required
Availability
Payment method
Initial fee
SIM size
Notes
U300 1 month
¥2,980
X
300 kbps
300 kbps
Unlimited
X
Prepaid
No
Internet only
COD/CC
¥0
regular
Easy! Activation
14-day Visitor
¥3,980
X
300 kbps
300 kbps
Unlimited
(14 days)
X
Prepaid
No
Internet only
CC
¥0
regular
micro
Preactivated, English
1 GB Visitor
¥3,980
X
7.2/5.7 Mbps
7.2/5.7 Mbps
1000MB/14 days
O
Prepaid
No
Internet only
CC
¥0
regular
micro
Preactivated, English
U300 6 month
¥14,900 (¥2,483/month)
X
300 kbps
300 kbps
Unlimited
X
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
COD/CC/cash
¥0
regular
Easy! Activation
U300 12 month
¥29,800
(¥2,483/month)
X
300 kbps
300 kbps
Unlimited
X
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
COD/CC/cash
¥0
regular
Easy! Activation
Not recommended
Talking U300
¥3,960 (25 minutes)
O
300 kbps
300 kbps
Unlimited
X
Postpaid
3 month contract
Yes
Internet / retail
CC
¥3,150
regular
¥21/30sec
activation at purchase
Fair
¥8,350/1000 MB (min. ¥2,087/month)
X
7.2/5.7 Mbps
7.2/5.7 Mbps
1000 MB/120 days
O
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
CC/cash
¥1,450
regular
micro
Easy! Activation
Talking Fair
¥8,350/1000 MB + ¥1,290 for 32.5 minutes (min. ¥3,400/month)
O
7.2/5.7 Mbps
7.2/5.7 Mbps
1000 MB/120 days
O
Prepaid data/postpaid voice 3 month contract
Yes
Internet / retail
CC
¥4,600
regular
micro
¥21/30sec
activation at purchase
1 GB Flat Rate
¥3,100
X
7.2/5.7 Mbps
7.2/5.7 Mbps
1000 MB/30 days
O
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
CC/cash
¥380
regular
micro
Easy! Activation
Talking 1GB
Flat Rate
¥3,100/month + ¥1,290 for 32.5 minutes (¥4,390/month)
O
7.2/5.7 Mbps
7.2/5.7 Mbps
1000 MB/30 days
O
Prepaid data/postpaid voice 3 month contract
Yes
Internet / retail
CC
¥3,530
regular
micro
¥21/30sec
activation at purchase
Yodobashi Zero Yen
¥3,780 (¥37.8/MB to 100 MB)
X
"Carrier speed"
"Carrier speed"
1000 MB/30 days
O
Postpaid
Yes
Internet / retail
CC
¥3,150
regular
micro
Cancelled after
6 months no usage
online regisration
Aeon Data Plan A
¥980
X
100 kbps
100 kbps
Unlimited
X (3)
Postpaid
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
activation at purchase
Aeon Data Plan B
¥2,980
X
400 kbps
400 kbps
Unlimited
X (3)
Postpaid
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
activation at purchase
Aeon Data Plan C
¥4,980
X
"Carrier speed"(4)
"Carrier speed"
1.2 GB/month
O
Postpaid
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
activation at purchase
Aeon Voice Plan S
¥1,290
O
N/A
N/A
32.5 minutes
N/A
Postpaid
1-year contract
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
¥21/30sec
activation at purchase
Aeon Voice Plan M
¥2,100
O
N/A
N/A
75 minutes
N/A
Postpaid
1-year contract
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
¥18.9/30sec
activation at purchase
Aeon Voice Plan L
¥3,675
O
N/A
N/A
~178 minutes
N/A
Postpaid
1-year contract
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
¥14.7/30sec
activation at purchase
Sumaho 980
¥980
X

150 kbps

150 kbps
Unlimited
X (3)
Postpaid
3-month contract
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
Online activation
Sumaho 1980
¥1,980
X

"Carrier speed"

"Carrier speed"

1GB/month

O
Postpaid
3-month contract
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
Online activation
Sumaho 2980
¥2,980
X
"Carrier speed"(4)
"Carrier speed"

2GB/month
O
Postpaid
3-month contract
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
Online activation
Sumaho Voice Plan S
¥1,290
O
N/A
N/A
32.5 minutes
N/A
Postpaid
3-month contract
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
¥21/30sec
in store activation
Sumaho Voice Plan M
¥2,290
O
N/A
N/A
75 minutes
N/A
Postpaid
3-month contract
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
¥18.9/30sec
in store activation
Sumaho Voice Plan L

¥3,710
O
N/A
N/A
~178 minutes
N/A
Postpaid
3-month contract
Yes
Retail only
CC
¥3,150
regular
¥14.7/30sec
in store activation
Talking b-micro SIM platnium (5)
¥6,260
O
"Carrier speed"
300 kbps
1.2 GB/month
O (5)
Postpaid
Yes
Internet / retail
CC
¥3,150
micro
iOS
activation at purchase
b-microSIM platinum 1 month
¥5,280
X
"Carrier speed"
300 kbps
1.2 GB/month
O
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
COD/CC/cash
¥0
micro
iOS
Easy! Activation
b-microSIM platinum 6 month
¥29,880 (¥4980/month)
X
"Carrier speed"
300 kbps
1.2 GB/month
O
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
COD/CC/cash
¥0
micro
iOS
Easy! Activation
b-microSIM platinum 12 month
¥56,160 (¥4,680/month)
X
"Carrier speed"
300 kbps
1.2 GB/month
O
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
COD/CC/cash
¥0
micro
iOS
Easy! Activation
U300 micro 1 month
¥2,980
X
300 kbps
300 kbps
Unlimited
X
Prepaid
No
Internet only
COD/CC/cash
¥0
micro
Easy! Activation
U300 micro 6 month
¥14,900 (¥2,483/month)
X
300 kbps
300 kbps
Unlimited
X
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
COD/CC/cash
¥0
micro
Easy! Activation
U300 micro 12 month
¥29,800 (¥2,483/month)
X
300 kbps
300 kbps
Unlimited
X
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
COD/CC/cash
¥0
micro
Easy! Activation
TalkingSIM plantinum
¥6,260
O
"Carrier speed"
300 kbps
1.2 GB/month
O
Postpaid
Yes
Internet / retail
CC
¥3,150
micro
iOS
activation at purchase
  1. These are traditional voice options than have standard phone numbers and support mobile number portability (MNP)
  2. Streaming includes music, video and voice chat (youtube, skype, etc.)
  3. B-mobile's VoIP service is allowed with these SIMs, but relying on VoIP with a 100 kbps connection, while technically possible, is not recommended. Different hardware and firmware combinations may produce unexpected results, where sound is not routed properly (e.g., incoming voice being routed through the phone's back speaker, rather than the ear speaker). Service is not guaranteed to work properly on non-bmobile hardware.
  4. "Carrier Speed" is indicating that the connection speed is not limited from what Docomo customers enjoy, so in general, the speed of the unlimited Fair should be comparable to the Aeon Plan C and Platinum SIMs
  5. Platinum SIMs give carrier speed only to certain applications (visual voice mail and facetime are excluded):
    • Mobile Safari
    • App Store
    • Mail
    • iTunes (Podcast)
    • radiko (recommended 30 second buffer)
    • Mobile YouTube
    • Ustream live broadcaster
    • Mobile Google Maps
    • Evernote
    • Dropbox
    • Skype
    All other data is limited to 300 kbps
Xi LTE 4G SIM cards


These SIM cards all use Docomo's Xi LTE "3.9G" network. Maximum theoretical downlink speed is 75 Mbps in select indoor location. Maximum outdoor speed is 37.5 Mbps. Real speeds will be much lower. The advantage of Xi is not necessarily higher speed, but decreased latency and congestion. Xi feels more "responsive" than FOMA. Xi uses Band I (2100 MHz). No other LTE network in the world is currently using the same frequencies, so ONLY LTE DEVICES BOUGHT FROM NTT DOCOMO OR BMOBILE DIRECTLY WILL OBTAIN "4G" SPEEDS! All other devices will fall back to standard 3G. Latency and speed will be the same as with standard 3G.

Chameleon


This SIM card is available to non-residents. It is purchased initially for ¥5,800, which includes a 3000 MB charge valid over 21 days. After this initial charge expires, there are 3 recharge options. A SIM card that is not recharged within 10 days of reaching either zero bytes remaining or the end of the validity period is permanently deactivated.
More Information.

U300

This option costs ¥2,480 for 30 days unlimited data at a symmetrical 300 kbps speed. The biggest issue with the slow Aeon and U300 SIMs is not the slow uplink and downlink speed but the high latency that causes a long lag before any data download begins. Xi has much lower latency, so the Xi U300 when used in a Docomo or bmobile LTE device is expected to perform significantly better than the 3G U300.

High speed LTE

This option costs ¥5,400 for 5000 MB valid for 30 days at best effort LTE speeds. Like the 1GB Flat Rate, this is probably proxied. Of all bmobile plans, this one provides the best value for a large amount of data but is not significantly cheaper than a standard carrier data plan. This would be of interest to people with a 3G device that don't want to have a 2-year, auto-renewing contract with a Japanese carrier.

FAIR

This provides 1000 MB valid for 120 days at a cost of ¥8,800 and is a good option for people who 1) spend a lot of time near wifi and 2) need a reliable, fast connection when out of wifi range. The "Fair" line of SIMs are the typically the fastest of bmobile's offerings, but are priced significantly higher than the corresponding proxied service. This likely has a public unique IP address, like the 3G Fair.

Amazon 4G


This is a monthly, recurring service that provides 500 MB of LTE 4G data for ¥1,980. An additional 500 MB charge may be purchased, but remaining data does not roll over to the next month. This is not for temporary visitors to Japan - address verification is required. SIM is purchased first from Amazon for ¥3,150, which contains no charge. The SIM is then activated with on the b-mobile product page. The SIM card is permanently deactivated if service is cancelled, though there is no cancellation fee.
More Information.

Amazon/Yodobashi Pair GB


A 2 GB data plan is split between two separate SIM cards for ¥2,970/month, less than the cost of their 1 GB flat rate 3G SIM. Regular size and microSIMs can be mixed. A retail package containing two SIM cards costs ¥3,150 from Amazon or Yodobashi. At the time of purchase, the SIMs are unactivated and have no charge. A credit card must be used to add a service plan for ¥2,970/month. If 2 GB is exceed in a month, additional data can be added at ¥525/100 MB. As far as I can tell, the SIMs are permanently deactivated if service is cancelled. Address verification required.
More Information.

Comparison of 4G b-mobile SIMs


SIM
Cost
Voice
Speed
Data limit
Stream
Billing
Residency required
Availability
Payment method
Initial fee
SIM size
Notes
Chameleon U300
¥,2480
X
300 kbps
Unlimited
X
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
CC/cash
¥5,800
3000MB / 21 days
regular
micro
Easy! Activation
Chameleon High Speed
¥5,4000
X
75 Mbps
5000MB / 30 days
O
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
CC/cash
¥5,800
3000MB / 21 days
regular
micro
Easy! Activation
Chameleon Fair
¥8,800
X
75 Mbps
1000MB / 30 days
O
Prepaid
No
Internet / retail
CC/cash
¥5,800
3000MB / 21 days
regular
micro
Easy! Activation
Amazon 4G
¥1,980
X
75 Mbps
500MB / 30 days
O
Postpaid
Yes
Internet
CC
¥3,150 (0MB)
regular
micro
Online registration
Amazon Pair GB
¥2,970
X
75 Mbps
2000MB / 30 days
O
Postpaid
Yes
Internet
CC
¥3,150 (0MB)
Mix, match regular micro
2 SIM cards
Online registration
Yodobashi Pair GB
¥2,970
X
75 Mbps
2000MB / 30 days
O
Postpaid
Yes
Internet / retail
CC
¥3,150 (0MB)
Mix, match regular micro
2 SIM cards
Online registration

Activation methods

There are presently four different methods for activation.
  1. Easy! Activation Requires a Japanese mobile phone or PHS (English option available).
  2. Activation at time of purchase
  3. Online registration
  4. Preactivated
Easy! Activation is typically done for prepaid data-only 3G FOMA SIMs. Activation at purchase happens with the TalkingSIMs. If purchasing at a store, this happens immediately. If purchasing online, ID must be scanned and sent to JCI when applying for a talkingSIM. Online registration is required for the newer SIMs, such as some of the LTE SIMs and the zero-yen SIM. The SIM arrives in the mail unactiavated and with no charge. SIMs requiring online activation are postpaid and typically billed at monthly recurring intervals (except for the zero-yen when there was no usage during the month) There may be an additional step of verifying mailing address by entering a PIN code from a post card sent by JCI. Finally, preactivation is only for the visitor SIM. A large complaint from tourists was having to find a Japanese mobile phone to activate U300s or 1 GB Flat Rates.

Troubleshooting


Please see here for the cell standby battery drain fix before considering to buy a bmobile data-only SIM.

NOTE: So far I've got several reports of Motorola phones with Android 2.2 not working with bmobile SIMs. Before buying a SIM for a Motorola phone, if at all possible, please try it first to be sure it works.

The U300 and Fair use a unique public IP address. While it shouldn't matter for most people, the Flat Rate 1 GB is behind a proxy. Other SIMs are likely behind a proxy. This post indicates that the Aeon 100 kbps SIM is behind a proxy, so I assume that the other versions are as well. I have been told by devs that the talkingSIMs have some "closed ports", which I interpret to indicate a private IP address. I understand that the platinum SIMs are technically very similar to the Aeon Plan C SIMs, so I am assuming the Platinum SIMs are also assigned a private IP address. The easiest way to confirm this is to use MyIP or run netcfg from an adb shell or terminal emulator window and look for an IP of the form 10.x.x.x, which means you have have a private IP address. (Public vs. private IP addressing could theoretically change since public IPs are not guaranteed in the terms of service.)

There are several important points to consider before buying a b-mobile SIM. If you can visit Tokyo, the Yodobashi Akiba store in Akihabara has a demonstrations of b-mobile SIMs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, plus Monday afternoon. You can slip a SIM in your phone and see if it works. (The Shimbashi Yamada Denki demo corner has been discontinued.)
  • The phone must be unlocked or be Docomo branded (Docomo phones don't need to be unlocked)
  • Only a handful of phones are officially supported (see links in table)
  • Unsupported phones may not work at all
  • Unsupported phones may work but with several issues including:
    • No 3G icon (Nexus One with with 2.3)
    • No 3G icon and no signal bars (ht-03a with 2.2)
    • "No network connection" error message popped up by browser (does not affect browsing)
    • Some apps may not use background data because of an apparent lack of internet connection
    • Excessive battery use by radio searching for a signal
  • Newer versions of Android work best
  • Thre is a patch for rooted phones to give a signal icon
    • No risk of "bricking" an already rooted phone
    • May not completely fix issue - data network may still be unknown but does fix battery drain
By far, the most common problem that I see comes from Android users thinking that the SIM is not working when it actually is. With Android it is probably working if all of the following happens:
  • NTT Docomo and "emergency calls only" are displayed on the lock screen and/or the pulldown notification bar
  • There are no SIM card error messages and there is a "080" phone number (viewable from settings)
  • Browser redirects to the b-mobile site (wait longer for activation to complete)
Most Docomo smartphones work with no problems (see the table below for links to supported phones), and the list of phones that have been confirmed not to work is relatively short. The exact reasons why some hard/firmware combinations don't work is not well understood, even by developers and hardware makers. One reason seems to be that the SIMs, as provided by Docomo, lack a circuit switch component. I understand that data-only SIMs of overseas carriers often include this component. It seems that Android wasn't originally designed with data-only SIMs in mind. It is possible that a particular phone that does not work with the b-mobile SIMs, will work if the firmware is changed or, especially if it is updated to 2.3 Gingerbread.

Hard/firmware combinations confirmed not working

  • HTC phones with Android 1.6 Donut.
  • Motorola Atrix (requires this fix)
  • Acer Liquid A1 with 2.2 (see here for fix that requires root access and the ability to mount /system as writeable)
  • Based on comments below, it seems the Motorola Droid 2 Global on 2.2 may also not work without the above Atrix fix.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Softbank SIMs for unlocked phones from July

Post updated at the end to reflect the implications in data cost difference between a SBM-branded iPhone and an unlocked iPhone.


Once again, @Juggly was right - not only will Softbank Mobile offer ala carte SIM cards for unlocked phones from July, any Apple iOS device that was not purchased from SBM will indeed be currently excluded. As such, no microSIMs will be offered. SBM indicates that this may not be a permanent situation, so service for iPhones could be announced at a later date.

This is excellent news (though for now, effectively nothing has changed).

Most importantly, SBM is offering data service for the reasonable price of ¥5985, unlike Docomo who is charging over ¥10,000. Rarely, if ever do you see one carrier offering the same service at half the price of another. Hopefully this and the compelling products from Japan Communications, Inc. (b-mobile) will have a positive effect on Docomo's data product offerings.

Details of service:
  • ¥5985 per month for data
  • ¥2,835 new contract fee (apparently not necessary for current subscribers)
  • One of the following required for new contract:
    1. Japanese driver's license
    2. Japanese passport
    3. National health insurance card + address verification by a utility service bill
    4. National health insurance card + credit card
    5. National health insurance card + student picture ID
    6. Foreign registration + passport
    7. Disability certificate
  • Normally priced voice plan
  • No guarantees that everything will work and no support if it doesn't
  • Handset must support 2100 MHz
  • Heavy users subject to reduced data speed (no direct mention of tethering)
  • Depending on network conditions VoIP, streaming and "heavy usage" may be throttled.
  • Handset must be certified for use in Japan and display the "lightning 〒 mark" and relevant certification numbers either:
    • as a sticker placed by the manufacturer, or
    • on the screen, or
    • as a physical stamp
This last requirement is why nothing has effectively changed. There are a number of readers of this blog who are using their Androids from overseas with softbank. How many of those handsets are certified for use in Japan?


The better question is, how many of those handsets actually indicate they are compliant? (The Nexus One is an example of a compliant phone with no certification mark.), I'd wager that none are stamped as certified. This means that you are still going to have to jump through the hoops (outlined here) to get your phone working with the flat rate data plan.

Don't blame SBM for this, it is simply the law. If Docomo were to allow unlocked phones to access the packet houdai APN for only ¥5985, you can be sure that if your phone is not officially marked as certified, that you won't be getting that price.

Finally, the officially cited reason for the lack of iPhone and iPad support is an APN issue that would result in iOS devices not being billed at the flat rate.
海外から持ち込まれたiPhone・iPadでご利用の場合、任意でアクセスポイント設定ができないため、パケット通信はすべてパケット定額サービスの対象外となります。ご利用により数十万円を超える高額な通信料が発生する可能性が高くなりますので、ご注意ください。
The flat rate APN cannot be set on overseas iPhones and iPads, resulting in very expensive per-packet charges that may exceed several hundred-thousand yen (¥100,000+).
This is interesting, to say the least, because Android users are even using the black SIM cards from SBM iPhones and successfully connecting to the iPhone-only "smile" APN. So this makes me doubt that this is simply an APN problem, especially since an unlocked iPhone 4 from Hong Kong costs roughly half the price of a locked one from SBM.

Update: See this comment for an indication that APN settings can't be changed on a locked iPhone, which brings more perspective to this. My thinking now is that, since there is a difference in data price for an SBM iPhone using the smile APN, the issue could be in charging non-SBM-branded iPhones the slightly higher rate (¥4410 versus ¥5985), not necessarily about protecting sales. The difference in data cost is ¥37,800 over 24 months, which I bet compares favorably with the profit turned on the sale of an iPhone, given SBM's heavy subsidizing.

(Thanks for Ouroboros for the link to the official info)

Friday, June 17, 2011

91 Aeon stores to carry b-mobile SIMs

From tomorrow, JCI announced that the total number of stores carrying the Aeon-exclusive b-mobile SIMs will increase from 14 to 91. Here is the list of Aeon stores (J), which covers roughly half of all Japanese prefectures. From North to South, this includes:  Iwate, Akita, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Saitama, Gunma, Chiba, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Nagano, Gifu, Shizuoka, Aichi, Mie, Saga, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, and Hyogo.

Left out so far are Hokkaido and Aomori to the north, a swath down the Sea of Japan from Niigata westward, and everything west of Kansai, including Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa.

Doing away with Docomo data

As many of you are probably aware, I have been testing a prepaid b-mobile Fair SIM, that gives me 1 GB of data to use over 120 days (approximately 4 months). This is in addition to my normal Docomo service plan, so I use two devices, one for voice (Docomo ht-03a) and one for data (Google Nexus One).

My Docomo voice plan costs me just under 2000 yen per month, and if 1 GB lasts me the full 120 days, I would pay just over 2000 yen per month for data. At the Fair SIM recharge rate of 8400 yen per gigabyte, this would work out to 4000 yen total per month. This is about half of what I normally pay.

One month ago, based on only two weeks worth of usage data, I attempted to predict how much, if any, of my b-mobile Fair SIM charge would remain on 8/10/2011, exactly 120 days after activation. It appeared that about half would be remaining. Now that I have twice as much information for the calculation, I get essentially the same answer.

So I am now convinced that one charge, on average, will last me the full four months. Without the use of wifi at both home and work, however, it would not be possible.

Before the start of next month, I will cancel my Docomo data plan for the ht-03a, which scales from 372 to 5985 yen. I considered subscribing to NTT East's Flet's spot wifi service, which has seemingly good coverage, includes all the train platforms I use, and costs only 210 yen for month for Flet's home internet subscribers, until of course I saw that for some asinine reason, it uses PPPoE authentication, ruling out usage by both iPhones and Androids. (And check out the setup guide! [PDF, J] WTF? It's wifi folks, you don't need MAC address registration, plus PPPoE authentication, and a dedicated client.)

Next, I will begin looking into the feasibility of a VoIP solution for voice, so that I can do away with carrying two phones. My gut feeling is that due to the family plan, it is probably not worth canceling my Docomo service all together. But rather than guess, I can easily use the information available in my monthly statements to calculate what I would have paid if I was using BlueSIP or b-mobile VoIP, similar to how I did here.

Here is another over complicated chart. Feel free to stop reading now.


I started using the SIM on April 12th, a few days before they went on sale. I really put it though the ringer, so to speak, at first, burning through data with skype and youtube and whatever I could think of. The Fair SIM, unlike the Aeon "Plan C" SIM (which is 4980 yen for 1.2 GB per month) is wide open and does not pass through a proxy, so I can basically do whatever I want with it (except for p2p, which I don't use anyway).

Based on my usage since Golden Week, I predict that I will have 400 MB remaining when the charge expires on August 10th. To take into account the time I didn't use the SIM, I recalculated based on an expiration date 120 days after Golden Week. This results in 300 MB remaining. (The initial heavy usage partially offsets this, but not entirely, because the blue line passes through the top of the graph on the left side; 100% offset would result in the line passing exactly through the top left corner.)

My prediction doesn't significantly change if I use only the latter portion of my usage data. Doing so is justified by the apparent trend in my daily bandwidth consumption (green line and dots). As I became accustomed to how much data my daily activities consumed, I began caring less and less about how much data I was using. Now, the only thing I do differently than before is avoid viewing pages with lots of high quality images and updating market apps over wifi instead of whenever I got an update notification.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

AU Xoom to get update next week

KDDI Announced for an update their wifi Motorola xoom. Updates should start rolling out next week for those of you who have one but haven't followed Nicholas's guide to updating. 3.1 will add the ability to use a game controller plus other enhancements.
KDDI が Android 端末のアップデート計画を発表、Xoom は今月21日に3.1へ
Sitting in a MacDonald's in Yokosuka, trying out the new blogger app, by the way.

EDIT: After posting this, the blogger app repeatedly spawned and force closed until I uninstalled it. I also tried to attach location data, but that didn't seem to have worked. Tried to send feedback from the in app menu, but that also didn't work.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Initial impressions of the Aeon 100 kbps SIM (translated)

UPDATE: fixed a few typos here and there, some of which completely changed the meaning (like the omission of "not" for example).

This blog post has been passed my way via every medium I use, twitter, mail, comments. Yes, I've read it. Thanks for sending :-)
イオン×日本通信 b-mobile AEON 月額980円コースを契約してみた(注意点&第一印象)【追記あり】
I contracted Aeon and b-mobile ¥980/month service (things to be aware of and first impressions) [Updated]
Much of the information is already known to readers of these two articles, so I'll focus mainly on the comments regarding the Aeon 100 kbps SIM. I used "translated" in the title of this post, but that probably isn't the best word, since I'm not a translator. Some of this will likely apply to the other SIMs as well. Regarding proxies, my guess is that the only b-mobile SIM not to use one is the Fair, since it is completely unlimited.
【6/11 深夜追記】IDEOS 用の SIM と同じく、強制 Proxy がかかっているようです。閲覧速度の向上には貢献するようですが、反面グローバル IP を必要とする人はきちんと検討した方が良いでしょう。
(手元で pptp VPN の接続はできましたが、どこまでちゃんと使えるかは未確認です)
【6/12 追記】最後にプライベートIP アドレス利用の状況写真を追記してあります。
【6/11 深夜追記】連続ダウンロード規制(動画含む)はあるようで、速度測定テストを連続で繰り返していたり、動画再生を強引にテストしていたら、接続が一瞬切断されたような形になりました(たぶん)
[late night 6/11 addition] similar to the IDEOS SIM, this SIM seems to use a proxy. While this contributes to improved "read speed" (downlink speed), those who require a global IP address should consider this carefully.

(I connected to a pptp VPN but the degree to which I can use it is unconfirmed.)
[Added 6/12] Added an image showing the use of a private IP address.

[late night 6/11 addition] There seems to be a limit on continuous downloads (video included). Continually performing speed tests or heavy testing of video playing [streaming] and the like seems to have resulted in what might be a momentary disconnection. Maybe/probably.
For the record, I am not aware in what products b-mobile uses proxies. I can confirm that the Fair SIM does not use them. It is paid by the gigabyte and is completely open (same internal and external IP). Also, it is well known that the U300 SIM does not allow streaming. It is also well stated that neither do the Aeon 100 and 400 Mbps SIMs.
感覚的に Willcom PHS データー通信と同じ程度

さて、もうちょっと具体的に言いますと
Twitter の文章だけとか、専用ブラウザでの2ちゃんねるなら
遅いけど、あまりストレスを感じないレベルです。文字情報サイトなら十分実用的と言えるでしょう。
My first impression was that it is similar in speed to Willcom's PHS

More specifically, writing a tweet or viewing 2channel is slow but not overly annoyingly so. It's perfectly fine for text-only sites
This is exactly as the 100 kbps SIM is advertised. Mail, SNS (e.g., twitter), and google search. He goes on to indicate that "stress builds" when trying to load a site normal site with a lot of images.
【6/11 深夜追記】と書いたものの、前述のとおり強制 Proxy がかかって画像はかなり減量される(画質もかなり落ちる)ので、画像が少ないページなら耐えられないほど遅くはないです。b-mobiie側でのキャッシュもあって、よく見られているページを中心に意外とウェブサイトも使えるスピードになることも多い感じです。

例えば、パソコン版ヤフージャパンが 15~18秒で表示されました(キャッシュを切った状態で読み込み終了までの時間)。反面、本ブログのように写真などが多い場合は、パソコン版トップページを読み込むのに 1分45秒くらいかかります。【追記終了】
[late night 6/11 addition] The previously stated proxy cuts down dramatically on the number of images (and decreases their quality), so It is not unbearably slow to browse pages that have few images. And b-mobile seems to be caching regularly viewed pages, so they feel like they load faster than would be otherwise expected.

For example, the PC version of Yahoo!Japan was displayed in about 15-18 seconds (after clearing the cache and waiting for complete loading). On the other hand, loading the top page of my blog with lots of images took about 1 min 45 sec.[End addition]
I have no idea if pages are cached on b-mobile's servers. I also don't know if images on any cached pages are scaled down. Perhaps so. It would make sense. Keep in mind that most pages will serve up a version optimized for mobile devices, depending on browser agent.

He concludes that the ¥980 plan is for people who understand how to use a slow speed connection, and is not for people who want to use a phone or tablet with the usual web services, which again is consistent with Aeon/b-mobile's advertising (and my table here).
また、もうちょっと色々と使ってみると、ベクターデーター化されている Android の Google Map だと
最初の読み込みは忍耐が必要だが、その後の周辺移動・拡大縮小は意外といける感じで、ちょっと驚きました。
After playing around a bit more, loading google vector maps for android requires patience at first but panning and zooming thereafter feel faster than expected, which is a bit surprising.
This is the nature of vector images. Instead of downloading a bunch of pixels that create a circular shape, for example, the formula for a circle (πr^2) is downloaded and scaled as the user zooms in and out. When zooming in, presumably all that would need to be downloaded would be place names, etc. to be overlaid upon the base (vector) map. And these data don't necessarily disappear when you quit maps (from maps, touch more and cache settings: I have 89 MB of data currently cached).

While there is indeed a size advantage to downloading vector graphics, it seems that the maps team at google have made use of the freed-up space by increasing the amount of information in each map, so the total amount of data being downloaded is probably not so different between rasterized and vector versions, but with the vector maps, you take the download hit primarily up front, as opposed to throughout the entire usage session.

One thing to keep in mind is that older hardware, even if it is updated to the latest version of android, may not support vector maps, and instead still download rasterized tiles. The ht-03a on Android 2.2 downloads tiles.
現時点では公称値通り、下り 90~100Kbps 前後
上りは 70~90Kbps 程度出ているので悪くない
So far, have gotten around 90-100 kbps downlink and 70-90 kpbs uplink, which is not so bad
There are a number of images, which show these results, beginning in the Aeon shop, continuing on the way home while outside, and then finally once after returning home. The latency is high and unstable (ping; lower is better), and the highest used the Seul server, while the rest used Tokyo.
【6/12 追記】強制 Proxy 使用でプライベート IP アドレスを使っている状況写真を下記に掲載しておきます(昨日撮影してあったのだけど、載せるのを忘れてました ^^;)
[6/12 addition] Uploaded an image showing a private IP address from the use of a proxy.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Aeon exclusive b-mobile SIM details

UPDATE: Now available at 91 stores primarily from Kansai to Akita, along the Pacific coast
We now have more information on the Aeon exclusive b-mobile SIMs.



Thanks to readers dvancleef and Keith who scanned and uploaded the in store pamphlet (PDF [J]) and the list of Aeon stores [J]. This is currently available at only 14 Aeon stores, but the number is set to increase. (Two circles (◎) indicates that the store carriers both regular b-mobile products and the Aeon Exclusive SIMs. One circle (○) indicates that only the Aeon exclusives are available.) Currently there is one store in Tokyo (Shinagawa seaside), two in Kanagawa (Yokohama and Ebina), two in Saitama (Koshigaya and Kawaguchi), one in Hamamatsu, one in Nagoya, two in Kyoto-fu, two in Osaka, and three in Hyogo.

Details and requirements
  • Proof of residency in Japan
  • Credit card
  • Post paid by credit card only
  • ¥3150 activation fee
  • No fixed term contract; cancel anytime
  • Compatible with b-mobile VoIP (though possibly only with b-mobile IDEOS handset)
    • ¥490/month
    • 15 included minutes
    • ¥10/30 seconds
    • ¥10/120 seconds for calls to US landlines/cellphones (¥10/40s to Alaska)
    • usable overseas with WiFi
    • Additional ¥3150 application fee
Plans can be changed online at the Myb-mobile page. As with all FOMA data plans, including Docomo's, there is a 3 day cap of 3 million packets. In addition, there is a monthly data cap of 1.2GB for each of the plans, but it is really not applicable to anything but Plan C. This review in Japanese indicates that exceeding these limits won't get you shut off completely but will result in a speed limitation. The FAQ has more information. (Ignore the page title, it's a typo.) Here's a table to summarize.

A note on usage with VoIP. Battery life is going to get worse. B-mobile indicates that their IDEOS will only last 8 hours with VoIP active. The battery isn't the biggest at only (1200 mAh).

Plan A
Plan B
Plan C
Price/month
¥980
¥2980
¥4980
Speed
100 kbps
400 kbps
megabit class*
email
O
O
O
Search
O
O
O
SNS
O
O
O
General apps
X
O
O
Youtube
X
X
O
Skype
X
X
O
b-mobile VoIP**
O***
O
O
BlueSIP VoIP
X
X
O****
P2P/torrents
X
X
X
Monthly cap
N/A
N/A
1.2GB
* No imposed restrictions on speed
** The normal b-mobile IP Phone only works for the IDEOS. I'm waiting for confirmation that this is different.
*** quality highly dependent on network congestion. Not recommended.
**** As far as I see, it should work with BlueSIP, but no confirmation yet.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Big changes in Japanese mobile: Aeon exclusive b-mobile SIMs


Japan Communications Inc. and Aeon Retail, one of Japan's largest retailers have announced three new SIM cards, one of which is priced at less than 1000 yen per month. These went on sale yesterday at 14 Aeon stores. Expect the number of stores to steadily increase. I am not sure if contracts will be required, but if not, these are perfect for visitors to Japan. [EDIT: comments indicate that these SIMs are postpaid and not available to visitors.]

In short, this is a huge development for several reasons.

Not only is it the first monthly data service in Japan that costs what amounts to pocket change, as far as I know, this is the first time such a large retailer will be directly selling communications services. Of course you can buy all sorts of services, from cell phones to satellite television in an Aeon shop, but when doing so, you are buying from Docomo or SkyPerfect staff who were set up in rented space. Not this time.

This means that the big boys have finally noticed that consumers in Japan are tired of carrier pricing models that force a choice between "no service" or "expensive as hell service", similar to cable television pricing in the US that requires paying for 100 channels of junk to only see the 5 or so good ones.

So while Docomo is literally dicking around in the old world, MVNOs and especially JCI, the MVNE supporting many new startups like Rstream and BlueSIP, are increasingly offering much more consumer focused products. I can imagine that, up until now, Docomo thought that if they ignored it, it would go away. Obviously that didn't work.

It truly is an interesting time. Expect a number of more innovative products in the future. And if you haven't already done so, dig up as many old monthly cell phone statements and figure out, just as I have done, exactly how many minutes and megabytes you are consuming each month. Before it didn't matter because you paid the same price regardless. Now it's in your best interest to understand; last month the cost for my cell phone service equated to about 4000 yen, which is less than I have ever paid in Japan for voice and data for a cell phone... period (albeit with two devices).

New product Summary
  • 100 kbps "best effort" ¥980 primarily for mail, search and social networking
  • 400 kbps "best effort" ¥2890 for general smartphone usage excluding streaming
  • "best effort" (no imposed speed limitations) ¥4980 which includes streaming video.
update: this post originally indicated that the SIMs were on sale at all Aeon stores.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tokyo Metro subway app for Android


Tokyo Metro released a new Android app recently. It is good to see more companies doing this. The app is surprisingly complete and includes station area maps, diagrams of station interiors, exit information, elevator/escalator/barrier free information, station list for each line, transit search (for metro only), and GPS functionality. I think that covers it, though I could be forgetting something. It also big, 11 MB

The list of stations for each line is well thought out and allows you to click through to the station information pages. It doesn't support landscape rotation, though, which makes displaying station interior diagrams a bit awkward. There is no English localization.

To view detailed information for each station, click on the station in the line overview map (you'll want to click the button on the left to dismiss further messages).

Market Link
Version: 1.0
Size: 11 MB
Requirements: Android 2.1+


Click a station to display detailed information.


From top: Station interior diagram, exit information and area map, "barrier free" information, Marunouchi line station list.


Hopefully the next version will support landscape.


Barrier free information.


Exit information.


List of stations is clickable.


Transit is for Metro lines only.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Japanese carriers finally to allow exchange of SMS messages

Beginning Thursday 7/13, Japanese carriers will allow exchanging SMS with handsets on different networks. Here are links to press releases (J) for AU, Docomo, EmobileSBM. Okinawa Cellular is also included but I couldn't find a press release, aside from AU's.

Fees for SMS also appear to be dropping. For example, Docomo formerly charged ¥5.25 (¥7.25 with delivery confirmation) per SMS, but from 7/13, that price will drop to ¥3.15 (with or without confirmation).

Reportedly, AU (and presumably Okinawa Cellular) will also charge ¥3.15, while Emobile will charge ¥2.1. I haven't seen any word on what will be charged by SBM. Here it is, ¥3.15.

Personally, I only use SMS in the rare event that someone's Docomo handset blocks gmail as an anti-spam measure. Even then, I don't like to because the cost per SMS is just absurd.

Assuming one SMS consumes one packet (128 bytes), carriers are charging on order of 10 times what they would otherwise. (Docomo Mova packets are charged at ¥0.315/packet, FOMA packets range from ¥0.21 to ¥0.0525.) A 5 MB download, the average size of an iTunes MP3, at the cheapest data rate would run about ¥2,150 yen. At new and improved SMS rates, ¥129,024 yen. (Using the most expensive old rate, I calculate USD3000!)

This is obviously not a problem limited to Japan.

Check out this excellent interactive graph for packet price comparisons.

(via Juggly)