Thursday, September 13, 2012

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.


  1. Thanks for the the summary
    Am I missing something, or wouldn't you want to go for the "AU" (CDMA model A1429*) model as it has everything the GSM A1429 has??

  2. I can't say. The older models were universal, and it depended on how it was originally activated. It would probably be possible to use an unactivated, brand new CDMA model. But at this point there are no guarantees, so best to stick with the GSM version. But once an iPhone 4s was activated as a CDMA device, it was forever locked out of GSM networks (without hacking - if that was possible - I don't keep up with the iOS hacking, cat and mouse game with Apple).

    The GSM and UMTS compatibility with the CDMA version is designed to allow CDMA users to roam on GSM networks, while paying exorbitant fees to their carrier - not to necessarily allow them to insert GSM SIM cards from the carrier of their choice.

    So, GSM is best.

  3. Seems like Softbank is rolling out it's FDD-LTE network at the same time they are rolling out their Platinum band (900Mhz) network.

  4. But I guess you knew that... sorry, I missed your post on it a several months ago.

  5. No worries. I know that it exists and it is transmitting, but the data that it will become available is not clear. Some Japanese sources indicate that the they've been quietly augmenting their existing 4G with it, but the existing handsets/routers don't have compatible chipsets ASFAIK.

    Maybe they've already completed enough infrastructure to be competitive with Xi as soon as the phone launches. There is just little information available.

  6. Now the problem is getting your hands on a SIM or microSIM conversion/cutter tool that can make usable nanoSIM's. But it seems that might be impossible due to thickness, which regular microSIM cutters do nothing for. Maybe take an orbital sander to the backside of the cut nanoSIM to thin it down?

  7. I've already seen Chinese companies offering cutters, but I'm not sure about the thickness issue.

  8. I'm still trying to get all the data, but if the CDMA model A1429 is offered in the U.S. by Verizon/Sprint, it should be possible to get the "GSM portion" unlocked by the carrier (they do it now for 4S) and then pop a NTT sim (assuming we can get the right size) in. This would be nice for people who split time between US/Japan and are OK to do contracts on both sides.

  9. I was reading the ASCII article, and I noticed this photo. Notice that this demo iPhone 5 is on Softbank's LTE network...

  10. Two thoughts here, SBS. One, why not just use sandpaper on the back of the MicroSIM? Aren't we talking like a ludicrously small amount of plastic behind the chip? 10% thinner really isn't that much. Two, there will be no official unlocked iPhone for the Japanese market and SoftBank is totally going to screw us over again and refuse to allow unlocked iPhones on their network without ye olde bait and switch (borrow friend's SB iPhone, or buy SB iPhone and resell SB iPhone after obtaining sim and sticking it in unlocked iPhone, etc), am I right?

  11. i'm traveling to Japan for 5 weeks next month...not sure if I should buy an iPhone 5 now since I was hoping to use the b-mobile visitor sim card...but this nano-sim card is screwing things up....

  12. Are you guys serious? It's really easy to get and use an unlocked iPhone 5 (2100/Band1 compatible) and use it on SoftBank. I'm buying mine on Apple Canada (factory unlocked) and then getting my family to send it here. Then I take out the micro SIM from my iPhone 4 and trim it down to size. Easy to do. The difference in thickness will not affect installation (if needed you can sand the plastic back). Use these templates. You can do this at home. F U (Japanese carriers)

  13. That assumes you have someone in one of the countries who can do this. What about those of us who don't?

  14. Well there's always eBay (if you're willing to wait a few weeks longer)

  15. Anyway, the nano SIM card is a non-issue. Just get your hands on an unlocked iP5. The Japanese carriers really like to rip you off. In Canada I can use my iPad and iPhone all on the same UNLIMITED data plan. I have jailbroken my iPhone 4 here in Japan for 2 years ONLY so I could tether my wifi iPad to my iPhone. I will have to jailbreak my iPhone5 too. Easy :)

  16. That may be technically possible, but you won't get LTE network access if you do that. Remember the network access is governed by your contract. Besides, the LTE plans are more expensive on Softbank than the 3G plans.
    I was also hesitating to buy an unlocked phone and have it shipped here, but I figured one of the main advantages of going iPhone5 was to get LTE network (and hence avoid the overcrowded 3G networks as much as possible). Getting an iPhone 5 and being stuck on 3G is a big negative in my opinion.

  17. Yea, but it may take a while before someone jailbreaks the iPhone5/A6 combo. Remember how long the A5 took to jailbreak?
    Also, Au seem to be allowing tethering on their LTE contracts by default. I dunno about Softbank....

  18. Hi guys, great info being disseminated and good discussion, thanks for this. I've already pre-ordered my iPhone 5 here in Canada (so this would be the AT&T, A1428 model). I'll be visiting Japan later this fall for 6 weeks. Now, my understanding is that I won't be able to get a nano sim from either Softbank or DoCoMo (as I was kindly informed by Sven, who runs the Japandroid blog -- thanks Sven!) so that leaves me with having to possibly get a visitor sim from B-mobile or a similar outfit and then having to chop/file it down?? Are there any other alternatives? I'm loathe to ask Japanese friends to lie and pick up a sim for me, but I also really would like to be able to use my phone while out.

    Are there any other suggestions, or advice? I'd be grateful, thank you.

  19. Has anyone managed to use a Softbank SIM with an unlocked (Purchased outside Japan) iPhone 5?

  20. You guys think that my iPhone 5 from Softbank Japan can be unlocked? I need to use another sim for this when I travel abroad. Dont wanna use roaming for extra charges.

  21. I brought an unlocked iPhone 5 from America and was hoping to use it while living in Japan. I'm planning to buy a b-mobile SIM (its okay if I can't get LTE coverage, as long as I get any data is fine), but was wondering if anyone knew where to buy a nano SIM cutter in Japan? I'm also planning to get sandpaper to sand down the thickness a little bit.

  22. So has anyone gotten the combo of MVNO SIM+iPhone 5+LTE to work?

    I have:
    * iPhone 5 with Jailbreak and the modifications to allow LTE on any network. I have the "Enable LTE" switch on
    * 3 x BIGLOBE 3G+LTE SIMs (7 GB standard plan). LTE works great on these with a sim-free Huawei wifi modem I got on amazon, so the plan is active, LTE works, and I have coverage here.
    * I cut one of the regular-sized SIMs to nanoSIM size using a cutting tool I got in Singapore. The thickness of the SIM card is not a problem. 3G works fine on the iPhone 5 with this SIM.

    But I can't LTE to work in the iPhone 5. When I turn on LTE, it first does "searching for signal", then connects to the 3G network, then it says there's no signal for 10 seconds, then switches back to 3G. If I use the jailbreak "Signal" app, during the moment where there's no signal, it says I'm connected to an LTE tower. So it looks like it's connecting and somehow failing negotiation?

    I've done some random googling of japanese articles on this, and they've all used a straight-up docomo mopera SIM. Does anyone have any proof of anyone doing this with an MVNO SIM like b-mobile or BIGLOBE?

  23. Shouldn't make a difference if the SIM is straight from Docomo or through an MVNO.

    I don't think anyone has got it to work reliably. Some people come in saying they can, but it doesn't often work for others.

  24. That's a shame, after all the long threads on japanese BBSes with people having success with docomo Xi SIMs it sounded like slam dunk. Hopefully network upgrades improve the compatibility so I don't have to carry around/charge this wifi router for much longer.

  25. Post some links and I'll give them a read but I don't have a whole lot of time for chasing down iOS stuff. I highly doubt the problem is with the network, though. I think it is more likely with the hardware.

  26. This is the short and sweet version

    Here's the massive thread with people trying it out