Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Softbank iPhone 5 non-tethering data plan has 1.2 GB restriction

A Softbank CSR confirms the 1.2 GB limit.
Softbank is advertising unlimited 4G LTE data, but there's a catch: speed restrictions (throttling). I can no longer locate the press release, but I am 99.9% positive that when Softbank first announced 4G LTE, it was for 7 GB at ¥5,985. This was later changed to unlimited for ¥5,460. Then came the announcement of tethering under the same terms as KDDI - free for the first two years with a 7 GB cap, then at an addition ¥525 cost with a 7.5 GB cap.

That's pretty much full circle - nearly the same amount of data at the original price. As far as I can tell, there will be no speed restrictions on the 7 GB tethering plan, which is the limit originally intended. The throttle on non tethering plans will effectively push all users to the capped plan. So the unlimited data plan is just smoke and mirrors. It doesn't exist.

Do NOT take my word for it regarding whether the 1.2 GB throttle is or is not applied to the tethering plans. Find out for yourself.

Softbank 4G LTE data speed is throttled after 1.2 GB for non-tethering plans

Exceeding 1.2 GB of LTE data usage in any given month will result in speed limitations (throttling) two months later for an entire month. The exact nature of the limitation is unclear. But, hold on a second…

Two months later? (翌々月) WTF is that?

I can think of no reason to apply the punishment two full months later. The only thing I can think of is that it would make it more difficult for the customer to pin down what exactly is going on.

Via the No! Softbank blog we found links to specific information on the Softbank site, which until now, remained elusive. A 2channeler set up a version tracker on Softbank's FAQ. On August 24, the 4G LTE page SPECIFICALLY SAID NO SPEED RESTRICTIONS. On August 25, Softbank made a STEALTH EDIT removing the mention of no speed restrictions.

Bad Softbank! Bad! You do NOT make stealth edits to contract terms!

WTF is that? 詐欺、やりましょう。

Seriously, it said:
速度制限 • 超過料金なし
No speed restrictions or overage fees
Now it says:
No overage fees
And here is the description of the throttling, straight from softbank:
パケット定額 for 4G LTE:前々月の月間パケット通信量が1,000万パケット(約1.2Gバイト)以上:当月1ヵ月間
Packet flat rate for 4G LTE: Data usage two months previous exceeds 10,000,000 packets (1.2 GB): current month for 1 month.

This is the link to the 4G LTE plan, prominently advertising unlimited LTE data. The above information is linked to in the fine print.

Direct information is hard to find

Actually, I vaguely recall hearing about this in the past, but had failed to locate the information anywhere on Softbank's site. This is where The Googles fail me. No softbank pages are in the top 10 results for a search of a 1.2 GB restriction by Softbank. Note that a search now brings up many results concerning the motivation for this post - the application of this cap to 4G LTE.

So until now, this has been a mystery.

I had heard grumblings about throttling in the past with Softbank's 3G network, though it was never clear. It's been discussed on this blog here and here. More recently, a commenter mentioned that he was told by a service rep from Softbank that speeds would be throttled after 1 GB. I couldn't find anything about a this on the softbank site. So I unfortunately said it seems to apply to 3G and assumed (incorrectly) that it wouldn't apply to LTE. I mean, why should it? LTE protocols allows for 3 times the bandwidth through the same infrastructure.

The simple answer is that the unlimited 4G LTE plan is really not unlimited.

Much ado about nothing?

Honestly, my gut feeling is that Softbank is NOT applying a strict 128 kbps cap. The fact that the English-language Japanese blogosphere has not already exploded with complaints indicates this has not had a large, noticeable effect on people. As described above, there's been confusion as to whether it even existed for 3G plans.

This could be due to several reasons:
  • The speed resitrictions are not drastic.
  • Few people have exceeded 1.2 GB.
  • Softbank's 3G network is over capacity and prone to issues so nobody noticed they were being throttled.
  • The application of the throttle 2 months later made it hard to link to high data usage.
  • Some combination of all of the above.

AU iPhone just as likely to be usable overseas

From our point of view, AU phones that lack a GSM baseband are of very little interest because we want to use them overseas, but most AU phones are incompatible with any other network in the world. Except for the iPhone. It is technically compatible with the same networks as Softbank's model.

In fact, they may even be the same model.

A KDDI official with direct iPhone and LTE knowledge has indicated that the Softbank and AU iPhones are most likely the same. This actually makes sense and is what I initially suspected when seeing the description of the "three" iPhone models. The reason that this is important is because Softbank refuses to abide by government guidelines and unlock phones, unless it's for the purpose of reselling in foreign markets.

So there is no advantage to getting a Softbank iPhone from the perspective of use with overseas with a local SIM card. It will have to be jailbroken and unlocked. And if an iPhone bought from Softbank can be unlocked, so can one from AU. I am aware of reports that the same model is sold from US Verizon with an unlocked GSM baseband. If that were to be confirmed for the AU model, we'd be 2000% behind KDDI on this. Unfortunately, I honestly don't expect the same from a Japanese carrier.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Metropolitan police: Softbank trade-in program may violate law

Update: Gigazine is reporting that Softbank has changed the procedure and is in the clear.

Softbank Mobile graphic depicting the dangers of phone unlocking
The softbank trade-in program seemed wrong to me when first announced. I personally didn't like it because Softbank refuses to comply with government guidelines for unlocking customer phones but has no problem unlocking them to sell overseas. On top of that, Softank argued against unlocking by saying that it would result in a rash of phones being sent overseas (albeit due to theft).

Now, it seems that there may actually be problems. The Yomiuri is reporting that the Tokyo police have advised Softbank to suspend the program. The law requires that permission be obtained from the regulating prefectural office before beginning a program for selling used goods. Softbank hasn't done that but is running the program in all 47 prefectures.

Of course the "yarimashou" attitude of Son is admirable, but you really get the impression that he's just flying Softbank on a wing and a prayer. There's obviously a lack of advanced planning. Son hastily announces a tethering program that their Chief Technology Officer says their network cannot support, and then announces this buy-back offer. Had more time been taken, they would have realized the legal requirements and easily had complied by the launch of the iPhone 5.

Google Books, Nexus 7 quietly launch in Japan

Right now, the 16 GB Nexus 7 is available on the Play Store for ¥19,800 with a shipping time of 3 to 5 days to addresses in Japan. Google Plus is going nuts. (Well, at least a couple of people are.) There is also a Japanese website for the Nexus 7 now.

In addition, the Google Books section of the play store is also now live, and the Books android app appears fully funtional. On top of that there are rumored sightings of both Andy Rubin and Eric Schmidt in Japan.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Google Maps adds bus support in Japan

About the last thing that Navitime had over Google Maps was bus support in Japan. Not any more. Google just announced a very impressively long lists of bus companies with routes immediately included in transit results. Bus routes are already available in the Android app.

Readers from Tokyo should be familiar with this bus route.
I tested this out with a search that many of you will likely make in the future - the route to the main Tokyo immigration bureau. I was purposely vague. I didn't specify that I wanted to leave from Shinagawa Station, and I didn't input that I specifically wanted to go to the immigration office in nearby Konan. I wonder if iOS 6 would have sent me to an immigration office in Berlin?

It works flawlessly. Both the starting point and destination were correctly resolved. The Android version of google maps has matured. A lot.

When first released in Japan, the Google Maps app would produce very strange results if the language was set to English. This was due to the linking of language and locale, which Google still does. It is not possible to separate them on an Android handset. This means if your language is US English, then your locale is set to the USA. Searching for places using Kanji would produce interesting results. The only work around was to set the locale to Japan, and they only way to do that was to set the language to Japanese. While that's fine for me, for many that would be a real problem.

Fortunately Google has made some backend changes that cause searches in Japanese to work as expected, even if the locale is not set to Japan.

Screen shots from the Docomo ht-03a. Man has android come a long way.
There are 49 companies in total. Below I've listed the companies in just the Kanto region, but Kansai is also extensively covered. After than, coverage is limited to areas around Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka.

In Kanto, off all the major companies, of the top of my head I only notice Tobu Bus missing (東武バス).
  • Asahi Bus Group(朝日自動車)
  • Odakyu Bus(小田急バス)
  • Kanagawa Central Bus Group(神奈川中央交通)
    • Shonan Kanako Bus(湘南神奈交バス)
    •  Tsukui Kanako Bus(津久井神奈交バス)
    • Yokohama Kanako Bus(横浜神奈交バス)
    • Sagami Kanako Bus(相模神奈交バス)
    • Fujisawa Kanako Bus(藤沢神奈交バス)
  • Kawasaki City Bus(川崎市営バス)
  • Kawasaki Tsurumi Rinko Bus(川崎鶴見臨港バス)
  • Kanto Bus(関東バス)
  • Keikyu Bus(京急バス)
    • Yokohama Keikyu Bus(横浜京急バス)
    • Shonan Keikyu Bus(湘南京急バス)
  • Keisei Bus(京成バス)
    • Matsudo Shin-Keisei Bus(松戸新京成バス)
    • Narashino Shin-Keisei Bus(習志野新京成バス)
    • Funabashi Shin-Keisei Bus(船橋新京成バス)
    • Keisei Town Bus(京成タウンバス)
  • Keio Bus(京王バス)
    • Keio Bus South
    • Keio Bus Central
    • Keio Bus Koganei
    • Keio Dentetsu Bus
  • Kokusai Kogyo Bus(国際興業バス)
  • Kominato Bus(小湊鐵道)
  • Nishi Tokyo Bus(西東京バス)
  • Seibu Bus(西武バス)
  • Tachikawa Bus and City Bus Tachikawa(立川バス((シティバス立川(を含む))
  • Tokyo City Bus including Tama(都営バス((23区、都バス多摩(を含む))
  • Tokyo Bay City Transit(東京ベイシティ交通)
  • Tokyu Bus(東急バス)
  • Yokohama City Bus(横浜市営バス)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

iOS 6 issues with data-only SIMs

JCI has announced that iOS 6 is causing their lack of signal bars with their data-only SIMs. This is a common problem due to the way Docomo decided to produce the data-only SIMs. They lack a circuit switch component. There are work arounds for Android. It may be possible to do something similar with iOS, but we here focus on Android and have no idea.

Data works just fine. The problem, as described by a commenter, is that services that require a data connection shut down because the phone thinks it has no data connection. This will effect all MVNOs using Docomo's network, including b-mobile.

If you have a working iPhone with iOS 5 and a b-mobile data-only SIM, it might be a bad idea to upgrade. Voice+data SIMs work just fine.

Unlocked iPhone 5 may be blocked from LTE and tethering on unofficial networks

UPDATE:Shukan Ascii is now reporting that tethering works with the Hong Kong iPhone 5 and a Docomo Xi SIM. LTE does not work with BOTH a Docomo SIM and a Softbank 4G LTE SIM..Misread - works with a SBM SIM.

Contact your carrier to activating internet sharing on this account.
It is still very early on in the release of the iPhone 5, and while technically compatible with Docomo's Xi LTE network, early reports are indicating that there may be problems. First, the below tweet shows that a cut-down Docomo Xi SIM is only working with 3G - no LTE

It looks like the iPhone 5 won't work with Docomo LTE for me. This is all I can do for today. I tried everything but I don't think it's going to work. Maybe I'm making a mistake somewhere, so let's see what Shukan Ascii has to say tomorrow.

The tweet refers to a, shukan ascii has an article out that 1) indicates SIMs can be cut down and used at the same thickness and 2) tethering would not activate while off it's home network in Hong Kong. That is, the phone is "roaming" while being used on Docomo.

I have yet to see the follow-up article.

iPhone 5 is data roaming while using a Docomo Xi SIM.
If there is no way to edit preference files to add Xi as a native network, the functionality of the iPhone 5 may be horrendously reduced while being used with Docomo or B-mobile, making it not worth buying at all.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Apple engineers scrambling to fix iOS 6 maps?

Soon after our post on how bad iOS 6 maps are in Japan, we started getting reports of improvements. It would seem that Apple is paying attention to the uproar and is frantically fixing some of the database errors and omissions.

If they didn't know it before, they do now: maps are hard.

Here are more recent search results for Osaka and Keikyu Kamata stations. The searches no longer fail or produce erroneous results.

Initially, the disputed Senkaku Islands were not on the map, though they were in the database. It's things like this that make maps hard. For example, labeling the body of water between Japan and the Asian continent the Sea of Japan in Korean would be a huge problem.

The Senkaku Islands are in the database but not on the map.
Now the island appear, not once but twice, prompting twitter user noruweijin to comment that "Apple Maps has 2 x Senkaku/Diaoyus islands to appease China and Japan or just copy+paste?"

Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara is well known for politcally incorrect statements. When the giant panda on loan from China became pregnant, if twins were born, Ishihara suggested they be named Sen Sen and Kaku Kaku. As such, we've fixed the labeling issue for Apple.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

iOS 6 maps FAIL in Japan

Update: Apple appears to be scrambling to fix some of the more embarrassing mistakes, but they're being a bit sloppy and should exercise caution when dealing with disputed territories. Unlike us ;)

At least they got the Apple store in there. (photo credit)
Apple has finally dropped the Google Maps app for their own app. The level of detail is very low in Japan. Many people are complaining that it doesn't show the station exits. Fortunately, Google Maps can still be accessed from the browser because Apple maps are so bad it's not even funny.

Wait, yes it actually is funny.

The Japanese internet has been provided with so much needed humor by Apple's latest iOS update. I've taken some of the better images from here. If I had an iOS device, I'd probably waste the better part of the weekend looking for stuff like this. It's really horrible. Cleaning up this database is going to be a lot of work. It's not just the lack of detail, but mistakes in labeling.

I am reminded of how the Japanese internet fell all over itself when Apple named its voice assistant in a way that sounds like butt in Japanese.

Similar to when Fox news created the infamous "Shibuya Eggman" nuclear reactor, we now have McDonald's Station. Some chicken nuggets with that? The map is so bad that is impossible to even tell where this is.

Here's a railway station that has been named after a pachinko parlor "Gundam". 

Continuing with the railway stations, here is where someone did a search from Keikyu Kamata Station. Lot of results. Not a single one is actually in the right place.

Next we have a station that is apparently not attached to a railway line.

Looking for Osaka Station? Well, it's apparently not in the database. That'll piss off Hashimoto!

How about the world's busiest train station, Shinjuku, with more lines that I can count on my fingers? At least it has a marker.

This place is a grocery store called LAMU(ラ•ムー)but everything after the dot as been truncated. Seriously, cleaning up this database is going to be hard work!

Here's one with place names written in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Apparently there is a lot of Korean written on the maps.

Maybe airports are better? Nope. Haneda Airport is mislabeled as a paper factory. The best part? They're not even located near the airport.

Narita? not in the database. At least they have the area.

Softbank smartphone trade-in program will unlock iPhones

Part of the promotion for the upcoming iPhone 5 release is the announcement of a trade-in program for Softbank phones that are in good condition. These phones will be unlocked and sold overseas. This includes all iPhones, the Dell Streak, and all variants of theHTC Desire.

Softbank has obtained the permission of Apple to unlock the iPhones.

Um... maybe it's just us here, but this kind of stinks a bit. Here is Apple and softbank refusing to unlock the iPhones of loyal customers so that they may freely use them as the wish - be it with a domestic or overseas carrier - then turn around and unlock them so that you can sell them overseas (most likely in a re-locked state). Foreign markets will bear a price that the domestic market will not.

Not unlocking a subsidized phone is understandable, but refusing to unlock something that is fully paid for would be inexcusable. In fairness, Softbank has indeed subsidized these phones with the monthly discounts, and it appears that some of the phones are being bought back at a higher price than what was paid by the customer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yappari - Softbank announces tethering from 2013

My original thoughts were that Softbank Mobile had no choice but to offer tethering. Then, upon reading the issues listed by their Chief Technology Officer, it seemed highly unlikely that tethering would come any time soon.

A few moments ago, Softbank announced that tethering will be available from January 15, 2013. I'm currently hearing via twitter that the terms will be identical to AU's: ¥525 per month with the first two years free. Subscribers will be limited to 7 GB. Once the free period ends, an additional 500 MB will be added to the 7 GB cap. Application for waived tethering fees open from 9/12/2012 to 12/31/2012.

UPDATEPDF of press release.

This is indeed consistent with what the CTO previously said:
Regarding whether it would be possible to allow tethering with the 7 GB data cap, Miyakawa indicates that it is likely but needs to be carefully considered. His most ideal scenario would be an additional tethering charge.
Let's not forget how the CTO was basically against this, so it will be interesting to see how it effects network capacity. Basically, they don't have the capacity to spare for it but they've got no choice. They're already facing a dilemma in the Shinagawa to Shinjuku area, where they don't know where the capacity will come from to remove a 3G Channel to dedicate to LTE.

According to CTO Miyakawa:

Japanese 2-year mobile contracts: the shrewdness of shibari


A common misconception is that 2-year mobile contracts in Japan are for hardware subsidies, raising the ire of many because these contracts automatically renew, even if you continue using the same old phone. In actuality, the contracts have nothing to do with hardware.

Hardware in Japan is certainly subsidized. The full retail price of a new iPhone 5 is between ¥50,000 and ¥80,000. If you receive one for zero-yen up front and cancel service after only 12 months, you will be charged the remainder, upwards of ¥30,000, in addition to the ¥9,975 early termination fee (ETF) - nearly ¥40,000 or $500US in total!

Both repaying the subsidy and being accessed a penalty might seem excessive at first. However, as a customer of a Japanese carrier, it is a virtual certainty that you are receiving a discounted service rate that either provides 1) free calling to other subscribers or 2) a discounted - even completely waived - base voice fee. Without this discount, the monthly cost of service would be increased by about ¥1,000 and probably more in the case of free calling plans. Breaching the voice plan contract results in the above-mentioned ¥10,000 penalty - hardware never enters the equation.

Difference between voice plan prices without a 2-year contract
Voice Plan
Full Price
(no contract)
Discount Price
(2-year contract)
Months to
exceed ETF
Discount Plan
Docomo type ss value
ファミ割 or ひとりでも割
Docomo type Xi
タイプXi にねん
AU ss simple
LTE (iPhone 5)
Softbank ss value
Softbank type X
LTE (iPhone 5)

Perpetually binding 2-year contracts

Furthermore, Japanese carriers have deftly adjusted the discounts and termination fees such that it is always cheaper to apply the discount - not doing so in order to be able to freely cancel at will, with no penalty, would cost more than the cancellation fee in typically less than a year. This creates a nearly constant financial disincentive to switch carriers, except for during those 30 days that roll around every two years. If you contracted service in October, you can only cancel it without ETF in October 2 years later or 4 years later (or 6 or 8 and so on).

THIS is shibari, literally to bind.

Regarding recurring contracts, a carrier's risk in subsidizing hardware is negated as soon as the subsidy is recouped. However if the risk is instead associated with subsidizing the cost of service, then the risk is ostensibly recurring and never abating. Thus, carriers are able to justify binding customers to automatically-renewing, 2-year contracts. It really is brilliant when you stop and think about it, especially considering that the full, undiscounted prices do not at all reflect the carrier's actual costs.

Of course these prices are are inflated. On paper, though, it is relatively easy to make them appear not to be. Given the cozy ties between regulators and industry, don't expect to see auto-renewing contracts banned.

Why we recommend MNVOs

Because Japanese carriers, especially Softbank Mobile, took advantage of MVNOs attempts to unbind their customers, Japan Communications, Inc was forced to add an ETF to their b-mobile voice SIMs. At first this was one year. Now it has been lowered to three months. There is most certainly an administrative overhead incurred by a new contract. Requiring a minimal commitment from the customer only makes sense.

The reason we here often recommend b-mobile SIMs is that the ETFs are for a reasonable period of time, and the contracts do not automatically renew. After 3 months with a b-mobile TalkingSIM, or 1 year with an AEON voice SIM, the contract is done and finished. Forever.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Softbank is probably unable to offer iPhone 5 tethering

Also via Ishikawa Tsutsumu comes more details from a September 14 press conference by Softbank Mobile Chief Technology Officer Miyakawa.
Summary and Recommendations
Based on what I've read, I think Softbank Mobile (SBM) will lack the network capacity to smoothly allow tethering on their FDD-LTE network until at least the end of the current fiscal year. SBM will repurpose one of it's four 3G channels to LTE. This could negatively impact existing 3G users and will only provide a single 10 MHz channel for FDD-LTE. The theoretical maximum downlink speed will accordingly be half that of NTT Docomo's XI and KDDI's 4G LTE networks.

Given SBM's well known network issues, the switch over to LTE could be a real disaster if not handled correctly. Miyakawa even said it'd be his job if it fails. As noted by Ishikawa, come 9/21, the media will be all over KDDI's and SBM's new LTE networks, and you know they're going to be testing in the most congested areas.

Concerns over network congestion aside, for me, the lack of tethering would be a deal breaker if I was in the market for an iPhone 5. After having used tethering for free with an NTT Docomo Xi SIM and various Nexus phones (all of them, actually) for the better part of a year, and with b-mobile prior to that, I simply cannot go back to life before tethering.

Therefore the KDDI iPhone 5 is recommended over the SBM iPhone 5.
Service start and build out
SBM will begin it's 4G LTE service with the launch of the iPhone 5 on September 21. According to Miyakawa, SBM plans to have 91 to 92% of the population covered by March 2013, compared to KDDI's plans for 98%, though Miyakawa mischaracterized KDDI's coverage goal as the same as SBM's.
Speed and coverage
SBM currently has deployed in urban areas 4 channels (20 MHz x2) for 2100 MHz 3G service. A fifth channel is used for the 900 MHz "platinum band" and will remain in use for 3G. SBM will take one of the 2100 MHz channels and dedicate it to LTE. Within the next fiscal year, Miyakawa would like to be able to dedicate a second channel to LTE.

Until that happens, SBM LTE 4G will be limited to a theoretical maximum of 37.5 Mbps, half of the NTT Docomo Xi and KDDI 4G LTE maximums. A second channel will be immediately secured for use in Saitama and Gunma prefectures, allowing 75 Mbps.

Removing one of these channels from 3G service will be particularly tricky inside the Yamanote Line, especially from Shinjuku to Shinagawa, around Ikebukuro, and between Akihabara and Ueno.

SBM is adding about 2000 base stations per month for each of it's 1) W-CDMA 3G (platinum band), 2) TD-LTE (acquired from wilcom), and 3) FDD-LTE networks. If they can keep up this pace for a year, by the next fiscal year they should be able to add an additional 10 MHz channel to platinum band, setting them up for low-frequency LTE coverage at a later date.
Comparisons to KDDI 4g LTE
Miyakawa believes they have more experience with 2100 MHz and KDDI is going to have to catch up. As a result, KDDI is likely to have more gaps in urban coverage areas. He also points out that KDDI will be incapable of simultaneous voice and data, but again mischaracterized SBM's own capabilities, implying that they can do simultaneous voice and LTE.

No carriers are yet capable of VoLTE (voice over LTE), so data falls back to 3G when a phone call is initialed.
On the lack of tethering
According to Miyakawa, the business department is rushing to make it available, but until things calm down a bit, it will be difficult to implement. Currently 4% of users consume 50% of SBM's capacity, and this bias will only increase if they allow tethering. Rather, Miyakawa would like to focus on getting the large number of feature phone users converted over to smartphones but needs to be careful not to shock them with sky-high data prices.

Regarding whether it would be possible to allow tethering with the 7 GB data cap, Miyakawa indicates that it is likely but needs to be carefully considered. His most ideal scenario would be an additional tethering charge.

I'll note again that tethering is free from KDDI for the next two years and free with NTT Docomo.

The way I see it is the only way to institute a tethering charge is by working the premium angle of the iPhone experience. Androids do it for free with Docomo's LTE network. So they'll need to exploit an image of Apple quality - whether this image is correct is of no matter. It's clear that Apple users are more inclined to pay premium prices as evidenced by the number of ad-supported apps on the Google Play Store that are only available as paid apps in the Apple App Store.
The future of TD-LTE
I always saw the AXGP network acquired from Wilcom as a stop-gap solution to the lack of FDD-LTE. In the end, the success of this could be argued given the likely large number of disappointed users because it was unclear why the iPad 4G LTE version didn't work with SBM's "4G LTE" network.

Anyway, as mentioned above, this network is alive and well and being expanded. According to Miyakawa, it easily provides 30 Mbps connections. While he'd love to see it supported by the iPhone, he's not surprised that they've not gotten an affirmative answer, since SBM is the only carrier in the world actively using TD-LTE.

More details on KDDI 4G LTE, iPhone 5 battery, and tethering

AU by KDDI will start their 4G LTE service with release of the iPhone 5 on September 21 and plan to have 98% poulation coverage by March 2013. Voice will be handled by the existing CDMA-2000 3G network, while data will be through LTE (when coverage is present). Maximum theoretical LTE speeds are the same as NTT Docomo's Xi LTE network at 75 Mbps. There will be areas limited to 37.5 Mbps, but as network construction proceeds, these will be converted over to 75 Mbps.

Prior to the September 14 KDDI press conference introducing their 4G LTE service, Ishikawa Tsutsumu was able to sit down with an unnamed KDDI representative who has specific knowledge on KDDI's LTE impletation. (「LTEネットワーク担当者」). Below are highlights from the interview, intermixed with our thoughts.
Network usage
NTT Docomo complained in the past regarding the connection frequency of Android handsets. This, along with popular services such as LINE and the general crappy infrastructure supporting the prone-to-failure Sp Mode, has contributed to network issues for Docomo.

The KDDI LTE rep mentioned that, while the actual bandwidth consumed by existing iPhones on KDDI's CDMA-2000 network is equivalent to that of Androids, the iPhone puts less of a strain on the network because it bundles traffic into fewer connection attempts. Signaling by Androids is more frequent.
The rep didn't offer more information other than they will make sure to have good coverage in the area from Osaka to Tokyo (toumeihan), not by simply focusing on the total number of base stations but by providing a continuous coverage area lacking gaps. By the end of this fiscal year, they intend to have a number of indoor locations, such as subways, well covered with Band 1 FDD-LTE.
KDDI LTE bands
As covered in a previous interview with KDDI CEO Tanaka, original plans called for focusing primarily on the 1500 MHz and 800 MHz bands for LTE, the latter of which provides superior indoor penetration. the iPhone changed those plans and they are focusing on 2100 MHz, though they will build out a network using all three. The focus on 2100 MHz instead of 800 MHz will require that KDDI use femtocells for indoor/underground locations

For now, the 2100 MHz band will be specific to the iPhone, but other handsets will eventually use it as well.
iPhone 5 battery life with LTE
LTE is notorious for draining batteries. Apple is claiming that they have done it right where everyone else is doing it wrong. I'm not sure if I totally buy into this.

Apple is infamous for claiming that anytime they do something new, it's the first time that it's ever been done. More correctly, Apple is famous for being the first to do it and get it right. However, the KDDI rep is claiming that, with all tweaks and improvements considered, the iPhone 5 will have a longer single-charge data transmission time of 8 hours using LTE, where previous iPhones got only 6 with a 3G connection.

The KDDI rep claims that this is not just the result of a higher-capacity battery because talk time is not changed, remaining at 8 hours. (iPhone 5 tech specs claim 8 hours for both 3G and LTE.)

I'll need to see this in the real world before I believe the claims. Is performance sacrificed? Does the phone fall back to 3G often?

Make no mistake though: LTE battery life on the iPhone 5 will be one of, if not the, best of any phone released to date. This is just the natural progression. LTE has been around for several years now, giving all makers ample time to study it. Apple has been slow to release LTE devices, and I'm 100% positive the reason for this is finding a means to do it such that it doesn't turn the phone into a space heater, killing the battery dead in a few hours.

Not that there is an LTE iPhone, it's safe to say Apple is satisfied with battery life.

The KDDI rep also indicates that their implementation of LTE will reduce wasted power searching for an LTE signal when there is none available. Their CDMA-2000 3G network will signal the phone that it has entered an LTE coverage area, triggering the LTE radio to begin connection attempts. Lacking this "There's an LTE network here" (「ここにLTEネットワークがあるよ」) signal, the LTE radio stays off.

The rep says he doesn't know exactly how NTT Docomo is doing things but guesses that they are struggling with determining the level of LTE signal degradation that should force a fallback to 3G. In a couple of more years, however, this won't matter as LTE coverage seriously approaches 100% of the population.
On Tethering
Tethering requires subscription but will be free for the first two years, after which it will cost an additional 500 yen plus tax (¥525 for now). KDDI will be spreading it's LTE services over the three bands mentioned above, so the rep believes they'll have the network capacity to handle it, plus they have the experience of offering wimax.

When asked why Softbank Mobile lacks tethering, as I've also stated, the rep believes that Softbank will eventually offer tethering. The rep indicates that KDDI doesn't have any idea what is going on at Softbank, but that they've probably just been slow to put into place a system for checking if a users is subscribed for tethering and may be dealing with network capacity issues.
The A149 GSM and CDMA models the same (in just Japan?)


Ishikawa: Android makers have introduced country-specific models to overcome regional difference in LTE frequencies, but Apple was able to accomplish this with only 3 models. That was truly surprising. What are your thoughts?

KDDI guy: I think there is essentially only two models. Our CDMA and Softbank's GSM A1429 models are the same. AT&T's main band is band 4. It's apparently difficult to transmit on bands 3 and 4 with the same hardware. This is troublesome to overcome for the radio makers, requiring two separate models. However, it is expected that the next year it will be possible to do this with only one model.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Japan Rail East free wifi

Japan is notorious for its dearth of free wifi access points. Recently, several free options have become available. The latest option is from JR East. Use of the service requires registering you email address. Doing so gives three hours of free wifi access. Reentering your credentials will give you more time.

There is no security, so connect to the access point, then open your web browser and follow the instructions.

More details here (PDF).

Currently, service is limited to mainly the Yamanote line around Shinjuku and Tokyo stations, plus Narita and Haneda.

Comparison of iPhone 5 carriers in Japan

Availability of the iPhone 5 in Japan

The iPhone 5 is available directly from two carriers, Au by KDDI and Softbank Mobile. Unlocked overseas versions can be purchased, but usage will be impossible on KDDI's network and tricky on Softbank's. Neither carrier will allow you to use an unlocked iPhone that they didn't sell you.

Expansys Japan is taking preorders for unlocked overseas models. These can theoretically be used on NTT Docomo Xi network or with an MVNO such as b-mobile, if the issues concerning the different SIM size and thickness with the new nano SIM can be overcome.


Compatible Networks
  • NTT Docomo's Xi LTE network (and any MVNO using Docomo - including FOMA)
  • Softbank's 4G LTE network
  • KDDI by AU's LTE network
The iPhone 5 won't work with emobile. The SIM will have to be cut down and the thickness shaved down for use with Docomo. Whether Docomo will release nano SIMs probably depends on whether Japan Communications Inc. (aka B-mobile) can successfully pressure them into doing it.
All carriers will have Band 1 (2100 MHz) FDD-LTE networks in operation by launch of the iPhone 5 on September 21. NTT Docomo's Xi network is the most well developed, but KDDI and Softbank Mobile are quickly building out their LTE networks. A recent compilation of the of number of LTE base stations currently deployed indicates that the AU LTE is the smallest.

However, there is about a 6 week delay between when functional stations are added and when the MIC lists are updated. KDDI CEO Tanaka indicated during a recent interview that KDDI has a larger number of LTE base stations that can be activated when needed, and that the MIC numbers don't necessarily reflect these unlicensed stations.
Simultaneous voice and LTE data
No carrier in Japan is capable of simultaneous voice and LTE data transmission. Until VoLTE (voice over LTE is implemented), during a phone call, the data connection will fall back to 3G speeds when using a W-CDMA carrier (NTT Docomo and Softbank Mobile). In the case of KDDI's CDMA-2000 voice network, the data connection will shut off completely. While there are solutions for this problem on CDMA-2000 networks, it requires the usage of an additional antenna, which consumes more power and space. Apple chose not to implement this.
A lot of attention has been focused on the lack of a tethering function in the Softbank demonstration model seen by the press. There is a chance that Softbank will add this because that is the largest discrepancy between their service compared to KDDI's.

Tethering is available for free if using B-Mobile or NTT Docomo. KDDI is offering free tethering, but (apparently) only for two years. From the AU price page:
Application period until 12/31/2012. During the free tethering period, the data cap is not increased. Once the free tethering period ends, speed will not be decreased and the data cap will be increased by 500 MB for tethering subscribers.
This also indicates that tethering will be an additional service that must be added. There is no mention of what the price will be after the end of the free tethering period. UPDATE: found it. 500 yen plus tax is what it will cost.


Both KDDI and Softbank Mobile take different routes to arrive at the exact same pricing for new customers who port over a new number and for new customers who aren't moving from another carrier.

Yeah, there's no collusion in that.

The absolute minimum monthly cost for an iPhone 5 is ¥5,775 for a 16 GB model from both Softbank and KDDI if you're a new customer who ports in a phone number from another carrier. If you are a new customer who doesn't have existing mobile service in Japan, add ¥980 for a total of ¥6,755. The most expensive will be for existing AU customers at ¥7,145.
KDDI's discount is slightly better than Softbank's, especially for new customers, but the cost of the handset is more expensive, evening things out..

Cost of KDDI iPhone 5
New Contract
Existing Customer
16 GB
32 GB
64 Gb
16 GB
32 GB
64 Gb
Monthly cost
Montly subsidy
Monthly total
2-year total

Carrying over the "monthly total" from the above table into the cost for service gives the following. There are substantial discounts to those who leave a Japanese carrier for AU.

KDDI Monthly Service Cost
New Contract
Existing Customer
16 GB
32 GB
64 Gb
16 GB
32 GB
64 GB
Monthly total
Unlimited data
¥5,460 (7GB)
ISP charge
Basic voice plan
Minimum monthly
Softbank Mobile
The absolute minimum cost offered from Softbank is the same as than that offered by AU, with the addition that existing customers are eligible for all discounts.

Cost of Softbank iPhone 5
New and Existing Customer
16 GB
32 GB
64 Gb
Monthly cost
Montly subsidy
Monthly total
2-year total

Softbank Monthly Service Cost
New Contract with MNP
Everyone else
16 GB
32 GB
64 Gb
16 GB
32 GB
64 GB
Monthly total
Unlimited data
¥4,480 (7GB)
¥5,460 (7GB)
ISP charge
Basic voice plan
Minimum monthly
There was an error in this table. The data prices were flopped for MNP and existing customers. the ¥5,460 data price applies to existing customers and new contracts from people who don't port a phone number over from an existing contract with a Japanese carrier or MVNO.
Unlocked A149 model
The price of the current preorders from expansys is not set, but there is a UD$10 discount for preordering. This model is technically compatible with both Softbank and Docomo's networks.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Difference between a mini SIM and a nano SIM

Click for (very) high resolution version.
A standard-sized SIM that is used in most phones is actually a "mini" SIM card. The image above shows a photograph of my Docomo Xi mini SIM card with dimensions. It is 15 mm wide and 25 mm long. Chopping this down (for use in an iPhone 5) to nano SIM size length and width would be easy.

The difficult part would be removing the 90 µm of plastic from the bottom to bring the thickness down from 0.76 to 0.67 mm. As you can see that isn't a lot of plastic and it could likely be done by sanding/filing down the back. Perhaps the best way to do would be to file it down a bit and try and insert it. Then file some more if it doesn't fit and so on.

Looking down on the same SIM as pictured above
As long as it is thin enough to fit in the slot but thick enough to maintain contact. Speaking of contact, I believe the contact arrangement is the same between each SIM type.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

iPhone 5 review unit shows "SoftBank LTE" in status bar

A comment pointed out that an ascii review article includes photos showing the Softbank version appears to have an LTE connection, albeit relatively weak. The KDDI version shows a 3G connection. This would seem to be consistent with the count of 2100 MHz LTE base stations operated by each of the three main carriers.

So there may be hope after all for using a Softbank iPhone with LTE at launch, though don't expect extensive coverage.

AU and Softbank LTE Band 1 base stations

Here's a page claiming to have collected through the MIC base station information search site information on the number of base stations each of the carriers has active as of August, 2012.

Information on the actual websites of KDDI and Softbank Mobile is apparently nonexistent. If this is correct and not total BS, then SBM has a decent size FDD-LTE Band 1 network ready to go. AU is not only way behind, their stations are mainly in the Kanto area. As expected, DCM has the most well developed LTE network.

Change refers to the difference from the last time this guy checked.


au by KDDI 2GHz LTE 北海道 東北 関東 信越 北陸 東海 近畿 中国 四国 九州 沖縄 Total
2125 MHz 10MHz 10M0X7W 5 5
2127.5 MHz 5MHz 5M0X7W 121 231 2185 30 2 476 6 1 385 31 3468
Base stations 121 231 2185 30 2 476 6 1 0 385 31 3468
Change 45 3 675 0 2 173 0 1 0 141 31 1071

Softbank Mobile

SoftBank 4G 2GHz LTE 北海道 東北 関東 信越 北陸 東海 近畿 中国 四国 九州 沖縄 Total
2152.5 MHz 5MHz 5M00X7W 501 946 2904 88 167 2455 304 1 8 1778 141
2155 MHz 10MHz 10M0X7W 0 0 12 0 0 0 0 0 0 11 0
2157.5 MHz 5MHz 5M00X7W 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Base stations 501 946 2905 88 167 2455 304 1 8 1788 141 9304
Change 39 29 461 0 37 207 300 0 7 67 33 1180

NTT Docomo

NTT DOCOMO Xi 2GHz LTE 北海道 東北 関東 信越 北陸 東海 近畿 中国 四国 九州 沖縄 Total
2144.8 MHz 10MHz 104 18 49 0 6 17 17 28 14 22 3
2147.2 MHz 5MHz 781 1023 5343 133 310 2098 1311 377 337 1619 212
Base stations 885 1041 5392 133 316 2115 1328 405 351 1641 215 13822
Change 93 3 75 0 41 80 5 2 47 67 11 424


Relays 北海道 東北 関東 信越 北陸 東海 近畿 中国 四国 九州 沖縄 Total Change
au by KDDI 2GHz LTE 5 1015 23 163 19 64 1289 1185
NTT DOCOMO Xi 2GHz LTE 438 15 8104 74 137 1065 874 357 115 559 108 11846 174
SoftBank 4G 2GHz LTE 193 122 1599 100 33 406 491 3 502 28 3477 547


Low Power Repeators 北海道 東北 関東 信越 北陸 東海 近畿 中国 四国 九州 沖縄 Total
NTT DOCOMO FOMA 2GHz W-CDMA LTE 包括免許 6730 6970 67970 6880 2370 10220 21350 7490 5260 24280 6220 165740
au by KDDI N800MHz 2GHz CDMA2000 LTE 包括免許 11859 16606 100969 13981 5118 20335 54088 20785 5864 34005 4099 287709
SoftBank 4G 2GHz W-CDMA LTE 包括免許 2900 6200 51600 3000 3200 19400 29400 7400 2900 21000 2500 149500

iPhone 5 will be compatible with NTT Docomo

A simple cutter will not work.
UPDATE: Expansys Japan is taking preorders for SIM free iPhones 5s. According to ascii plus, the offer originally included a "nano SIM cutter", but this is no longer mentioned. Obviously this would be because a simple cutter will not be enough. The nano SIM is about a tenth of a millimeter thinner than previous SIMs.

This will be a problem for using an iPhone 5 with Docomo or B-Mobile, unless Docomo stamps out nano SIMs..

ALSO, Softbank may have a more well-developed FDD-LTE band 1 network than previously believed.

At iPhone 5 launch, the only compatible LTE network in Japan will most likely be NTT Docomo's Xi Network, which can be used directly with an unlocked iPhone (GSM model A1429), or with a B-Mobile LTE SIM card.

Softbank Mobile and AU each have plans to begin compatible LTE service by the end of the year using Band 1 (2100 MHz), which is the same band used by Docomo. See here for an explanation of frequency bands and cellular technologies used by Japanese carriers.

NTT Docomo and Softbank networks will be compatible for unlocked devices. AU devices are not usable on any other network in the world.

Softbank currently has an LTE network, but it is based on different technology (recall the iPad LTE debacle?) Both AU and Softbank are listed as compatible on the Apple LTE website. Interestingly the only network actually in operation is not listed. For those of you wanting a direct-from-Docomo iPhone, abandon all hope - it's never. gonna. happen.

Which iPhone is compatible?

The GSM model A1429 is the one to buy. This is NOT THE SAME MODEL THAT IS COMPATIBLE WITH US AT&T! AT&T uses LTE Band 4 (AWS 1700/2100 MHz), which is the GSM model A1428.

For 3G service, different GSM models will be interchangable between different carriers, as always. Incompatibilities will be limited to LTE.

What are the different models

AT&T (North America):
GSM model A1428: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 4 and 17)

CDMA model A1429: CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900, 2100 MHz); UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5, 13, 25)

Softbank and NTT Docomo (Europe): (compatible Japanese frequencies in bold)
GSM model A1429: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5)

What's the deal with Softbank 4G?

Short answer: I don't know. Here's a screenshot from SBM's FAQ indicating that Softbank 4G is based on TD-LTE at 2500 MHz. This hasn't been updated since February 2012. However there are certainly FDD-LTE base stations that are active.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lack of Google Play Store on cheap Android tablets

Google Play is not available on this model.
Sitting next to the abysmal alimo were three other tablets that looked much more attractive, had much higher specs and Android versions, and were less expensive. All of these were made by either relatively unknown makers, or makers who are known for making other types of products, such as displays. All were relatively well priced, but if/when Google drops the Nexus 7 in Japan, these guys will be crushed.

However, on the software side, the tablets have a huge problem. None have licensed the Google Play Store. A third party app store called the Tapnow Market is preloaded. It may be possible to side load the Play Store app, but I wouldn't count on it working 100% correctly.

Don't expect any of these tablets to be updated.

The Tapnow Market app icon mimics the old Google Market app icon, it uses the same colors and general look, and even has the same name. The content in the Tapnow Market  is very limited. I searched for each of the 53 apps loaded onto my phone. Of those 53, I only found 1, wifi analyzer.

Partial list of cheap tablets in Japan with no Play Store access:

Alimo, the worst Android tablet in Japan

I visited Yodobashi Akiba yesterday for the first time in a while and was totally surprised to see the large number of Android tablets on the market now, of all shapes and sizes from 7 inches all the way up to 13. Unfortunately, quality (and price) is all over the board, as are the versions. On the same shelf were four 7-inch tablets, each running a different Android. Included were Froyo (2.2), Gingerbread (2.3), Honeycomb (3.2) and ICS (4.0).

Of these, the most expensive was this monstrosity from IO Data. The alimo IAT-PSR701 costs ¥30,000, and it's the one that's running 2.2! Not only that, it has an 800 MHz processor, and only 512 MB of both RAM and memory. It weighs nearly half a kilogram. On the positive side, it includes a full-size USB port and HDMI output.

I was limited in the quality of photo I could surreptitiously snap, but perhaps you can see that it has this super fat base that tapers upward, making the back triangular so that it will stand on it's own. Think of it like a badly engineered kickstand that can't be retracted. I guess the point is to use Skype with the crappy front-facing camera, or be able to turn on the pet watching mode so you can keep track of your dog while away (assuming the dog doesn't move).

Even better, it has this TV remote control mode, but the screen flips in upside down and doesn't seem to  support autorotate. So the remote can only be used in one orientation - laying down on a table. (Granted, this could be due to the positioning of the IR transmitter.)

While this isn't the worst android tablet ever, considering the price point, I'd have to say it's pretty darn close. I snagged a staff member and asked I was had missed something. Did have one seg? water proofing? some super galapagos feature? Nope. Basically it was a total failure and has already been discontinued. The maker didn't want to drop the price, but asked to just leave it on the shelf as is, in hopes that someone - anyone - might actually buy one.

Compared to the others, though, it had one redeeming quality. Licensing to the Android Play Store Market (version is to low to access Google's newest online store). Every other tablet lacked that, meaning they include a third party market app with very little app content.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

B-Moible adds back voice SIM cancellation fee

I thought it was odd that the recently released voice SIM included a cancellation fee since JCI had just removed it from the Talking SIMs. Well, they're back on the Talking SIMs. All new JCI voice SIMs will carry a 3-month minimum requirement and a ¥5,250 early cancellation fee.

This is still much better than the standard 2-year contracts from Japanese carriers, or the 1-year contracts on the Aeon SIMs, but it does leave the impression that JCI is figuring things out as they go along.

Without doubt, JCI does incur costs to Docomo for each new contract, so I would guess this new fee is meant to primarly cover those costs, rather than attempt to "tie" customers into service. If shibari was the goal, why only have a 3-month requirement?

UPDATE: there is an excellent comment below explaining that, as you might imagine, many people took advantage of the low cost of entry and exit to use it as a stepping stone into a contract with a Japanese carrier. Porting in an existing phone number can qualify you for a number of discounts that can either be significant up-front cash or add up to several hundred bucks over the course of a 2-year contract.

This is of course what happened in the first place when many resellers started offering large cash-back incentives. I still think it was odd that 1) the smartphone voice SIM was introduced at first without a cancelation fee, and 2) that they didn't immediately add the same fee to the talking SIMs.