Thursday, May 31, 2012

B-Mobile Amazon LTE 4G data SIM

JCI announced the Amazon SIM cards today. Regular and micro SIMs are available. 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. Billing is recurring and address verification is required.

3G devices that support UMTS-2100 are compatible but will only get standard speeds. Compared to the 3G b-mobile FAIR, this will provide twice the data per month at a slightly less expensive rate. However, the initial cost of the SIM is ¥3,150, which does not include a charge. Data fees are paid separately to JCI.

Data usage is subtracted from the monthly quota differently with the Amazon SIMs than with other B-mobile products. With the 3G Fair SIM, data usage is calculated by the byte. For the LTE chameleon SIM, data usage is calculated by the packet (128 bytes). With the amazon SIM, calculations are by the packet, but fractional usage is rounded up to 1 MB for the purpose of counting down the total 500 MB.

It is unclear at what intervals this is done. That is, if 15.4 MB were used in a day, would a total of 16 MB be subtracted from the 500 MB. Or, if a 1.5 MB image is sent, is 2 MB immediately subtracted, with similar rounding happening throughout the day? I'd hope it's the former.

To Purchase one of these SIMs, chose either the micro or normal size SIM from (International shipping is not available, and this is not listed on Once it arrives, register it online with b-mobile. Payment requires a credit card. A registration code will be sent to the billing address of the credit card. This code must be entered online within one month of starting service, or the SIM is deactivated.
  • Amazon Product Page ¥3,150
  • B-Mobile Product Page
  • 500 MB/month for ¥1,980 + ¥5.25 USC (billing is recurring monthly, credit card only)
  • LTE 4G (Docomo Xi)
  • SIM card cannot be reactivated after canceling service.
  • Data is counted in 1 MB increments.
I was for the most part correct in my guess of what this product would be, though I didn't anticipate that there would be a large initial cost.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Softbank deploys 900 MHz "Platinum Band" for 3G

Softbank Mobile announced today that their recently awarded 900 MHz band will not be used for "4G" LTE but instead for 3G. All of the phones announced, including the gimmicky Geiger counter, will support 900 MHz. Consumers will have access to the 900 MHz band from July 25, 2012.

This is good in the short term. If you check out the iPhone tech specs, you'll see it already supports UMTS-900, so come 7/25, when SBM switches it on, I imagine all of you iPhone users will immediately see the benefit of the increased penetration of this relatively low-frequency band.

In the long term, there is no future in 3G. Docomo is building out a world-standard FDD-LTE network (Xi). SBM is converting over Wilcom's XGP to a TD-LTE network called Softbank 4G. But as potential buyers of the "new" iPad + 4G (renamed to "cellular") came to find out, SBM's LTE isn't compatible.

It could be argued that the decision to immediately apply this band to the now outdated 3G standard is short sighted, but I guess SBM doesn't really have too much of a choice. They need to improve network penetration and throughput, and they needed to do it yesterday.

Softbank 107SH Pantone 5 Geiger counter phone: Tool or toy?

[UPDATE: Based on the link provided below, this phone does not (apparently) incorporate a standard GM tube, so it may be more rugged than I thought originally. However, voltages still have to be reliably converted to meaningful output over the life of the phone. I still believe this will be nothing more than a gimmick, but perhaps for different reasons that I originally thought.]

Providing accurate radiation data to the public is extremely important. A larger database that includes data of substandard quality is not better than a smaller one. The decreased accuracy hinders our ability to properly detect the broader spatial and temporal trends. Therefore, I'm skeptical that it is appropriate to build a Geiger counter directly into a mobile phone, as has been done with the Sharp Pantone 5 (107SH) smartphone just announced by Softbank Mobile.

In the end, I imagine it will be no more than a gimmicky toy (the main contribution of which was increased handset sales). Here's why.

Raw counts must be converted to dose though calibration with a known source, typically Cs-137. Measurements of radiation emitted from any other radionuclide will be inherently less accurate. According to the manufacturer of the primary Geiger counter used by Safecast, the $700 Inspector Alert, this unit's dose conversions exhibit a +/- 15% accuracy, immediately subsequent to proper calibration. Over time, readings produced by any analytical equipment drift, causing reported values to become increasingly inaccurate. Therefore, the device must be periodically calibrated - preferably preemptively, as opposed to after conversions become unreliable.

Calibration frequency of any analytical equipment is dependent on application. For equipment used in public safety, local government regulations will require calibration at a set interval. When collecting data for scientific studies, analytical equipment must be calibrated prior to each usage. For quality control during use, calibration standards must be intermixed with experimental samples to detect and correct any instrumental drift.

Calibration would also be needed after any shock to the device, the kind that would be sustained by, for example, dropping a mobile phone.

Any other way of doing it is just playing around, and toys are for playing.

 300 cpm ≈ 1.0µSv/hr ≈ 1.1Bq/cm2
callibrated [sic] for Cs137 ± 15%
Image source.
Data collected by hobbyists in this manner is similar to a regular guy aiming to hit a barn door with a baseball from twenty paces - a major league pitcher is not needed to be accurate enough, and I'm sure the counters in the Pantone 5 can hit the barn door. Keeping up the baseball analogy, these (and Safecast's) data would be best considered in the context of the ballpark, as in you know where the ballpark is, but you can't say who's on first. Or on second. Or in centerfield. Just, that they're in the ballpark.

On to the phone.

The Softbank 107SH will be available from mid July. In addition to the standard WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS, here are the major features:
  • Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
  • Water resistance (IPX5 and IPX7)
  • Geiger counter (0.05 - 9.99 µSv/hr range)
  • W-CDMA 900 MHz "Platinum Band", 1500 MHz, 2100 MHz
  • One Seg TV
  • Keitai Osaifu mobile payments
  • Infrared port
  • Earthquake warning mail (緊急速報メール) coming with a future update
  • 3.7 (854×480 pixel) display
  • 4GB ROM
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8 color choices

Monday, May 28, 2012

US Japanese data SIM

[Update: SIMs are out: see here.]

Looks like more options are coming to users of mobile data in Japan. Via @Durf, I understand that the Nikkei reported today that US is entering the data SIM market in Japan. Service will work with Docomo phones and tablets, as well as overseas unlocked iPhones. This indicates that there should be both regular and micro SIMs on offer. Amazon will also be offering the Kindle in Japan from this summer.

The SIMs will be available through the amazon website. It's not clear if this indicates only the US or also the Japanese site. Whether this is a good option for travelers to Japan depends on the activation and surcharge requirements.

Japan Communications Inc, who sells the b-mobile and Aeon SIMs, is reportedly the MVNE, though JCI's comment was essentially "no comment" (PDF). This will be an LTE service that will support Docomo LTE devices and any 3G device that supports UMTS-2100 MHz, aka Band I. (See this frequency comparison chart.) Non-Docomo devices will have to be unlocked.

The price is reported as ¥1,980/500 MB.

Other than the above, not much is known. This is just SPECULATION, but at that price point, I'd expect that:
  • When used in a 3G device, speed and latency will be comparable to the b-mobile 1GB Flat Rate or Aeon Plan C. (Not as fast and responsive as the b-mobile Fair.)
  • When used with Docomo LTE devices, speed will be quite high and latency quite low, both of which are good.
  • A charge will be valid for 30 days. [This was correct.]
  • Streaming/VoIP/Skype/YouTube will be allowed. [This was correct.]
  • There will probably not be an additional surcharge for the SIM card. [This was incorrect, SIM costs ~ ¥3,000 up front.]
  • The SIM will expire after a certain time with no charge. [This was correct, but charges are monthly and recurring. Canceling service kills the SIM.]
  • The SIMs will be produced in Japan and therefore shipped only to domestic Japanese addresses. [This was correct.]
Whether the SIM arrives preactivated, like the B-Mobile Visitor SIM, or requires activation with a Japanese mobile phone, is a toss up at this point. I'm leaning towards preactivated. [This was incorrect.]

Taito Ward Asakusa visitor center offers free wifi and power outlets

A number of companies are now offering free wifi in Japan - a welcome change from primarly paid services. Power outlets, on the other hand, remain extremely rare. When you do find them in public locations, they are usually taped over. While McDonald's is a notable exception, they don't offer free wifi (yet - I wouldn't be surprised to see it offered in the near future).

So I was impressed (enough to make this post) during a visit to Asakusa this weekend to see the newly opened visitor center offers not only free wifi but also power outlets.

The wifi is provided by Wi-FI Nex, which was not one of the companies that the MIC recently warned over  shady practices. Nonetheless, you should always use as much encryption and security as possible, and if pass though is allowed by the access point, a VPN is highly recommended.

All mobile devices are supported. Access does not require PPPoE, so there should be not problem connecting any mobile device. Skype and streaming are technically allowed but might be difficult if you are competing with a number of other devices for bandwidth.

Unfortunately, you just can't hop on, open a browser, and click "accept." In addition to registering your MAC address, you will also be asked to provide an email address. I didn't play with it long enough to see if domains like mailinator are allowed.

Just about any "free" service in Japan requires giving up personal information (as payment, so to speak), so before any trip to Japan, it would probably be best to get a throw away email address. Companies like Rakuten send an unimaginable amount of spam legitimate emails to their customers, and unsubscribing [mobile warning: large image] makes an NTT Docomo phone contract look simple and elegant.

The Asakusa Visitor Center also has available four internet-connected computers, each with a skype phone. These I don't believe require giving up any personal information, but you might want to consider using Google Authenticator with 2-step verification before logging into your google account from random computers. There was no queue to use a PC but don't expect them to be so freely open for long, especially now that I'm posting this ;)

The building is located on the southeast side of the Kaminari-mon Intersection, and is, um... let's just call it unique. You can't miss it.

And while I'm at it, here are a few quick snaps with a Nexus S taken from the 8th floor cafe. (No, I'm not really interested in using instagram, and yes, I realize I'm not all that good of a photographer.) In case you are wondering why Taito Ward would spend the money on this, you'll get an idea from the picture of Nakamise Dori. It's virtually empty because everyone is (for now) lining up at Sky Tree across the river. You can imagine that the businesses in Asakusa are more than just a little worried that the novelty of the world's tallest broadcast tower (that doesn't even have the tallest observation deck) won't wear off.

The Golden Poop of Asashi Brewery Headquaters in Sumida Ward.

It looks like you could walk nearly unobstructed down Nakamise Dori.

Friday, May 25, 2012

NTT Docomo lacks Galaxy Nexus SC-04D replacements

This is not surprising since there is no more stock remaining.

If a Galaxy Nexus requires warranty service, whether the unit is repaired depends on the availability of parts. If the entire phone must be replaced, then it will be replaced with a completely different model of phone.

So if you own an SC-04D, take good care of it (unless of course you want a completely different phone).

Monday, May 21, 2012

NTT Docomo is unlikely to ever offer the iPhone.

The Nikkei has an article up (behind a registration wall) concerning the reasons why there will never be a Docomo-branded iPhone.

Rumors rumors and more rumors

Back in December NTT Docomo (DCM) denied that it would offer the iPad and iPhone from summer and fall, respectively. The summer line up has been announced, and there is no iPad. Next we had the possibility of a new CEO at Docomo and an LTE iPhone, for which DCM would be perfectly positioned to peddle. However, Yamada hasn't left and after winning the 900 MHz allocation, Softbank has an opportunity to built out an FDD-LTE network.

So basically all the rumor and speculation was just that.

One sided Negotiation

DCM characterizes negotiations with Apple as "one sided." This issue goes beyond the branding and bloat with which DCM would presumably defile any iDevice. Simply, DCM is unwilling to commit to push the iPhone as its primary device, which is a deal-breaker as far as Apple is concerned.
If we were told to push the iPhone to account for over half of our handset sales, it wouldn't fit our primary strategy.
DCM CEO Yamada Ryuji at a 4/27 press conference.

Apple would also demand that flat-rate data pricing be less than that of it's Android handsets. DCM feels it would be difficult to vary service price plans based on handset type.

B-Mobile or Xi Contracts for unlocked iPhones

If you just have to have an iPhone with DCM, you can get one of any number of b-mobile SIMs. If you need to have (due to family calling discounts) a Docomo contract, or if you call many Docomo subscribers, then there is the option of an Xi contract with an unlocked iPhone, which is what I do with my android handset.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mobile Plaza Akihabara for import mobile accessories

In case you aren't aware of it, Mobile Plaza Akihabara is the THE place for mobile imports. From classic Palm to the latest overseas models, they have just about everything. I think I saw an Apple Newton. The best thing is they have accessories: cases, batteries, docks for stuff that was never released in Japan.

I just picked up a Mugen Power 1600 mAh battery for a Nexus S for ¥3,980 (plus tax), which isn't a bad price for a brick and mortar shop.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Softbank to release a combined PHS smartphone

According to the Nikkei, Softbank Mobile, who owns Japanese PHS provider Wilcom, has developed a handset that connects to both standard mobile and PHS networks. At the earliest, it will be introduced in June. The addition of PHS allows for inexpensive voice communications.

The maker is Kyocera and it will be loaded with some version of Google's Android.

PHS devices in Japan have 070 prefixes. Taking a look at Wilcom's pricing, you'll see that the standard plan is ¥13.125/30 seconds, which is about half the price of NTT Docomo's Value SS plan (¥21/30 seconds).

However, nearly 30 yen per minute is still expensive, relative to the rest of the world.

Monday, May 14, 2012

b-mobile "Visitor" SIMs

THIS HAS BEEN DISCONTINUED. See here for new visitor SIMs.

JCI has released a new SIM card targeting overseas visitors. Currently, there is only a U300 version available. (EDIT: This means it is unlimited data but at a 300 kbps speed.) I imagine that several other versions, such as a 1 GB Flat Rate may also be in the works.

Similar to the standard U300, this provides an unlimited, symmetrical 300 kbps "best effort" connection. Regular-size and micro SIMs are available. The SIM card does not support streaming media or VoIP such as skype. The primary differences between this and the regular version are:

  1. ¥2,980 for 30 days (Not rechargeable)
  2. An English-language web page.
  3. English-language support.
  4. Pre-activation (no need to call with a Japanese mobile phone to have it activated after arrival).
  5. Pre paid by credit card only (No COD).
  6. Valid for 30 days with no extension.

The SIM card is activated on the second day after shipping, which starts the 30 day clock. There are no refunds, even if the SIM card gets lost in the mail or delivery is otherwise delayed. While that's not quite ideal, there really are not any other options, since the card arrives with an active connection.

Overseas phones must 1) be UNLOCKED and 2) support UMTS-2100 MHz, which is the primary European and Australian/New Zealand frequency. This will work with unlocked iPhones. The unlocked US T-Mobile phones I've used support 2100 MHz. Most AT&T android phones will not work with this SIM card.

See here for a list of all (well, most) b-mobile SIM products and here for information on battery life.


This SIM card relies on a 800 MHz 3G connection any many rural, mountainous area. This is known as the FOMA Plus Area. 800 MHz is not used, as far as I am aware, outside of Japan. As such, users of b-mobile SIMs with overseas phones are more likely to have little or no signal when waaaay back in the mountains. As for everyday use, there are typically few issues.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dual Booting with your Galaxy S2 (SC-02C)

If you have followed my previous guide on installing Ice Cream Sandwich on your SC-02C, you may have noticed that one of the features the kernel has is the ability to dual boot your phone.

You might ask "why would I want to do this?", this is a great option if you want to use two different ROM's like CynaogenMOD9 and a Samsung based one or maybe a MIUI ROM. This is also a great option if you just want to test out a different ROM without needing to do a full backup wipe and restore every time you want to switch between ROMs.

Here is an example of how it works on my phone (sorry for the video quality, also I figured the music was better to listen to than the ambient noise)

Before you continue please check this FAQ for information and supported ROM's
to enable this feature:

  • Reboot into recovery
  • select "mounts and storage"
  • format /secondrom_cache
  • format /secondrom_data (this may take up to 10 min so just wait)
  • format /second_rom_system
  • go back
  • dual boot options
  • install ZIP to 2ndROM from (where your ZIP file is for the ROM)
  • reboot
  • when prompted select volume up for the primary ROM and volume down for the secondary ROM
There are a lot more options in these menu's please see the kernel thread for more information and support related questions. 

Mobile Odin Updated to Support the SC-02C

Mobile Odin is an application for your phone that is similar to the desktop application Odin that can be used for flashing firmware on your phone. It can be used for installing all of the various types of files that you would normally flash using Heimdall or Odin.

I went tested flashing a modem.bin file, and everything worked perfectly. This is pretty handy since 99% of the time I need to flash something using my PC, it is a modem file.

Head over to the XDA thread for more info and support questions.

Also the PRO version can be found on the Google Play Store.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Updated: Installing ICS (CyanogenMOD 9) on your SC-02C (Galaxy S2)

Some have pointed out that my previous post was not exactly 100% clear if you are not a seasoned veteran so I have revised it to make it as simple as possible.

The usual warnings apply: We are not responsible for any broken or bricked devices. Use this guide at your own risk. However this worked for me on my SC-02C so it should work for you too. CyanogenMOD9 isn't considered a stable release yet and the kernel we are using has just hit a "stable" release so some hiccups are to be expected. For kernel specific issues please report them in the XDA thread for the kernel.

Update: if any of the dropbox links are dead please check here for the latest download

Fortunately, wjchen0 has worked with the developer of Siyah Kernel to add support for the SC-02C which is great news. All we need to do as install a ZIP file in recovery and it will add support for GPS. Since Samsung has not released ICS for the SC-02C yet we don't have any kernel source code so that means support for the 1Seg TV tuner is still impossible.

If you get stuck you can always restore your backup or flash the stock firmware on your device with the info here.

I am going to break this guide into two parts start with Part 1 if you are not rooted and running a stock ROM. If you are already rooted and running a non stock ROM go ahead and skip to Step2.

  • Download the latest CyanogenMod nightly for the GT-i9100 here
  • Download the Google Apps ZIP file for ICS here
  • Download wjchen0's GPS fix ZIP file here
  • Download the CyanogenMOD9 build.prop ZIP file here (here is the stock one if you need to revert to the stock one)
  • Download the latest Siyah Kernel from here (ZIP for CWM Recovery version)
  • Download the stock OMKL4 Modem from here
  • Read the last 10 pages of the kernel thread before proceding!! While 99.99999% of the time there are no major phone bricking problems it has happened before. 
  • Check the CyanogenMOD9 Nightly's change log to get an idea of what features may or may not be implemented.
  • Take note of your current APN settings under mobile networks -> Access Point Names

Part 1 (for non rooted users)
  • Download the 2.6.13 NTT version of Siyah kernel here and extract the TAR file
  • Download and install the command line version of Heimdall from here
  • Put the phone into download mode - First make sure the phone is not connected to USB. Next turn it off and turn it on while holding volume down and the home button and then connect the USB.
  • From the directory that you have extracted the Kernel to run the command heimdall flash --kernel zImage (use sudo if using a Linux system) the phone will then reboot and start up (it may be slow to boot up the first time).
  • Turn off the phone
  • Boot into recovery by holding "volume up" while powering it on
  • From recovery install the CM9-build.prop ZIP file
  • Reboot your phone
  • Power off your phone

Part 2 (for users who are already have a custom recovery installed or who have followed Step 1)
  • Remove your SIM card (in case the APN is not set correctly when you boot up)
  • Boot into recovery (power off your phone and then turn it on while holding "volume up")
  • Backup your phone from recovery! It is much easier to restore your phone from a backup than it is to re-install the factory firmware. 
  • Follow the official CyanogenMod guide to install CM9 via recovery (i.e., wipe, then install CM9)
  • Install the Google Apps ZIP
  • Install the Siyah Kernel ZIP file
  • Install when0's GPS fix ZIP file
  • Wipe the dalvik cache and reboot your phone.
  • After your phone boots connect to wireless and configure your Google account
  • Go into the wireless settings and disable data networks (so we can safely set the APN latter) if you have any questions about the various APN's listed there you can read up on them here
  • Power off your phone, insert your SIM card, reboot, configure your APN settings, and re-enable data usage.
  • Check System Settings -> About Phone and verify under baseband that the version is SC02COMKL4 if not install the "modem.bin" file you download the same way you installed the kernel in Part 1 but use the command "heimdall flash --modem modem.bin" (remember to use sudo if you are on Linux, or make sure that you command window is being run as Administrator if you are using Windows7/Vista)
  • There is a pretty nice tool in the Play Market called ExTweaks for configuring some of  Siyah kernel's more advanced options,you can download it from here .
  • Enjoy!!