Tuesday, September 24, 2013

MVNOs appear locked out of Docomo iPhone 5S and 5C

UPDATE: b-mobile "smarphone" SIMs are compatible with LTE.

Like most SIM-locked iPhones, the Docomo variants do not allow for setting mobile access point names (APN). Without this ability, even if the phone was unlocked to allow usage on other carriers, you would be unable to connect to the data network (except with a particular carrier in the Philippines that completely ignores APN settings).

[List of NTT Docomo APNs.]

This means that you can only use the "sp-mode" ISP from Docomo. You cannot use the "Mopera U" ISP, also from Docomo.

Conversely, to use any Android phone with one of the large numbers of MVNOs does NOT even require paying the ¥3,000+tax fee to have the phone unlocked, since the MVNOs are using Docomo's network. All you have to do is follow the simple instructions to set the appropriate APN. To date, I have never heard of an Android phone that prevents changing mobile network settings.

Docomo carrier bundle

I spent the morning looking around the NTT Docomo iPhone carrier bundle (Docomo_jp.bundle; v. 15.1.0). Coming from an Android point of view, it's really interesting to see all the effort put into preventing even the slightest changes. Everything is signed. Not just individual files, but some entries within files are signed, including the APNs.

Within the carrier.plist file are three APN entries, two of which are blank and disabled. The other one is the standard spmode.ne.jp APN, which (also unlike Android) is being used for both data and tethering. (Turns out we were all wrong on our speculation why docomo performs a forced APN switch when activating tethering on Android).

Also within the bundle are several override preference files (overrides_N51_N53.plist), which contains an entry that appears to only allow the phone to attach to the spmode APN, and both this file and this entry are signed. So I think that, even if you succeeded in somehow setting a different APN, you'd still not be able to connect.


  1. How did you access the carrier bundle?

  2. Yeah where can I get my hands on that bundle?

  3. I'm worried that this will affect unlocked iPhones as well. On the iPhone, these carrier bundles are present on ALL iPhones sold, not only on locked ones. When I take my iPhone 5 to certain countries (USA is a big culprit), APN settings, tethering, etc will randomly disable and enable depending on what SIM I have in the phone as the iPhone applies the various carrier bundles. If this holds true for docomo as well, this could mean that NO iPhone 5s or 5c are usable on MVNOs anymore. And that would be a tragedy.

  4. Have you tried the iPhone Configuration Utility to create a config profile? I use a roaming MVNO called "abroadband", and their SIM is based on the Telekom Austria network who also restrict APN configuration on iOS. But what the MVNO does is distributes a .mobileconfig file containing the APN settings, which when installed overrides the carrier profile. Looking at this file, it doesn't seem to have any signatures. http://software.a1.net/vmc/abroadband/abroadband2.mobileconfig

  5. I assume that this would also mean that unlocked iPhones 5C/S would not be able to connect to Docomo's LTE network as the APN (spmode.ne.jp) is IMEI-filtered. In summary, none of the Japanese providers (Softbank, KDDI au, NTT Docomo) is allowing unlocked iPhones to connect to their LTE networks by forcing customers to purchase a lifetime-locked phone. That's not competition, but an oligopoly. Even worse that it is not breaching any consumer protection laws. For whom is the 'Consumer Affairs Agency' (http://www.caa.go.jp/en/index.html) working for?

  6. OK guys. Let's just wait and see what the unlocked version can and cannot do. This is the Docomo bundle. The unlocked version won't have it. If the unlocked version had the same APN attach rule, it wouldn't work with any carrier except Docomo.

    This obviously won't be the case.

    I imagine that unlocked version will work, at the very least, like the previous unlocked version. Now that docomo is an approved carrier, I hope that restrictions preventing LTE have been removed. (I am assuming that it was apple that prevents the iPhone 5 from getting LTE with docomo, since depending on the OS version, there are reports that it works, which seems to rule out docomo, who wants to unload as much traffic as possible from Foma to Xi.)

  7. I am not quite sure, but isn't the iPhone downloading carrier bundles (carrier APN settings etc.) as needed, i.e. if one travels overseas and switched on Data Roaming the phone would have to know the APN settings of carrier X in country Y.
    For example, I used my unlocked iPhone4 with a German SIM card and didn't have to manually enter APN settings. However, when I tried to switch on tethering a message popped up saying that tethering is not possible with that SIM card. This means that iPhone must have downloaded the carrier bundle of that provider.
    If that was correct, wouldn't an unlocked iPhone download the Docomo carrier bundle and automatically set spmode.ne.jp as APN and probably identify the phone as Non-Docomo handset?

  8. How can it download the APN information when you pop in a SIM? It needs the APN information to connect to the network. So in order to download the APN information, it would already need to know the APN information.

    So the unlocked version would more likely include a list of APNs.

    sp-mode cannot be accessed with a non docomo phone. roaming onto docomo's network would need to use a different APN for roaming.

    The "type mask" associated with each APN defines what it can do. 0=disabled, 1=data, 48=tethering. sp-mode is 49 (1+48, data + tethering). Not shown is that screenshot is that sp-mode is associated with 44010 SIMs (440 = Japan MCC and 10 = Docomo MNC). Put in a 44010 SIM and the iPhone would attempt to connect to sp-mode.

    On an unlocked version, hopefully this can be changed without jail breaking.

    So what likely happened with that german sim is there is an entry for that SIMs MCC and MNC, and there there was an APN listed, and that APN had a type mask of 1, meaning no tethering.

  9. SBSdroid,

    You have a very good point. My theory of carrier bundles being downloaded automatically doesn't make sense.

    If I understand you correctly, non-DoCoMo phones (e.g. Phones from overseas with a non-DoCoMo SIM card that are in data roaming mode) would not use the spmode APN, but a different APN (probably mopera.net?). Correct?
    If so, we need to find out which APN is used for Non-DoCoMo phones and whether this APN would fall under Pake-Hodai or generate additional charges.
    You are also saying that 44010 SIMs would attempt to connect to the spmode APN, which is the case if you insert a Xi SIM card into an unlocked iPhone. How would you want to change the MCC and MNC settings, i.e. which values would you enter?

    BTW, I don't see MCC and MNC settings on my unlocked iPhone4.

  10. Somewhere in the thousands of comments on this site is someone complaining about having to jailbreak their iphone to use it with an Australian (?) MVNO. When the put in the SIM from the MVNO, it would automatically set the APN registered for the MNO (Mobile Network Operator)

    This is equivalent to putting in a SIM from bmobile and having the sp-mode APN automagically set.

    I think you will need to check with people who know more about the iPhone. As you know, all the contributors here deep into android. For reference here's screenshot from my Nexus S with a bmobile SIM.

    This would be a good start:

  11. I'm pretty sure it won't work - my wife has an unlocked iPhone 5 that we use with the old black sim card. The moment you put in the Softbank SIM APN settings are gone; all provider/APN settings are shipped with the phone/iOS... there are ways to get around that without jailbreaking as I had to do to get 3G working on my wife's iPhone 5 with an iPhone 4 data plan.

    I should receive an unlocked US Verizon iPhone 5S this coming week and will let you know what comes out of it.

  12. Are you planning to use the unlocked iPhone 5S on Softbank's LTE network? If so, you might be right that it doesn't work. Please keep us posted anyway.

  13. No, I'm actually planning on using it first with my Docomo Xi card.. and then with the new bmobile LTE package: http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/aeon/index.html; Softbank won't work if you don't pay for the plan.. otherwise it should be OK.

  14. I finally got around to looking. The LTE N7 is reported to work fine with the mopera APN, as I thought it would. This means that any incompatibilities with Xi LTE and the iPhone is due to the OS, not due to Docomo side restrictions.

    Xi is open to non docomo devices.

    But, when you stick a 44010 (Docomo SIM) in that iPhone, I bet it'll do the same thing - disable APN settings and automatically set sp-mode for the APN. If so, you'll have to work around to set the APN bmoible APN.

  15. thank you for clarifying your previous statement that Xi is open to non docomo devices. Does this also allow voice or just data? (I know the N7 doesn't have voice).

    anyone looked at an AU iphone 5c or 5s yet?

    I'm looking at switching to AU and picking up a new iphone for domestic use on the U22 plan, then just carrying my unlocked android phone from docomo for international.

  16. I have an Austrian (think Schwarzenegger) data roaming MVNO SIM called abroadband. I thought I posted a comment about it on in this thread but I think it may have gotten spammed since I included a URL.

    I don't have to jailbreak the phone to use it, but I have to install a special .mobileconfig file provided by the operator to change the APN to the MVNO APN. The file doesn't seem signed or anything, and I think it's created with the iPhone Configuration Utility freely downloadable from Apple. Maybe one of those files could work to override docomo's APN settings too.

  17. So, I got the Verizon iPhone 5S today - yup all locked down; no way to edit the APN Settings anymore. Interestingly it seems like that Apple pushed out a Carrier Update today as on my wife's iPhone 5 I'm not able to edit APN settings anymore as well with my Docomo Nano SIM (it previously worked). It seems like no more iPhone for MVNOs at all in Japan without Jailbreak.

  18. That's bad news.
    What happens if you switch off LTE on your 5S?
    Not sure about the carrier update as my unlocked iPhone4 (iOS 6.1.3) still works using mopera.net and APN settings being accessible. FYI, I am using an old Xi SIM card.
    FYI, I just contacted the admin of unlockit.co.nz and asked him to create two profiles (sp-mode APN profile and mopera.net APN profile). Let's see whether this would help to switch to the mopera.net APN without jailbreaking the phone.

  19. Great thanks.

    So I went to the Docomo Shop today and got SPMode for my account (which was a quest by itself because they told me it doesn't work for non Docomo iPhone's and its against their manual to activate SP mode for other phones... had to show them an Android Xi Phone I had so that they would add it to my account). The moment they added it my unlocked Verizon iPhone 5S started working, LTE etc. so everything fine on that end.

    My wife didn't connect to iTunes etc. it seems it was pushed out over the air apparently - which happened before once when they started to do tethering... so she's probably also switching over to Docomo now as it just works without hassles apparently with SPMode (I hope that won't change).

    I wanted to change to the new bmobile bundle (http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/aeon/index.html) but I don't think its worth the hassle now with an iPhone >=5.

  20. Hi squarefan,
    I am a little confused and have some questions.
    Here is what I understood from your posts:
    - Unlocked iPhone 5S cannot connect to Docomo's LTE network. APN settings are disabled and cannot be changed.
    - Docomo does not activate sp-mode for Non-Docomo phones. Q: Do you mean that Docomo does not add the IMEI of Non-Docomo phones to their database?
    - Docomo asked for a Docomo Xi phone so that they could activate sp-mode for your account (=phone number). Q: Did Docomo simply activate sp-mode without registering the IMEI of your iPhone 5S?

    I am confused because I was under the impression that the sp-mode APN is IMEI-filtered. Therefore, I would have expected that they need to register your iPhone IMEI in their system.
    Moreover, sp-mode can be activated through mydocomo.com. Therefore, I wonder why they want to see a Xi Docomo phone for doing that.

    Did you show the unlocked iPhone 5S to the staff at the Docomo shop or did you only show them they Docomo Xi phone?

  21. DoMoDoMo,

    sorry for the confusion - here are the answers:
    1. Unlocked iPhone 5S has all APN settings menu removed once you put in a docomo nana sim (LTE toggle is still present though)
    2. Basically they still have the old stance - if you bring your own iPhone you have to use Mopera and apparently their manual states that they are not allowed to activate spMode for non-docomo phones (incl. unlocked iPhones). So if you don't have spMode on your account activated yet its a good idea to not show them your iPhone 5S etc. but a docomo phone or just ask for spMode right away not discussing anything about unlocked phones.
    3 They refused to activate spMode without having a Docomo Xi phone, yes - thats why I showed them my Android device and all was good. It doesn't seem that IMEI lock is in place as they don't add any IMEI's to their database - once they activated spMode for me iPhone5S data connection (incl. LTE) worked right away.

    my wife's iPhone 5 is an unlocked HK version - we just used her black sim card from her old Softbank iPhone4. There was a trick that when I put in my Docomo sim card, enter the the APN settings (which were then available) and then switch back to the Softbank sim the phone would remain inside the APN settings menu and I could enter the KuroSIM APN settings (for 3G only of course). This doesn't work now anymore since a probable over the air carrier update.

    hope that clears things up.

  22. squarefan,

    thanks a lot for the detailed explanation. That's indeed good news that unlocked iPhones can be used on Docomo's LTE network through the spmode APN.

    One basically has to manage to get Docomo activate sp-mode and that's it. No more IMEI-filtering sounds good.

    I had an HTC HT-03A (Non-LTE Android phone) from Docomo and swicthed my contract to Xi when I purchased my unlocked iPhone4. I guess that I will simply have to activate sp-mode (which I can do through mydocomo.com) and exchange my current SIM card to a Nano-SIM or simply cut my SIM card to Nano SIM card format.

    I still wonder why your wife's phone got locked down (APN settings) as my APN settings are still accessible. I probably don't upgrade to iOS7 for the time being.

  23. Hmm... Perhaps filtering has been removed from that APN then. Or maybe it's only applied to FOMA SIMs. As soon as I get a hold or a normal size SIM or a micro SIM adapter, I'll put an Xi SIM in my Nexus S. Before I had used it with mopera.

  24. yeah - seems to work nicely. I took the time though and created now custom settings for the different endpoints - I tested spmode, mopera and softbank (black sim / smile non LTE) and they all work fine:

    www.blu-soft.com/iphoneconf/nttspmode.mobileconfig (Xi spMode)
    www.blu-soft.com/iphoneconf/nttmopera.mobileconfig (Xi moperaU)
    www.blu-soft.com/iphoneconf/softbanksmile.mobileconfig (Softbank 3G - black sim; can be used with 5/5C/5S as well)
    www.blu-soft.com/iphoneconf/softbankjpspir.mobileconfig (Softbank LTE - for 5/5C/5S)

    Just click on the link you need and it will work - the softbanksmile.mobileconfig is for using the old iPhone4/4S 3g only data sims in the new iPhone 5/5C/5S without the need of upgrading your plan to the more expensive one (3G only though!!).

    I'm thinking now of actually switching to the new bmobile LTE plan... as with the just creating custom profiles it should just work fine, even with 5S).

    Hope this helps.


  25. squarefan,

    are you saying that you can connect to Docomo's LTE network either through spmode.ne.jp or mopera.net using the same Docomo SIM card?
    That's interesting as I thought that one has to choose one of the APNs, but cannot use them randomly.
    Have you checked your bill lately? Would the traffic through both APNs fall under the flat rate?

  26. yes - because you can sign up for both providers at the same time (spmode & mopera) in one account and switch back and forth. I had this initially because spmode is doing port filtering and some VPN connections didn't work correctly so I had to use mopera in those situations - mostly used with my old Galaxy S2 LTE.

    I also just talked with Docomo support and interestingly it seems that spmode is STILL IMEI filtered to some extend... or maybe only for iPhone <5S because most phones don't work according to the support guy (mine was the first one that he heard is working with spmode being a non-docomo phone). My guess is that they added iPhone5S IMEI's from Apple to allow roaming in LTE and they have access to their database, which would make sense.

    I also gave a recommendation to them of adding a mopera profile to their my docomo page as their claims are confusing and people can't enter the settings themselves anymore - not holding my breath but lets see.

  27. Thanks for the speedy reply.

    Good for you that your unlocked iPhone 5S works without a hitch. IMEI filtering still in place doesn't sound good though. It would be interesting to know how 'deep' they are filtering IMEIs. In the past, Docomo supposedly only checked whether the first 4 or 5 digits of the IMEI match their whitelist or not. Not sure if this is still the case.

    You might just be lucky to have a phone with an IMEI that magically matches their whitelist.

  28. Sorry, I'm getting a bit confused here (not the technical type). I used to have a Iphone 4 (running iOS 4.xx) and a B-mobile Talking Platinum SIM which was working just fine. I now just bought an unlocked Iphone5S in Singapore and asked B-mobile to send me a nano-SIM (in the post as of this moment). When I talked to them, they told me that they couldn't guarantee that the LTE plan (SUMAHO) would work with the 5S and advised me to stick with the 3G plan, which I then did.

    Are you saying that even if I get the 3G plan for Iphone5S, I won't have the option of setting the APN which would make the dataplan pretty much useless? (and in which case I'm better off getting a nano-to-micro SIM adapter and sticking to my Iphone 4).

    Many thanks :-)

  29. Hi there,
    You may refer to this link for those who can read Japanese:

    Apparently SPMODE is still filtered on the first 8 digits or so of the IMEI number.
    Many people reported to be able to connect via SPmode with Iphone 5 providing their IMEI number radomly matched docomo white list. Unfortunately mine is not the case (I am just one digit out!!) but I wonder whether there could be a way to cheat that

  30. Is it possible to have a docomo locked iphone 5s, unlocked so I can use it in Europe with my Nano sim from my German carrier?

  31. Thank you so much for the settings above! Got the wife's new 5S working again with Docomo. Just wondering though if the spmode will allow LTE or if it just stays on the 3G same as the mopera.net?

  32. No worries, both mopera & spmode support LTE as long as you are using a Xi plan (and the LTE toggle is swiched on on the phone). I couldn't really measure any major speed differences between mopera & spmode. So as long as it works, you are good to go.

  33. http://www.japanmobiletech.com/2013/11/docomo-iphone-5s-and-5c-are-compatible.html

    Looks like b-mobile smartphone SIMs are the way to go.

  34. TetherMe from Cydia for Jailbroken iPhone removes the signature check. I needed it for my custom logos to work. Despite the fact that Zeppelin can manage operator's logos I needed different logos for each network I'm connected to. TetherMe is sold for $4.99.

  35. How can I unlock an iPhone 5S from NTT Docomo to use international carriers?

  36. You can't as neither Docomo nor Apple will not unlock the phone for you. I haven't found any trustworthy company that unlocks Docomo / Softbank/ au iPhones. Beware of scammers who claim to be able to unlock any iPhone. They'll take your money (preferably through a credit card transaction) and you will never hear back from.

  37. Hi, Did anyone find a way to get NTT Docomo data to work on an iphone 5S?