Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Docomo to release nano SIMs

NTT Docomo announced the sale of Nano SIMs from November 1, 2012. Without a doubt, JCI will also offer them shortly, so it will be easier to use an iPhone 5 with a b-mobile SIM card. For reasons not yet entirely clear, iPhone 5s won't connect to Docomo's Xi LTE network. So an LTE iPhone will be stuck at 3G speeds when used with Docomo.

Once the iPhone 5 is jailbroken, we'll have a better idea of the problem. This will only work for unlocked iPhones, for example from Hong Kong. The US Verizon iPhone 5 is reported to have an unlocked GSM/W-CDMA/LTE baseband (thanks to Google), so it might work with Docomo. I highly recommend waiting for confirmation that Verizon iPhones work with Docomo before running out and signing 2-year contracts.

Fixing the KDDI iPhone 5 2G network "Maru Mondai"

It was brought to my attention yesterday by Andrew Wright that some KDDI iPhone 5 users are getting stuck with a 2G CDMA data connection.
The bad news is that so far, I've only noticed LTE reception in two locations, one of which is my home (which has WiFi anyway). Half of my commute, from Kasumigaseki to Yotsuya on the Marunouchi line, gives me GPRS signal. It's impossible to do anything with it. The Marunouchi line may be a subway line but even standing overground at both Kasumigaseki station and at Yotsuya station gives me weak GPRS signal.
According to the manual, the Maru symbol ○ is used to denote a 2G connection. In the case of KDDI, this is actually indicating a 1xRTT CDMA connection, which to the end user is the same as being stuck on GPRS in the US or Europe (Japan never used GSM voice or GPRS 2G data networks). Therefore a similar problem would not happen with Softbank, since if no 3G or LTE are available, there is nothing to fall back to – you'd just have no signal at all.

Update PRL

The fix quickly came out in the ensuing discussion. Dial *5050 and waiting for a recorded message that will update the PRL (Preferred Roaming List) to a higher version. It also took several tries for it to work. It would seem that Andrew's set up at the shop was probably incomplete, which will surprise no regular readers. See here for a growing list of the dumbest things we've been told at Japanese mobile shops.

I'm not sure if this is at all related to KDDI's "smart" LTE, where the network signals the phone upon entering an compatible LTE service area. The LTE radio on the KDDI iPhone is supposed to stay off in areas with no LTE coverage, saving power rather than searching in vain for a nonexistent network.

According to KDDI (J), the problem is believed to be related to switching between the 3G CDMA-2000 and LTE networks.


(NOTE: this is sourced from Japanese so the actual English used on the iPhone could be slightly different)

Confirm PRL version: From the home screen, got to Settings → General → About/Information → Carrier.

Update PRL version if below v. 5
  1. From within Japan dial *5050
  2. Upon connection:
    • Listen to a recorded message (in Japanese) telling you to hang up and wait about 10 minutes while the list is updated, and that depending on your area, the update may be unsucessfual.
    • After 10 minutes, check the PRL version again and try to update (or change locations) if not on v. 5 (or higher).
  3. Click "finish" (終了) after seeing a message saying that the R-UIM card data has been updated (au ICカードのデータ更新が完了しました).
  4. Reboot the phone.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Softbank "wanker KASA" bluetooth umbrella radiation detector

UPDATE 2: THIS POST IS A JOKE - THE WANKER KASA DOES NOT EXIST. We made it up, just like a "journalist" (who's name sounds like wanker) appears to have made up a story about people in Tokyo using umbrellas as radiation shields. We thought this was over-the-top enough to be immediately identified as sarcasm.

UPDATE: No, this umbrella will have no effect on the rate of umbrella theft because it lacks a cellular radio, GPS, and wifi. Even if a Find My Kasa app existed, the umbrella has no means of geolocating itself. It can't use GPS satellites, it can't triangulate between cell towers, and it can't fix a position based on the MAC addresses of nearby wifi access points. Even if it could do all that, the umbrella has no way of transmitting it's position. As grand theft kasa is rampant in metropolitan regions, I'd consider investing in a heavy-duty locking device to protect your investment while unattended in the racks commonly located outside of most retail establishments.

Softbank Mobile recently announced the wanker KASA, which looks just like a normal umbrella but incorporates their patented, silicon-based wafer radiation detecting technology formerly found only in the 107SH Pantone 5. The umbrella pairs with your phone and streams radiation counts integrated over the external surface area of the umbrella, with the same accuracy and precision.

The umbrella is free for iPhone 5 owners who preorder an iPad Mini 64GB LTE model. Otherwise it costs ¥9,985 for existing customers. New customers who port over an existing phone number will receive a 45.6% credit applied to their bill 3 months following the first month during which they use between 1 and 1.2GB of LTE data (calculated on a base 10 conversion from bytes, where one byte is 127.94 packets).

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review of Nexus 7

Note: This post was originally published at Janne in Osaka and has been slightly adapted for reposting here.

I've had the Nexus 7 - Googles new 7" tablet - for a month now, and it's a nearly perfect device. It's not my first tablet; I've used a budget Android 2.3-based tablet for the past year. It was cheap, limited and full of flaws, but I did find it surprisingly useful as a book reader. The N7 removes every one of those flaws and annoyances. I've also used and admired the iPad, but find the Nexus 7 to be the better device for me in many ways.

I bought the Nexus 7 through the Google Play store soon after it went on sale in Japan. The price includes tax and shipping, and it also included a ¥2000 credit in the Play store — most of which I spent on Final Fantasy III. Delivery took just a few days. (Note that the Google Play credit offer ended this past September. Also, see comment below for more information when buying multiple Nexus 7s.)

The Nexus 7. Some light reading and web browsing during lunch. it's easy to hold and use in one hand, and if a few drops of soup would hit the screen, it's nothing to worry about. This kind of situation is where a tablet this size excels.

The size of the N7 is just right. Width, height and weight is similar to a paperback, but it's very thin, and with its curved edges and sloping, grippy back it's easy to hold and use in one hand for long periods. It goes easily into a coat or jacket pocket, and it even fits in my jeans back pocket when I need both hands for the food tray at lunch. A larger device is too big and heavy to use at the table, on the train, reading in bed or looking thing up on the street. Of course, a larger device may be very good for other uses — I don't recommend taking the Nexus 7 into the bath.

The Nexus 7 is wifi only (though a 3g version is rumoured). It keeps the price down and battery life up, of course, and you don't depend on a network carrier with opinions on what you can and can't do with your device, but it can be a little limiting. Fortunatly it is easy to tether the N7 to my phone when I need a network connection on the go. I have a Galaxy Nexus on the NTT DoCoMo Xi network, and tethering is allowed. Once you've set it up ut works fairly well. Turn on "wifi hotspot" on the phone (you need stock Android, not NTTs version) and the tablet automatically finds and connects to it. I have a 7Gb monthly data limit, but I've yet to actually use the entire monthly quota.

I got a slim book-style cover, but while it may make sense for a large tablet it makes the Nexus 7 clumsier than I like. Fortunately the N7 just snaps in and out of place, so I use the cover as a carry sleeve and stand — the front flap folds back to become a support — but remove the tablet for use. The N7 really shines when used without a cover, so I'll probably replace the cover with a slip-in pouch later on.

The N7 is a "nexus" device. That means that it's Google-branded and runs the latest version of Android. It gets new updates as soon as Google releases them — we got 4.1.2 just last week — not when the maker or carrier decide to update it (if they ever do). Nexus devices are meant to showcase the Android system, and Android 4.1 on the Nexus 7 is a pleasure. It's smooth, beautiful and fast. The UI just gets out of the way, and is far more polished than earlier versions.

Up until now, many cheap tablets don't actually have the Google Play store, a crippling omission. The success of the full-featured, fully-supported Nexus 7 will hopefully have an impact far beyond its user base. The Nexus 7 — at the same price level as many budget tablets — will set a new minimum standard and weed out most of the horrible, barely usable products currently out there. Any maker who wants to stay in this market will have to at least match the Nexus 7 for basic features or find themselves without customers.

Battery life is good — really good, in fact, with the latest update. As a test, I took the N7 off the charger (standard micro USB - thank you for that) on Tuesday morning, then used it as I normally do until the battery ran out. A typical day I read my RSS feeds during my morning commute, read a book during lunch and at night, and occasional web surfing, games (I finished "Anomaly: Warzone Earth"1 on my way home Tuesday night), reading and dictionary use throughout the day.

Nexus 7 battery graph just as it reached 4%, giving me 2 days and 15 hours of use. Wifi was constanly enabled, as was account synchronization and GPS.

I disconnected the N7 Tuesday morning. It reached 4% charge and a final power warning on Thursday night, after two days and 15 hours; that is 63 hours of use on one charge. This is fairly light use, but typical for me on weekdays (I spend most of my time working after all). I've made no attempt to extend the battery life; If I turn off GPS, lower the screen brightness, turn off wifi when I'm not using it and don't play games I could probably use it another half a day on a charge.

What's the use for something like this? Anything that involves mostly consuming things rather than creating it. It's perfect for reading books; email and web surfing (Firefox runs great); forums and chat; social sites such as Facebook, Google+, twitter and so on. The screen is fine for viewing photos (though that's one area where a larger screen could be handy) and movies. It's an excellent gaming system; I've got Minecraft, Final Fantasy III, Broken Sword and a dozen Humble Bundle games on it and they all run beautifully. It excels at video chats. And for all the talk about the lack of "tablet optimized" applications on Android, I've yet to find an app that doesn't work great on the Nexus 7.

You can connect a keyboard to the Nexus 7 with an OTG USB adapter. Here I've connected a Happy Hacking Professional JP keyboard2 to the Nexus 7 and it works just fine. Even such a small keyboard dwarfs the N7, though, and as the small size of the tablet is a main feature, adding a bulky keyboard sort of defeats the purpose. If you need to write a lot, then do yourself a favour and bring a real laptop.

The weak point for tablets is creating content. Writing is clumsy and slow on a touch screen, and not comparable to a real keyboard. Short emails, chats and posts are fine. Longer texts soon become cumbersome; I'm drafting this blog post on the N7 at a cafe in Namba, and this is about as long a text I would ever want to write without a real, physical keyboard. Small portable keyboards are not a real solution; they're almost as hard to write with as an on-screen one. Android has voice input of course, but it's too slow and still too error-prone to replace typing, and you usually can't dictate things aloud in public.

The price is an overlooked feature of the Nexus 7. At just below 20k yen it's half the price of similar size Android tablets and substantially less than an iPad. That's cheap enough that you can buy one on impulse, rather than after careful decision, and cheap enough to easily replace it if it would break. An expensive tablet is something you feel you must be careful with; something you need to protect and coddle, wrap in a protective case and keep safe in a bag. The N7, on the other hand, I can treat like a paperback or noteblock rather than a computer. I simply throw in my bag and use in a crowd without worry that it'll get bumped, scratched, spilled on or dropped. It's light and well-built and if it breaks then getting a new one would be no big deal.

I've got the 16Gb model, though an updated model with 32Gb memory is coming. You might be tempted to wait for the update, and I wouldn't blame you of course. But I've installed all the apps, books and other data I use, and it takes up less than 3Gb on my 16Gb Nexus 7. You can reportedly connect memory sticks and USB hard drives to it using an OTG USB adapter. That would give you essentially unlimited storage, but you apparently need to install extra software for that, and may need to root your Nexus 7 as well.

Google and Asus have really hit the bulls-eye with the Nexus 7. There's a few quirks and niggles — it can't connect to ad-hoc wireless hotspots, and there's no Swedish keyboard dictionary — but it doesn't detract from it being a nearly perfect device.

#1 A neat idea, well executed. The game's a bit short, but as it starts to feel a little repetitive towards the end, it's really just the right length. Another unexpected Humble Bundle gem.

#2 The HHKB keyboards have full-size keys in a very compact layout. Perfect for a cluttered, busy desk. There's two model lines: the "Lite", which is mechanically a normal keyboard with the compact layout; and the "professional" with much higher quality build and better tactile feel. If you have the money to spare, get a "professional" model.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

LTE data in Japan costs $10/GB

A new study by Wireless Intelligence of the GSM Association is apparently showing that LTE data in the US costs $7.50 per gigabyte.

However, I haven't been able to locate the study in their analysis section. Without seeing the actual way in which calculations were performed, it's difficult to comment, but it would seem that this is including overage fees, as well as also voice and SMS fees, according to the New York Times, who also quoted a US Verizon rep as saying the actual price would be $5.50 for just data.

This is still expensive by European standards, but is half the cost of LTE data in Japan.

The benchmark price for LTE in Japan is 7GB for ¥5,985 ($75) as set by NTT Docomo. KDDI and Softbank Mobile will offer 7.5GB for that price, though for the next 2 years, ¥5,460 buys 7GB from them*. An advantage to Japanese customers over those in the US is that LTE data is unrestricted (except for p2p filesharing).

Adding extra charges for tethering or facetime or whatever is a scam. Excuses about not exceeding capacity are just BS. Yeah, if all customers turned on their wireless tether at the same time, it would bring any network to it's knees. But if all customers did anything at the same time, it would still bring down the network. In the case of NTT Docomo, sp-mode mail would probably reset some random people's passwords, or arbitrarily swap out email addresses, just for good measure.

Thanks to Google, US Verizon is actually unable to implement this sort of scam with their LTE network.

Back to Japan, here are the costs per gigabyte:
  • NTT Docomo Xi LTE: ¥855/GB
  • KDDI and SBM LTE: ¥798/GB (¥780 during 2-year campaign)
The exchange rate has been at about ¥80 to $1US ever since LTE has been available in Japan, which would put these prices between $9.75 and $10.50 per gigabyte. Even if the yen dropped to ¥120 on the dollar, levels we haven't seen since 2007, the least a GB would cost in Japan is $6.50.

* For ¥5,460, SBM offers an unlimited LTE data plan without tethering. It will be interesting to see how popular this plan becomes. SBM originally had no intention of allowing unlimited usage of their LTE network because this plan included a throttle after 1.2GB of usage.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

SoftBank: An introduction to those unfamiliar with Japan

We're already seeing dubious reporting on Softbank, as well as on Japanese mobile in general, that leaves the impression that the writers know nothing about either. Sometimes you have to wonder if they know anything about mobile at all. (No, Steve Hilton W-CDMA and CDMA-2000 are no more compatible than GSM and CDMA.)

What follows is a hasty effort to provide background to those looking for a better idea of what mobile is really like in Japan. "Analysts" are welcome – no, encouraged – to read. Bonus points for clicking links and learning more.

Softbank is generally considered to be the least reliable of Japanese carriers. As we suggested, this purchase, in addition allowing growth and creating more buying power, also provides Softbank the chance to shed a bit of their "shoddy" image, and we'd be pleased to see them do well in the US. Many cynical expats will likely remain skeptical, though. Softbank's poor reputation in Japan is not entirely their fault. They have been hindered by the special relationship between their competitors and government regulators. However, it's clear that Softbank could do better.

For example, Softbank's trade-in program resulted in a police investigation. The week following initial roll out saw about four revisions to their LTE business plan, which, according to CNBC, has already been successful, even though their world-standard FDD-LTE network has been live to customers for all of THREE WEEKS.
The purchase is a huge one for Softbank, which is essentially making a $20 billion gamble that it success in developing LTE wireless services in its home market of Japan can be translated to the U.S. Sprint, while the third largest wireless provider in the U.S., significantly trails the two market leaders, Verizon.
Besides most of that sentence not making sense, we're left wondering if success is measured by whether or not the network actually turned when they flipped the switch.

In the end, the terms of their LTE data service were essentially crowd-sourced from twitter. Listening to customers is a good thing. Looking like you got things completely wrong the first time is not.

Fighting unfair spectrum allocations

The Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami that wiped out the backup generators at the Fukushimia Dai-ichi power plant revealed to the world the cozy connections between the Japanese government bureaucrats and the industries they are supposed to regulate. Traditionally, favors are given and blind eyes are turned in exchange for easy, post-retirement industry positions.

This system has not favored Softbank Mobile, who has relatively few ties to government.

Until recently, they were the only one of the big three Japanese carriers to lack a low-frequency allocation and had even sued, unsuccessfully, the government to receive the spectrum absolutely necessary to provide continuous coverage in Japan. Due to attenuation, higher frequency bands are not suitable for servicing either the rural, mountainous areas or the vast, sprawling, multilevel underground below many large cities. Lacking the penetration of a low-frequency band, SBM was forced deploy an army of femptocells. Their network coverage was (is) still substandard.

In a turn away from the traditional, the MIC awarded Softbank the 900 MHz "platinum" band, based not on favors and jobs offers, but strictly on need. This was a huge blow to Emobile (eAccess), the smallest and most spectrally challenged Japanese carrier. We wondered how'd they survive, and, as it turns out, they can't.

Following the announcement of SBM's purchase of eAccess, the Nikkei reported that the MIC would reconsider the joint spectrum allocations of the two, combined carriers, ostensibly just to keep things fair.

Relationship with Apple

There's a reason that the iPhone tends to appear on the number 2 or 3 carriers in each market. These carriers need Apple and have an easier time accepting the stiff terms of the one-sided negotiations.

Former NTT Docomo CEO Yamada previously hinted that, if they were to have carried the iPhone, they'd be required to offer corresponding data plans at a lower price point than for other smartphones and to push the iPhone to account for over half of their handset sales. This is exactly what SBM did (to the detriment of HTC), and exactly what has propelled them in recent years.

I can only imagine how poorly any initial negotiations between Docomo and Apple would have gone - the world's most arrogant hardware maker versus the world's most arrogant mobile carrier. Now Apple makes the most desirable products and Docomo developed the network technology that makes it work (and is used by the entire world). But then, Apple was irrelevant in Japan, not only in mobile but also in computers.

If Docomo execs both 1) had a sense of humor and 2) had ever read Dave Barry, they probably would had fed Apple's proposal to a goat, and Apple spites them for it to this day, locking out their compatible Band 1 LTE network even from unlocked iPhone.

FDD-LTE: Robbing Peter to pay Paul

When Softbank acquired PHS carrier Wilcom, they obtained an XGP network using Band 41 (2500 MHz). This year, they then converted this to a TD-LTE network based on the standard developed by China Telecom. Softbank only uses this for data dongles and mobile routers. The rest of the world uses FDD-LTE.

Softbank's FDD-LTE network went live to customers on September 21, 2012 - about three weeks ago. Known as Softbank 4G LTE, this FDD-LTE network was created by taking one of their four Band 1 (2100 MHZ) channels from their 3G service and dedicating it to LTE. This has exacerbated the 3G network congestion in crowded corridors of Tokyo, such as the Yamanote Line between Shinagawa and Shinjuku. Lack of capacity was the reason for not initially offering tethering for the iPhone 5.

To tether, or not to tether: Ever changing LTE terms

Both iPhone 5 carriers, Softbank and KDDI, offer the same service at the same price, though each uses slightly different math to get to the same answer. This is typical in Japan. For example, the value attached to 7 GB of LTE data with free tethering is ¥5,985 ($75US) per month, a price originally set by NTT Docomo and followed by first KDDI, then Softbank. (The two smaller carriers will add an extra 500 MB for that price.)

Given what appears to be obvious collusion, the initial lack of tethering by Softbank was a surprise, almost like the two carriers hadn't actually gotten together to discuss in advance their respective offerings. The number of customers porting numbers out of Softbank and into KDDI tripled during September as a result, and both @masason and @softbank were flogged.

In response, Softbank's Chief Technology Officer explained during a press conference that it was simply not reasonably possible. He admits what we already know, that their network is taxed to the limit along crowded stretches of Tokyo. But of course, Softbank had no choice but to offer tethering, even if they can't support it.

So the first amendment to the Softbank FDD-LTE data plan was made: a 7 GB limit was added and tethering would be allowed from next year.

Next, the second change to the LTE data plan was to silently (and very sneakily) add an effective 1.2 GB cap to their "unlimted," non-thethering FDD-LTE data plan. This was also met with a public twitter flogging and resulted in Mr. Son backtracking - that is the third change to FDD-LTE data service. This is all in the one week(!) since SBM FDD-LTE data service went live to customers.

Finally, the start date for tethering was moved up to 12/15/2012 (change number 4 - in half as many weeks of LTE service).

"Analysts" and western media hacks, please consider the above your "Softbank and Japan Mobile for Dummies" guide. It is presented for your benefit "as is" with no warranty or guarantee and is believed to be, for the most part, correct (we think).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nikkei: MIC reconsidering Softbank's platinum band allocation

The Nikkei is reporting that the MIC will reconsider whether the spectrum allocations of a newly-merged Softbank Mobile and eAccess are appropriate. Perhaps this is amakudari alive and well, and a few bureaucrats are guaranteeing themselves post-retirement positions at Docomo or KDDI? Come on, Emobile has a more unfair allocation than SBM. Put the two together, and they still don't beat KDDI in size.

Reading though some comments collected from 2ch, there is question as to whether the Nikkei is up to something, as apparently, the MIC had previously indicated there would be no issues. Indeed, this story was dropped by the Nikkei prior to the close of the stock markets, and we've already seen a huge drop in SBM share price today, prior to this story.

Will Softbank Mobile be hip in the US like Uniqlo?

What could Softbank Mobile possibly see in the US? Margins are thin, competition is fierce, and churn is high.

The FCC, like them or not, takes a much more active regulatory roll than their Japanese counterpart, the MIC who allows Japanese carriers do pretty much whatever they want. As a result you have a market where the cost and value of a voice and LTE data plan are exactly the same across the top three Japanese carriers, out-of-network calling costs nearly one US dollar per minute, and 2-year contracts with cancellation fees automatically renew. Forever.

Why would Softbank want to get involved in that?

Growth and rebranding

The first is what, for reasons we aren't completely sure of, business are supposed to do, and the second is what American telcos must do.

The major players in the US are consistently ranked near or at the bottom of customer service and satisfaction polls. We're cynical enough to say that it's so bad that periodic rebranding is necessary to survive. The best example is GTE, which was renowned industry wide as the benchmark for poor customer satisfaction. It was almost a joke, until about 2000-2001, when they essentially rebranded as Verizon and went on to become the number one US mobile carrier (Yes, it's technically more complicated than that).

There's not much room for either growth or rebranding for Softbank in Japan. Their image is one of shoddiness. After purchasing eAccess, what's next? Buy a baseball team? How about a web compnay and internet ISP?

Frank Sanda, CEO and Founder of Japan Communications, Inc. quipped on twitter the other day that in this day and age, it's impossible for new start-up carriers to compete with the existing companies, which is why he's focused on MVNOs.
And, yes, he thinks UQ Wimax will be the next to fail.

Do a Uniqlo

There are just about as many MVNOs operating on Sprint's network as on AT&T and Verizon combined. Softbank could introduce service to the US as either a MVNO using's Sprint's CDMA-2000 network, or completely rename Sprint to Softbank. While the ex-JETs, eikaiwa teachers, and former military who were stationed in Japan might roll their eyes, the bulk of Americans would be none the wiser, just like any Japanese person who goes to the US and is foolish enough to pay the absurd prices offered by Docomo USA.

Uniqlo offers great products and even better prices. Here at Japan Mobile Tech, we swear by their silky dry pantsu in the summer. But in Japan they'll never be seen as a top fashion brand. Introducing the even less expensive g.u. chain, that sells almost identical merchandise, will provide room to lift Uniqlo, but there'll be no escaping their reputation in Japan. In the US, though, it's a totally different story. Uniqlo is hip?

So that's what we see as the most likely way for Softbank to go in the US. Room to grow with a public that generally is unaware of your reputation.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Softbank removes 1.2GB restriction from 4G LTE service

Softbank Mobile has made yet another reactionary change to terms of its 4G LTE service. First, after being flamed on twitter by disgruntled iPhone users who wanted tethering, Softbank Mobile added the option to their 4G LTE data plans with the same terms as KDDI: free for the the first 2 years with a 7 GB cap.

After that crisis was averted, it was noticed that the fine print on the non-tethering plans included an effective 1.2 GB/month cap that was omitted from even the fine print. This predictably didn't go well for them, especially after they got caught making a stealth edit to their FAQ.

Following this second flogging, SBM CEO Son has indicated that he had no intention of actually enforcing the cap, but as long as it was left in the contract, customers would have no recourse if their download speeds were throttled.

Softbank has now done away completely with the plan that included the 1.2 GB limit. The old plan was called Packet flat rate for 4G LTE (パケット定額 for 4G LTE) and is no longer available. People who signed up for it will be automatically moved to the new plan, Packet unlimited flat for 4G LTE (パケットし放題フラット for 4G LTE).

Here are the terms of the new plan:

With Tethering

  • ¥5,460 for 2 years then ¥5,985
  • 7GB monthly cap for 2 years, then 7.5GB
  • Throttling after using 1GB within 3 days.

Without Tethering

  • ¥5,460
  • Unlimited data
  • Throttling after using 1GB within 3 days.
The 3 day restriction is common in Japan and similar to what other carriers impose. The 1.2GB limit was specific to Softbank - no other carrier did that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Clarification on the zairyu card and verified domestic mail

Aside from the ridiculously expensive rental phones available at international airports, cellular voice service in Japan is legally restricted to residents. Therefore, issues regarding identification verification are tangentially related to the topics commonly discussed here, though admittedly, today's topic - verified mail at the Japan Post - is a bit of a stretch. We'll try to lead it back to mobile in the end.

In July of this year the Alien Registration Card (外国人登録証明)issued by municipal governments was replaced by the "zairyu card"(在留カード)issued directly by the Ministry of Justice. However, the old ARCs may remain valid until their expiration dates, so there will be a couple of years during which both will be floating around. Private industries may choose to accept one, perhaps the other - or maybe neither - as valid forms of identification.

This seems to be what has happened at the post office for picking up specific types of mail that require ID verification, though not in the ways that have been reported in the Japan Times. (NOTE: Postal banking and other sorts of things are unaffected. Only registered, verified mail is.)
We confirmed this with Japan Post; it's true that they are now only accepting the new resident cards (zairyūkādo), which have replaced alien registration cards...
However, this is contrary to the information contained in the relevant Post office web page, which specifically states that no type of foreign registration card is acceptable at all - neither the old ARC nor the new or zairyu card, and even the Special Permanent Resident cards that provide special privileges and exceptions to ethnic Koreans who are born in Japan but choose not to become citizens.
Please be aware that from 7/9/2012, foreign registration cards (including the zairyu cards and special permanent resident identification) are no longer acceptable documents for the purpose of identity verification.
OK. So which is it? It turns out both are half right and half wrong at the same time.

The zairyu card may be used for identity verification, but only for the most restrictive of the three types, 特伝型 (tokudengata, which is short for 特定事項伝達型). This is the most extensive form of verification in which the sender is also allowed to access to the verification details including the type of ID used (with number), the name and birthdate displayed on the ID, the name of the postal employee who performed the verification, and the date verification was performed. Tokudengata is only available at select post offices, and if the ID shown displays a maiden name or an old address, unlike with the other two methods, the package will not be released.

The other two types are 基本型 (kihongata) and 特例型 (tokureigata), which are much less restrictive. The zairyu and SPR cards may not be used for kihongata and tokureigata!. With both tokudengata and tokureigata, delivery is possible. You'll have to visit the post office to pick up kihongata mail.

Clarification is provided on another page deeper into the J Post website. At the top of this post is the a document from the post office outlining the changes, which is in English below.

Until 7/8/2012 From 7/9/2012
Driver license history
Zairyu Card
SPR Card
Alien Registration Card
○ Acceptable
✕ Unacceptbale
— Nonexistant

Note that the driver license history card is not an actual license. There appears to be no logical reason why the zairyu card is good enough for the most restrictive verification methods, but unacceptable for the lesser two methods. It seems that the post office has been making changes to the acceptable forms of ID over the past several years. In addition to the ARC, other forms are no longer usable. (I didn't ask for examples).

Acceptable forms of ID for verified mail

For non citizens, one of the following may be used for ID verification for all three types:
  • Passport
  • Driver's license
Though keep in mind there may always be issues with a foreign passport because since it cannot verify your address, only your identity.

For kihongata only, two of the following will also suffice:
  • Health insurance card (no photo needed)
  • Employee ID (with photo)
  • Student ID (with photo)

For tokudengata ONLY the following are also allowed:
  • Zairyu Card
  • SPR Card

Back to mobile

One common way of proving residency is by showing your foreign resident card, but in the case of mobile contracts, this is not always the best option. For example Softbank Mobile, for reasons that baffle, allows (allowed?) fewer initial payment options to customers using an ARC as identification. Plus, there are legitimate concerns regarding the handling of the personal information on the card. Therefore alternate forms of identification are preferable, such as a health insurance card together with a utility bill, which allows for payment through bank transfer. This option is also available to those who present a driver's license.

Get a driver's license

Seriously. If you are going to be here for an extended period of time, even if you don't plan to drive at all, get one. Either way you look at it, a driver's license is by far the best form of identification to show. It is a photo ID issued by the government that displays much less personal information than a gaijin card.We wrote about the process of obtaining one here. It is by far less complicated and time consuming than many are led to believe.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Softbank Mobile to buy eAccess, moves up tethering date, backtracks on 1.2GB cap

Purchase eAccess

Keeping up with the goings on in the Japan mobile industry has not been easy lately, no thanks to Softbank Mobile, who just announced, pretty much out of the blue, that they are purchasing the fourth largest (that is, the smallest) of the Japanese mobile carriers for ¥200 billion. From what I've head so far, it seems that the focus is on building out a more complete LTE network.

This will put them in serious contention for the number 2 carrier spot in terms of subscriber numbers.

Emobile LTE became available this past March and is currently limited to data-only devices. Emobile has had a rough time at the hands of the government with only a single allocation of an exotic frequency band (1700 MHz). When the Softbank won the "platinum band" allocation, I wondered what Emobile would do. They had argued that it was desperately needed for their plans. Well I guess we see what happened to Emobile.

Softbank is really getting unwieldy with the frequency bands. 900 MHz for W-CDMA, moving over to LTE in the future. 1500 MHz for a DC-HSPDA network. 2100 MHz for FDD-LTE and W-CDMA. 2600 MHz for TD-LTE, and now 1700 MHz.

The 2100 MHz Band 1 LTE network will likely be used for primarily the iPhone, for now at least. Routers and dongles will probably stay on the 2600 and 1800 MHz LTE bands. Who knows what will happen with the domestic phones. Hopefully those are on 2100 MHz LTE band with the iPhone, but we'll have to see.

Moving up tethering start date

Early today, KDDI CEO Tanaka announced that, compared to August, they had a 3-fold increase in September in the number of customers moving in from Softbank. This is no doubt related to Softbanks blundering of tethering. First, the CTO announces that they simply don't have the capacity, then their CEO says their going to do it anyway, with a much delayed start date in next January.

Softbank CEO Son just announced iPhone 5 tethering will start from 12/15, a month sooner.

Of course the damage has been done. Many people, including readers of this blog, decided to move to KDDI because of the lack of tethering and the CTO's comments, which were widely publicized in both English and Japanese.

Explaining away the 1.2 GB data cap

Also making waves through the Japanese interwebs was a sneaky stealth edit to the Softbank LTE data plan FAQ to add a 1.2 GB monthly cap. Exceeding this would result in an undisclosed speed restriction being imposed for an entire month, not immediately, but two months later.

The timing of the imposition of the penalty would make it difficult to link it to any particular behavior.

Now Son has said that it was basically an insurance policy and he doesn't intend to implement it. However, if this condition remains in the contract terms, Softbank can chose to enforce it at any time, and given the 2-month delay, it will be difficult to tell what exactly is going on.