Friday, September 13, 2013

Nikkei: Docomo will NOT unlock iPhone

Yup, as we were beginning to expect, Docomo's push for the unlocking of cell phones to allow the switching of SIM cards between carriers was what we thought it was originally: A lame attempt to get the iPhone. After having gone on record and saying they'd unlock all their phones, now that they have the iPhone, it appears that they are not going to unlock it.

From the Nikkei:
It has become clear that the iPhone 5s and 5c will be sold by NTT Docomo with a SIM lock, preventing usage on other carriers. Docomo has decided not to adopt the same SIM unlock service available for it's other smartphones.
It's possible that if there is enough of an uproar, that Docomo could change their mind, but even if that happened, I wouldn't expect it this (fiscal) year.


  1. Thats really annoying. What can we do?

  2. Hmm, I went by a Docomo shop today and they told me that it will be able to unlock the iPhone on request. I really had it with the carriers here...

  3. Seriously?! I will stop by at my local DoCoMo shop and ask the same question. Did they tell you the cost for unlocking the iPhone? They'll probably unlock it if you pay the full handset price. I'll be back with more info tomorrow.

  4. yeah I asked - but they didn't have the unlock price yet; they told me that it is locked by default but you can request an unlock. Normally how it works with Apple is that the provider submits the request for unlock to Apple (IMEI) and they unlock it remotely.. you then only have to restore it via iTunes... so there is no excuse not doing it. I'll call their English service desk tomorrow to check again. This really pisses me off - I switched from SoftBank to Docomo because of their horrible service & bullshit policies and now Docomo is doing the same (and reception is not that hot either on my iPhone 5 with Xi subscr.). Lets see...

  5. Thanks for the info. I'll be back with more info as well as I will ask the same question. I have a DoCoMo iPhone4 and SoftBank iPhone at work. SoftBank service got indeed better, but I am still hesitant to switch to SoftBank (for my private phone) as DoCoMo still has a better LTE network. I might again end up with an imported unlocked iPhone 5S...

  6. Uproar? In Japan? .... Most people don't even care about sim lock.

  7. Disappointing.. how can there be an uproar? no one here but us seem to care.

  8. That's really disappointing. Docomo's really lost some respect points from me. There's absolutely no way I'll be buying it from them if they don't offer the unlock service. I guess I'll see what happens. If I can get an overseas model and get it to work on Xi with an ala carte SIM, that'll do me.

    Even though it's disappointing and almost certainly true at this point, we'll have to see what happens when they actually start selling it.

  9. Just in case you want to explore the option of buying an unlocked overseas model, it looks like DoCoMo is selling model A1453 (iPhone 5S) and A1533 (GSM) seems to be the unlocked model. However, model A1453 is covering additional LTE bands (18 & 26) compared to model A1533. Not sure if this is important at all. LTE band 18 is the lower 800MHz band and used by KDDI afaik. LTE band 26 is the 850 MHz band according to Wikipedia, but Apple lists 800 MHz. Not sure which one is correct.

  10. Thanks for the info DoMoDoMo. Actually, if you look at the website now, T-Mobile's offering it unlocked for pre-order. I'm very tempted to pre-order now, but I can't leave AU until the end of October anyway, so maybe it's best to see what happens. A couple of my students have SIM free iPhones on Docomo. So if their LTE fires up that'll help me with my decision.

  11. Oops, not pre-order. It's just kind of there.

  12. If you guys figure this out, do let me know. I'd like to post about it. There is no technical reason why the previous LTE iPhones didn't work properly with Xi. Now that Docomo is an approved carrier, I'd expect any road blocks to LTE with an unlocked iPhone should be gone.

  13. Assuming that your students have iPhones 5 and a Xi contract that would be a good test to see whether unlocked iPhones work on LTE as this was not the case before.
    FYI, iPhone 5S pre-orders will start on September 20th. Buying an unlocked iPhone 5S in the US is probably the cheapest option. Expansys JP is offering iPhone 5C/S for pre-order that are imported from Hong Kong (model A1530). This model covers different LTE bands and is probably not a good choice for Japan.

  14. Thanks for all the info, DoMoDoMo - big relief to know the Expansys one is out. There are a few places selling them on Amazon and Rakuten but they don't say which model.

    I'll let you know if my students' LTE fires up. I also assume it will work, but you never know. Docomo do also lock you out of the 800 band on ala carte sims. Do you know any other countries getting the A1533? I have family in the UK, and I think it's available from day one unlocked, but I can't find any information on what countries/carriers are getting which phones.

  15. Buying an unlocked iPhone in the UK would be significantly more expensive, e.g. iPhone 5S 32GB is $749 (74K Yen) vs. £629 (99K Yen).

    Moreover, I found a footnote on DoCoMo's website that could mean that LTE would not work with unlocked phones or MVNOs. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case. We all know DoCoMo...

  16. This means one of two things:

    1) Docomo sold iPhone can only use sp-mode (because it's locked, and MVNO cards won't work)

    2) Any iPhone on Docomo's network can only use sp-mode (because they are doing IMEI filtering again)

    Just have to experiment with an unlocked phone.

  17. A1530 supports China Mobile's TD-LTE network. Many of the HK iPhones end up in the mainland because of the tax differentials.

    For Docomo support, you want bands 1, 3, 19 and 21. iPhone does not support band 21, but Docomo's Galaxy S4 does.

    Band 1 = 2.1 GHz, most deployed
    Band 3 = 1.8 GHz, some deployments in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya
    Band 19 = 800 MHz, equivalent to FOMA Plus, nice to have
    Band 21 = 1.5 GHz, ex PDC (2G)

  18. Like your nickname ;-)
    I think DoCoMo won't filter IMEIs, but simply not connect APNs that they give to MVNOs to their LTE network. So, if you want LTE speed, you need to sign up with DoCoMo.

    Let's see what owners of an unlocked LTE handset wil report.

  19. Docomo does not "lock out" the 800 MHz band with ala carte SIMs. Most of the time, an ala carte SIM is in an overseas phone, and overseas phones 99% of the time don't support the 800 MHz band because it's not used anywhere else but here. Some of the 850 MHz phones can pick it up.

    I believe it was the iPhone 4 that was confirmed to work in the FOMA Plus (800 MHz) area.

    Regarding APNs. there are three commonly used with Xi.

    1)The first is used with "sp mode" as the "ISP". It is the least expensive (300+tax/month), and this is what most people use. It is IMEI filtered. If you want tethering, you have to use sp-mode because docomo android firmware changes the APN when tethering is activated, and the other ISPs cannot connect.

    2 and 3) If you have mopera as you ISP (500+tax/month), you will use either or This is what is used with ala carte SIMs for non docomo phones. I used mopera for several years with both APNs. There is nothing I am aware of preventing non Docomo phones from getting an LTE signal.

    MVNOs offer LTE and docomo phones connect just fine. What does not work is tethering due to the forced APN switch.

    With Docomo androids you can choose mopera or sp mode, and I assume it will be the same with the iPhone. With non-docomo androids, you can only use mopera.

  20. I think it will boil down to finding out which APN is used in Docomo iPhones. or or both, depending on the ISP.

    Docomo's footnote "iPhoneではspモード以外のLTEインターネット接続サービスはご利用になれません。" could in worst case mean that only the sp-mode APN would work and as you stated, this APN is IMEI-filtered.

  21. It should depend on the ISP. All DCM smartphones to date have been usable with a choice of ISP. But we know how this could change, since it is the iPhone.

    Docomo handsets work perfectly fine with MVNOs' LTE. It's the exact opposite. Docomo handsets won't work with MNVO's (or Docomo's) 3G (FOMA) without flashing the firmware. JCI has a disclaimer on this. I knew at one point the more technical details behind this from conversations with some MVNOs but I honestly can't remember.

    If APNs cannot be added, then that would be a problem. You'd be stuck with what is preloaded on the phone. I only use android and all android devices, even ones locked to a carrier, allow adding APNs. If iOS does not allow this, well... Seems like a huge short coming.

    If the image attaches, this is my locked, subsidized Sony Xperia, with the mopera APN ready to select, straight from the factory.

    See the end of my latest post on the LTE Nexus 7. It's on sale now in Japan. If it works with mopera and a docomo contract, we can rule out docomo filtering LTE from non-branded devices. Up until now, the only non-branded device was the iPhone, so we couldn't rule out if it was a DCM or APL problem.

    Soon we can.

  22. FYI, carrier profiles determine whether one can modify the APN settings of the iPhone. For example, Softbank's iPhone does not show the menu to modify these settings, but my unlocked iPhone allows modification of APNs for data, MMS and Tethering. I do not know if that's the case KDDI au's iPhone, but wouldn't be surprised if they also disabled certain setting menu items. Carrier profiles are a powerful tool (that Apple is offering to carriers) to limit what customers can do with the phone.
    Softbank sucks and Docomo too if it turns out that they are getting even more restrictive with the iPhone.

    Android is not (yet) on my radar screen. Not because I dislike it, but because I invested into the iOS platform and a switch wouldn't come cheap.

    Have a look at the below site (not it's not spam):

  23. Since there are several online services that unlock phones, I wonder if it would be possible to use that service to unlock the docomo iPhone 5s if they (docomo) decide not to unlock it.

  24. Probably not that easy. I haven't seen a trustworthy online service that can unlock all iPhones (e.g. SoftBank iPhone). The ones that didnt look like scam sites cannot unlock iPhones that are locked to SoftBank or au.
    If you have any recommendations and experience with unlocking an iPhone, I would be interested to learn more about it.

  25. SBSdroid, thanks for clearing up the situation with the 800mhz band. DoMoDoMo, I can confirm KDDI does not let you access the APN settings on the iPhone. When I brought my iPhone 4S back to the UK and unlocked it with Gevey I was shocked to see all the extra options once I put a UK SIM in it.

    As SBSdroid's post seems to indicate, it looks like Docomo's going old style an copying the rest of the carriers with its iPhone. It could be because they don't even want to sell that many iPhones. It could be because they've made an agreement with the other carriers. Whatever the reason, with every step closer to launch I am coming to expect nothing more from the Docomo iPhone than an improvement in reception.

  26. Richard,
    Did the Gevey SIM cards work well? I haven't heard good things about such 'piggy back' SIM cards and some of this stuff might be illegal in some countries as some of these cards seem to fiddle with the IMEI of the phone.

    I also don't expect a lot from Docomo and wonder if I should stick with my iPhone4. I am in the US next week and could try to buy an unlocked iPhone 5S (if available at all), but I hold myself back until I know for sure that it works on Docomo's LTE network.

  27. DoMoDoMo,

    Gevey was satisfactory but it used significantly more battery. I'd say probably at least 20% more. I had to recharge it twice a day in London. I did use maps and 3G heavily, but I'm sure it was affecting battery. I can't recommend it in the long term. I think most people would need a separate USB battery charger.

    It's a tough decision, isn't it? A friend of mine in America has offered to help me get an unlocked iPhone but my better judgement is telling me to wait and see what happens. At the very least I have decided to go with an unlocked phone this year, so I might even switch to Android.

  28. Needs to be jailbroken.

  29. I am using unlocked iPhone 5 with iOS7 on Docomo Xi. Still no luck with LTE.

  30. This means that you only have 3G with a Xi SIM-card and an LTE handset. Which APN do you use? ?
    If that's the case with the iPhone 5, it won't be any different with an unlocked iPhone 5S/C.

  31. Willy, are you using an HK/Singapore model? I understand one of the US models can't connect to LTE because it doesn't support Docomo's LTE. If that's the case then an unlocked iPhone might be able to access LTE.

    If you use a Xi SIM in an unlocked phone, won't the APN settings be available? When I put an O2 SIM in my iPhone 4S, I had to configure it all manually. Surely it's just Docomo's locked iPhone that locks you out of the APN settings.

  32. Mine is a Japanese unlocked iPhone 5, a replacement I got from Apple Store Shibuya, cause my SG unlocked iPhone 5 has mechanical problem with the sleep button. Of course APN setting is available, it is an unlocked iPhone after all. It's pretty clear that even iOS7 carrier.plist file for old iPhone 5 does not have Docomo in it.

  33. Hi

    Long time lurker first time poster. I'd like to begin by saying thanks for creating such a wonderful resource for navigating the Japanese mobile landscape.

    I have to say I am extremely disappointed with docomo's asinine decision not to offer sim unlocking on the iPhone. Seriously dumbest business decision I've seen in a long time.

    Anyway I've decided to go with an unlocked GSM 5s from the states ( I realize it's not the same model sold in Japan but LTE band wise that should only be a problem for au) and was wondering if you guys would be willing to offer some advice.

    After reviewing the options for prepaid voice data sims it seems like Bmobile's really the only game in town, and while their prices aren't bad, they aren't great either especially when you consider you only get 2GB of proxied data.

    That's why I've decided to try the following. Purchase either

    A. An iPhone 5 via SBM, the contract for which is 4900 yen per month.
    B. an iPhone 5c via Docomo, the contract for which is 5250 per month

    Switch the sim into my unlocked 5s, (hopefully) get full service, and sell the attached 5 or 5c.

    Now I've read about trying to use an unlocked iphone 5 on docomo's network and only getting 3G, so I'm aware of that risk, but I'm hoping the 5s has proper support in the carrier plist so that it works out of the box. As far as i can tell dropping a SBM into an unlocked iPhone 5 seems to work fine...

    When you factor in selling the attached phone the contract comes out cheaper than bmobile and with more data, and works out to a similar cost to getting a contract 5s.

    While I can't think of any reason this wouldn't work I'll be giving it a try by switching out my sims with my friends SBM 5 and docomo 5s to make sure everything works. None the less can you guys think of any a problems I might run into (besides the fact that in the event something goes wrong I'll get no real support from SBM or docomo)?

    Thanks in advance for any help offered.

  34. I recently unlocked my docomo Xperia Z from and it worked. They claim that they also do iPhones so perhaps they can also do docomo iPhones.

  35. I'm using Softbank instead. They're cheaper and their 3G and 4G services are MUCH faster than Docomo's (in Tokyo, anyway!)

  36. I would not be the least bit surprised if all 3 big carriers have quiet agreements to never unlock iPhones as it would open up an era of unseen freedom for mobile phone users in Japan.

  37. You are just stupid to think we'd believe that! SOFTBANK is the biggest shit loaded provider I have ever tried!!! Just for the sake of iPhone in Japan! I'm glad Docomo is on it now!

  38. This issue is all in the carrier bundle. Apple is restricting the Docomo bundle to only work with iPhone 5s and 5c while the original 5 has the hardware to work if you get the right model, it won't accept the carrier update.

  39. It's actually the carrier bundle that determines if you can access APN settings.