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


  1. Yes, don't discount the cost of voice here. I and my wife has free calling to each other on DoCoMo. I went through my call logs, and determined that were I to switch to B-Mobile, I'd save around 2500 yen per month - but we'd increase our total cost by over 4000 yen if we'd call each other as much as we do now.

  2. I was excited until I read "Japanese residents only"... :(
    How feasible is it to have a Japanese resident friend purchase this SIM for a visitor?

  3. "resident" just means you have a fixed address in Japan, no? This SIM doesn't seem to make much sense unless you stay here for a few months at least, at which point you'll be resident.

  4. Changed the wording on that. I realized that it could be read as only for Japanese people that are residents, as opposed to people who are residents of Japan.

  5. SBS might be able to clarify, but I took it to mean having a residence permit vs. being on a 90-day tourist visa. (any SIM w/ voice apparently is restricted to residents-only due to concerns the police have about criminals making phone calls.) Currently the only SIM a visitor can easily buy themselves is the b-mobile VISITOR sim that doesn't have voice abilities. That SIM costs >4000 yen for 1GB and has issues with excessive battery drain if you don't modify your Android ROM.

  6. How hard would it be to shift that calling onto voip?

  7. She's using a gara-kei, so pretty much impossible.

  8. I thought this B-Mobile account was long-term only, though. It's going to be more expensive to sign a one-year or half-year contract if you only need access for a couple of weeks. And you can't pay the monthly bill without a Japanese bank account anyway, can you?

  9. sorry if this has been asked before, but I need some help.

    I bought the b-mobile Smartphone LTE nanoSIM two months ago from Yodobashi but have never been able to get LTE in the last two months, on any APN settings. Even what usually would be the "Enable LTE" setting under Cellular Data Network shows "Enable 3G" for me. What could be the problem? I've forgone free minutes for LTE and am stuck on 3G instead. Some help would be appreciated. Thanks!

  10. This sounds cool! Now that Apple is selling factory unlocked phones at Apple Japan stores, it looks like a good time to dump SoftBank.

  11. I have a question. If I were to pick up a Nexus 5 from the google store in Japan, do you know how well it would work with b-mobile?

  12. Thanks a bunch for the fast reply.

  13. Aren't all those cheap gara-kei voice plans on PHS phones? Nothing with number portability? Cause I'd go to a small tablet type device and a eMobile-type mobile hotspot if I could keep my phone number.

  14. Now you can get a voice-capable SIM card with 3 GB of monthly, high-speed data, for only ¥3,120+tax.

    Would the voice provider be bMobile? And do they qualify for number portability?

  15. If it's like the data-only SIMs that require long-term usage, you can cancel service within a month of activation and not be tied down. The only issue would be if they charged separately for SIM and service.

  16. All voice plans from b-mobile have a fee of around ¥8,000 if you cancel before 5 months. After, that there is no revolving, auto-renewing contract - cancel anytime.

    They didn't use to have those contracts, but other carriers - cough, softbank - took advantage of them.

  17. This looks like a really good option.
    Any recommendations for VOIP (I'm looking at a nexus 5, will be new to Android).

    I would love to hear your opinions on the eMobile plan (coverage? speed?).
    2 year contract, free calls to eMobile/Softbank before 9pm.
    If you buy outright (can't bring your own?) it's Y2515/month (unless you MNP from softbank!!!).
    If you MNP from softbank it's Y3565 :-(

    PS: thanks for the great site, the info here is very helpful!

  18. This option looks pretty good.
    Any recommendations for VOIP?

    I would like to hear your opinions on the eMobile plan (coverage? speed?).
    2 year contract (auto-renew), free calls to eMobile/Softbank before 9pm.
    Y2515/month if you buy outright (not sure if you can bring your own nexus5).
    Except it's Y3565/month if you MNP from soft bank :-(

    PS: thanks for the great site, it's very helpful!

    PPS: I think Disqus swallowed my previous comment, I hope this isn't a double-post.

  19. Would be nice to see a comparison of new MVNO offerings like this one against softbank, docomo, and emobile's new Nexus 5 campaign that's supposedly less than 4000yen for 5GB and free calling in off-peak hours (1am-9pm) to other emobile or softbank lines. 5GB is a decent compromise between b-mobile's 3GB and Softbank/Docomo's 7GB, plus that last bit of in-network calling is especially attractive to those whose contacts gradually migrated to softbank for the iphone over the last few years.

  20. I currently have one of those smartphone voice plans with 1GB of data for 3120 yen. Do you know if I'll get a free automatic upgrade or do I have apply for and buy a new SIM?