Saturday, November 23, 2013

Unlocked iPhone 5S and 5C on sale in Japanese Apple store

UPDATE: per a comment, the possibility has been raised that, even though this phone is unsubsidized and unconnected to any carrier, the settings may still cause problems with tethering on MVNOs. The XML preference file defining an APN has an option to set whether it allows tethering, and it could be possible that there is no way (without hacking the phone) to allow tethering with an MVNO.

If so, sorry iPhone lovers, but this is a total defect in iOS.

Well, that's a surprise.

iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C store pages are here.

You can take this to any Japanese mobile carrier and theoretically use it, but KDDI doesn't sell just SIM cards for unlocked phones, Softbank won't sell LTE SIM cards, and emobile doesn't have nano SIMs (so you'll need to chop down the SIM card). NTT Docomo will sell you a SIM card for this no problem, but you won't be able to get a docomo email address because sp mode can't be used with phones not sold from docomo.

I'd suggest to get the b-mobile "Free Data" SIM, which went on sale just today. Nice timing.

I turned out to be wrong that the docomo iPhone was locked out of MVNOs, but it cannot be used to tether with an MVNO (because the utility for creating the Carrier Profile won't allow an APN to be set for tethering). So, this unlocked one is the best way to get full iPhone functionality with an MVNO. The FAQ says that unlocked iPhone can do tethering.

Shipping times are showing one to two weeks for all colors and sizes, and the price ranges from ¥71,800 to ¥91,800.

As far as models go... I don't know which one is best. I guess it depends on where you tend to travel. Just don't get the CDMA versions.

Friday, November 22, 2013

b-mobile "Free Data" SIM will lower cost of voice+data plans

Update: on sale now here:

Here are the details from b-mobile (which also describes their 3G voice-only SIM for feature phones) This will become my new recommended data plan for unlocked smartphones (not tablets) if you don't want to (or can't) hack your phone to fix the infamous signal bars and cell standby android bug. (yes, I call it a bug).

A modest price decrease on the low-speed data plan

The current low-cost LTE voice and data "smartphone" SIM from b-mobile runs about ¥2,000 per month for unlimited 150 kbps data. As with all Docomo LTE SIMs, there is no included call allowance. From November 23rd, the new plan will lower this to about ¥1,600 (1,560+tax). while increasing data speed to 200 kbps.
With the upcoming consumption tax increase, currently planned for several stages, b-mobile is no longer displaying prices with tax included. Be sure to confirm if prices include tax or not. Until now, almost all mobile-related prices were quoted with tax included.

This is about a ¥400 yen discount each month for an extra coffee at スタバ or a couple of mint crunkies (if they still exist). The change in data speed is insignificant – All of the low speed plans under about 400 kbps are really hard to use for anything other mail and chat. This SIM does support turbo charge options of 100 and 500 MB, good over 90 days, for ¥300 and ¥1,200.

The real savings

The price of the add-on, high-speed data plan has been roughly cut in half, from just under ¥3,000 to just over ¥1,500. Not only that, the new plan adds an additional gig of data for a total of 3GB per month. Previously, adding the larger data quota to the smartphone SIM would cost over ¥4,000/month. Now you can get a voice-capable SIM card with 3 GB of monthly, high-speed data, for only ¥3,120+tax.

Avoid the cell standby bug

Anyone who's been paying attention to the MVNO scene in Japan is well aware of Android's poor handling of Docomo data-only SIMs. A phone with one of these SIMs doesn't display signal bars, and the cell standby process kills the battery in a matter of hours. The fix requires rooting your phone and voiding the warranty.

People who didn't want to or couldn't do that had no choice but to buy a voice SIM.

Now, with the new price on the smartphone voice SIM with 3GB of data being at ¥3,120+tax, you can basically think of this as a data SIM with voice for free. The original prepaid 1 GB Flat Rate SIM, which is still available, cost ¥3,100/month (after the first month). For nearly the same monthly cost, you now get three times the data and won't have to void your warranty to make your phone work properly.

You could actually use this as a regular phone SIM, and make cellular calls, but the rate is not cheap and there is not in-network calling with MVNOs. None of the MVNOs have any room to get creative with voice plans due to Docomo's wholesale pricing. There are no packages offered, not even for Docomo subscribers. ¥40/minute is what you pay for voice with a Xi (LTE) plan and a docomo SIM. The FOMA (3G) plans are packaged such that MVNOs can include a free calling allowance, which is ironic as hell since VoLTE does not yet exist, so all voice calls, even with an LTE SIM, get routed over 3G.

It would be much less expensive to use VoIP or some sort of chat option for placing calls.

Plan details

  • LTE
  • Post paid (credit card)
  • Limited to residents of Japan
  • ¥3,000+tax upfront
  • ¥1,560+tax base cost for 200 kbps unlimited data
  • ¥1,560+tax additional (¥3,120 total) for 3GB of high-speed data
  • Turbo charge (100 and 500 MB for ¥300 and ¥1,200)
  • Calls: ¥20/30 seconds
  • Normal, micro, and nano SIMs available

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Potential fix for 3G data and Nexus 5

UPDATE:Nope, doesn't work: "The patch only makes the phone think it's registered so it doesn't really have any effect on the network level. One thing I noticed is that it tries to register with MNC=215, not idea where that comes from..."

Over on oov's blog, he has a post on the Nexus 5 and Android 4.4 (kit kat) data-only SIM cell standby [J]. He has found another bug in Android 4.4 that is related to (apparently) incorrect mobile signal reporting. With an LTE data-only (not a data+voice) SIM, the signal bars are properly displayed in the notification bar, but cell standby shows a relatively high percentage of total battery consumption and the phone reports the time without a signal as 100%.

However, this just appears to be an issue with display only, because the phone does have a signal, it doesn't get hot, and the battery drain is not unexpectedly high.

He's created a patch for it and is looking for someone with a 3G SIM or 3G-only mobile contract to test to see if the patch also fixes the problem with 3G networks (bug here). This is all manually done right now because there is no Xposed installer for Android 4.4.


You will to have adb and fastboot setup on a computer and you will need to unlock the Nexus 5's bootloader, and flash a custom recovery, and then decompile and recompile jar classes.
  1. Boot in to fastboot by holding volume down and the power button, connect to your PC with USB, type:
    fastboot oem unlock
    then confirm on the phone. This will do factory reset on your phone, wiping everything. Google for "adb backup" if you want to backup some of your stuff (assuming it works on the N5).
  2. Reboot the phone, then disable MTP and enable USB debugging.
  3. Reboot in fastboot and flash the teamwin recovery with:
    fastboot flash recovery openrecovery-twrp-n.n.n.n-hammerhead.img
  4. Boot into recovery and mount the system partition.
  5. Pull a the following files to your pc to create a backup:
    adb pull /system/framework/telephony-common.jar
    adb pull /system/framework/telephony-common.odex

    then delete the odexed file
    adb shell rm /system/framework/telephony-common.odex
  6. Download and start up Baksmali / Smali Manager.
  7. Enter 0 -> f -> telephony-common.jar (which pulls this file from the phone).
  8. Enter 5 -> 1 to set the current project file to telephony-common.jar.
  9. Enter 1 -> x -> Y
  10. Open com/android/internal/telephony/ServiceStateTracker.smali in a text editor and search for:
    and on the following line change:
    if-nez to if-eqz
    then save and close the file
  11. Return to Baksmali / Smali Manager and enter 2 -> N to recompile the jar classes with the patched file
  12. Finish with 3 -> Y -> f -> R and the phone will reboot.
This should fix the display issue, but what happens with a 3G contract?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nexus 5 is not compatible with 3G contracts

UPDATE: a bug report has been filed. This affects all 3G contracts, regardless of whether the SIM is LTE-capable or not. This Google Plus post has good discussion in the comments.

Reports in the comment section here and elsewhere widely indicate that, for reasons not exactly clear, the b-mobile 3G SIMs are not working with the Nexus 5. According to a local android developer, the phone does not even see the "NTT DOCOMO" network under available networks. While JCI has not yet tested the Nexus 5, they also have been getting a number of reports of 3G SIMs not working.

It his highly likely that ALL docomo MVNOs will be similarly affected.

This SIM will not work with the Nexus 5
SIM cards that are currently incompatible are the BLUE and white FOMA ones:
If you are a user of a voice SIM, you can have your plan converted over to an LTE plan, but there are several disadvantages. First off, docomo's pricing for voice with an LTE plan is different than with a 3G plan. There is no option for an included number of minutes (free talking allowance), which is reflected in the lack of this option with docomo Xi voice plans. Second, docomo charges each MVNO a fee for both the issuance of a new SIM card and activation of a new account:
  • ¥2,100 for a new account when switching from 3G to LTE
  • ¥3,150 for a new SIM card.
According to their official twitter, new LTE products that may will have a different pricing structure for the voice plan will soon be available, but I don't have specifics. Also, it's unclear if the administrative fee of ¥2,100 would be generated again by the changing to a different LTE plan. I would think not, since as far as the docomo side of the equation is concerned, there is no new account activation – that should only occur when changing from a 3G to an LTE SIM.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Using the Nexus 5 with NTT Docomo Xi

UPDATE: See this post for a list of instructions on how to change your Docomo ISP to Mopera U from sp-mode, which is necessary to use the Nexus 5 (or any unlocked, non-docomo phone with a Xi contract). Users are reporting that there is not an option to add the cheaper lite plan online, but because the standard plan has a 6 month free campaign now, add the standard plan now, then within 6 months change to the lite plan by going to a Docomo Shop.

Nexus 5 home screens showing a connection to docomo LTE
There has been a lot of discussion and questions regarding exactly how to use the Nexus 5 with Docomo. Many of you have existing contracts for docomo LTE (Xi), and you may be wondering if you can just simply swap out the SIM card.

The answer is probably not.

If you just walked into a docomo shop and bought a Xi LTE phone, you are 99.9999999% using their "sp mode" ISP. However, the APN used with this ISP is filtered by the phone's IMEI number, with only numbers specifically whitelisted by docomo able to use this ISP.
Many of you may not even realize that Docomo has different ISPs, since the mobile carrier typically is the ISP. There was at one point a good reason for it, well sort of. Docomo used a separate ISP for data devices, like the old USB dongles or other devices that would tether a computer to their network. This did two things:
  1. made it easy to charge a premium price for that service and
  2. segregated devices that were potentially able to eat a huge chunk of instantaneous bandwidth from the typical customer.
Therefore, you will need to change your ISP from sp-mode to docomo's other ISP, Mopera U. sp-mode comes with extra services, like sp-mode mail that provides an email address. You will lose this email address with a Nexus 5. If you want to continue having an email address, you can continue having one @mopera, but honestly, with gmail, there is really no need for either an sp-mode or mopera mail account.

There are two basic choices of mopera plans:
  1. Mopera U Standard for ¥500+tax includes email
  2. Mopera U lite for ¥300+tax without mail
Sp-mode is a better value because it includes mail for the same price as the Mopera U lite plan, but しょうがない. Remember this is the just the charge to have an internet connection. You then need to have a data plan on top of that, and most people are using the Xi 7GB plan.

N5 using the APN, which is preconfigured.

To change your ISP, I understand this can be done online through the my docomo page. If you can't figure out how to do that, you can just go to a docomo shop and get it done. You really don't need to tell them why you are doing it, and you don't even need to bring the phone.

NEVER change you ISP from sp-mode to mopera if you have an unrooted, unhacked, docomo Xi phone. Docomo firmware changes the APN when activating tethering, and this APN is incompatible with Mopera U. Data will work fine but you won't be able to tether. The Mopera U ISP and APN is only for unlocked, non-docomo phones.

Once you have changed the ISP to Mopera U, put your SIM card in the shiny new Nexus 5, then set as the APN. It will most likely happen automatically. Alternatively, you can use, which removes some filtering.

[List of docomo APNs.]

Here are some various screenshots from the mobile networks settings

This is the Non-North American version, and it can see  the other carrier's networks
In the case of KDDI, it is seeing their Band 1 LTE data network (voice not compatible)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Docomo iPhone 5S and 5C ARE compatible with MVNOs

However, there is a catch. According to the b-mobile compatibility page, LTE only works with voice SIMs. With a standard data-only SIM, you will only get a 3G signal.

LTE requires use of a voice SIM.
This leaves two options, ruling out most other MVNOs because they only offer data:
In addition, a new carrier profile is needed, which is available from b-mobile. This also means that visitors without residency cannot get an LTE signal with an iPhone. Also, this carrier profile does not allow tethering.

I have absolutely no idea why is the problem with LTE and data SIMs, or what is preventing the phone from being able to tether, even with a different carrier profile.

070 prefix phone numbers for 3G+ phones

Starting November 1st, 2013, Japanese phone numbers beginning with "070" will be available for use with 3G, LTE, and 4G cellular phones.

070 is not a new prefix for Japanese cellular phones. It's actually an old prefix: it was (and still is) used for Japan's last remaining 2G cellular network, called "PHS" in Japanese.

However, with PHS usage in decline and 3G/LTE/4G phone numbers in the 080 and 090 space being rapidly depleted, they have opened up parts of the 070 prefix for non-2G/non-PHS use:

  • If the first digit after the 070 is a five or six (ex. 070-5XXX-XXXX or 070-6YYY-YYYY), it is still a Japanese PHS number
  • All other number combinations could be either a PHS number or a 3G (or more advanced protocol) number
One interesting interoperability issue: because PHS 2G is not compatible with worldwide 2G GSM, they cannot send or receive SMS text messages.

That's how Japan's mobile email system got started: it was invented as an alternative to SMS.

From a consumer's standpoint, Japan's mobile mail alternative to SMS was superior: it allowed very long messages, it could interoperate and send/receive from internet email addresses, and allowed for rich content much like HTML mail.

From a carrier's commercial viewpoint, mobile email was a blessing because carrier provided email addresses, unlike phone numbers, could not to transferred to rival's networks (via MNP procedures), locking in customer loyalty; subscribers are hesitant to defect to other carriers because they would have to change/lose their Japanese carrier mobile mail email address.

It is only a recent phenomenon were people in Japan have begun to use SMS, although usage lags compared to carrier email. This is because of a few factors:
  • It is only recently that the government MIC mandated that carrier's SMS interoperate (send/receive SMS text messages between Japanese and international carriers)
  • Japanese 3G phones often had the SMS/MMS functionality buried in a deep submenu and referred to by strange brand names ("C-Mail" for KDDI/au SMS and "S!Mail" for Softbank MMS). Foreign phone operating systems, such as Android and iPhone, tend to feature the SMS/MMS features more prominently in their user interfaces. As Android and iPhone became popular in Japan, awareness of this functionality increased.
  • When the restrictions were lifted for SMS/MMS interoperability, internet services (both in Japan and overseas) started increasing the use of SMS as a verification method for Japanese customers.
Thus, sending SMS/MMS messages used to never work if sent to a 070 number. Now, people will need to know if the the 070 phone is PHS or not if they want to send an SMS.

PHS' popularity amongst the general public in Japan has dropped precipitously now that 3G is ubiquitous and even faster phones (LTE/4G) are available everywhere. However, there is one area where PHS is still used: corporations still use them for internal "employee assigned" phones as they're very cheap to buy and use in bulk with a corporate contract. They tend to be used as pagers, either connected to humans or machines.

When 3G was introduced, they first exclusively assigned the 080 prefix to the devices. They then eventually added the 090 prefix. During this time when 3G was new, some people were surprised to hear people tell them that their mobile number was "080", thinking that only "070" numbers were mobile numbers. Now, with the younger generation, some people may express surprise that somebody has a "070" number, as younger people associate the 070 prefix with old technology.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Both Nexus 5 models appear compatible in Japan

The Nexus 5 is now official. From the product page, select the "tech specs" in the drop down menu, then "View full tech specs". The "leaked" service manual appears to have been for the "Rest of the World model" (I'll call it international).

It is my understanding that Docomo's planned 150 Mbps LTE downlink will be using Band 3, which the international model supports, but not the North American model.

(Japanese frequency bands)

For people who are based in Japan but make trips to North America, the international model looks like the best route. You will NOT get LTE service in the US, but it is compatible with T-Mobile 3G (WCDMA Band 4) and AT&T 3G (WCDMA Band 2). We've all happily lived with 3G for years now. It is totally sufficient.

For people who are based in North America but make trips to Japan, the North American model is best. It is compatible with both T-Mobile and AT&Ts LTE networks (LTE Band 4), and also with what is currently the primary LTE band in Japan for Softbank and NTT Docomo (LTE Band 1). However, lacking Band 3 might become a hinderance in Japan using Docomo or MVNOs as Band 3 seems to be central to Docomo's expansion plans.