Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The reason why unlocking your docomo phone costs 3000 yen(?)

UPDATE: In both the comments and on a google plus thread, several people have confirmed that docomo is not using a new SIM each time the unlock a phone. The shop I went to had probably just never done it before, so they had to bring out a brand new SIM.

A docomo "special" unlocking SIM
The current price with tax to unlock a docomo phone is ¥3,150, which is also what docomo charges for new SIM cards. Whether it be from an MVNO or straight from docomo, when you receive a new SIM card, docomo gets ¥3,150.

Could it be that each one of these "special SIMs" (which are nothing more than a SIM card that doesn't have an MCC and MNC equal to 44010) are single use?

As you can see from the photo I snapped during the long and grueling process, that is a fullsize SIM with a micro-sized perforation. It's never been used. And being from docomo, it's the equivalent of ¥3,150.

Of course it costs almost nothing to stamp out these SIM cards, so if they are single usage, it would likely be just a means of justifying the cost. Unlocking consumes a SIM card, and the price of a SIM card is ¥ 3000 + tax. But what a waste.

Now, it is entirely possible that this particular shop had never actually unlocked a phone before, and that's why this SIM had never been used. Based on my experience, this is indeed a possibility. It took forever because more time was spent reading the manual than actually unlocking my phone. I was explained that unlocking could result in a full data loss (whatever). Halfway through the procedure, I was given a list of disclaimers for using an unlocked phone on docomo's network, which was exactly NOT what we were there to do. Several discussions and meetings were required.

One thing is for sure: it was the first time any of them had seen an encrypted phone.

Following one of these confabs, which took place out of sight in the back, they actually began to unlock the phone. For about 10 minutes I estimate, they repeatedly tried to key in the IMEI-based unlock code into the storage decryption field, making as one would expect, zero progress. They finally came back to me and said that an unexpected screen was being displayed and they didn't know how to proceed.

It's a good thing there's not a limit to failed password attempts during decryption :)

Needless to say, I was shocked that they didn't grasp that the phone was encrypted and they needed to enter the passcode before it would boot, especially since it clearly states in Japanese that ストレージを復号化するパスワードを入力してください。 (Please enter the decryption password.)

What has been your experience with unlocking docomo phones. Has anyone else seen a fullsize, unused SIM? I wonder if they are supposed to pop the SIM out where the customer can't see?


  1. Hi. I unlocked a docomo Galaxy Nexus back in december 2011 to use in my home country in europe and it was not easy. Of course the docomo lady did not know what it was and spent a lot of time on the phone with someone. After asking me to WRITE DOWN on plain paper my google account credentials (!) for unlocking, which I of course refused, I asked to do it myself. I have a european sim card, so i popped that in (to her wonder) and enter the unlock code at boot. Everything went fine. Last year I was surprised to see that the unlocking code does not survive a factory wipe (after installing the official google maguro gsm rom it asked the code again). I did not know the phone was hardware locked. Never again I will buy another carrier locked phone, now a very happy camper with nexus 5 on Xi lte unfiltered apn plan.

  2. We unlocked an Xperia Z1 before it was even given to us. They took it behind the counter for a bit to do so. It was somewhat easy, but I'm curious as to exactly how it works.

    I also asked about iPhones and did get a resounding no. Wonder if it'll ever change...

  3. I got my Galaxy Tab sc-01e unlocked at the Docomo shop.
    It was quite straightforward, but it did take around 15 ~ 20 mins. Not to mention, a wait time of ~20 mins to get to the counter. Anyway the activity break-up was,

    1) 5 mins - Initial paperwork, payment, mandatory T&C walk through and how Docomo is not responsible for anything

    2) 10 mins - Lady got a "special" SIM from the back of the shop (not sure if it was new or re-use). Then she started the process of rebooting the tablet with "special" SIM, doing the code input and pressing 'Cancel'. I did not realize what she was doing and why it was taking time. When she started making faces, I realized something is wrong and took a peep at the process. Realized that her manual was in Japanese and tablet language was set as English. She was mistakenly pressing Cancel button (probably because the layout between Japanese and English is reverse). So we changed the language to Japanese and she was able to successfully do the unlock procedure in a minute.

    3) 5 mins - I asked her for the unlock code with reference to documented issue of sc-04d getting locked again after factory reset and she explained for the next 5 mins how they cannot share the code.

    Fortunately for sc-03e, I did not have to visit the Docomo shop and could unlock on my own.

  4. Oli ”オリバー” HoJanuary 21, 2014 at 8:50 PM

    The first unlock I did was on a SC-03D, the guy did his speech and then used his computer to generate unlock code, which he entered straight to the phone. I don't remember seeing him use another sim during the unlock. I suspect the above sim is just a test sim for the shop to test if phone has been unlocked

  5. Oli ”オリバー” HoJanuary 21, 2014 at 8:55 PM

    I also had an L-03E router unlocked, but that had to be sent away, I suspect because it would be too much work to have drivers installed and have their customer service unlock it via the routers interface.

  6. The man behind the iron thingyJanuary 21, 2014 at 10:24 PM

    Back when I first rooted my SC06D to get rid of the useless crap, I just followed the directions for unlocking from other Galaxy S3s (http://forum.xda-developers.com/showpost.php?p=34661189&postcount=1). Had to download and flash an older stock ROM to get it to work. But at least I didn't have to spend 3150 yen and countless hours with shop staff trying to get them to unlock it.

  7. Got unlocked Nexus 5 for 0 Yen from emobile (read as Softbank) . Currently they are offering the most affordable data and voice package in Japan (around 2500 yen for 5GB of data and free voice call to embile, softbank and wilcom from 01:00 to 21:00)

  8. Did it for my Galaxy Nexus at the Roppongi Docomo shop 9 months ago. Took 10-15 minutes total (paperwork included) and the woman did it in front of me at the counter using the SIM. No issue at all, smooth process...

  9. Got the unlock code for my Galaxy Nexus last month. 15-20m. No drama but a fun story.

    Knowing that they would not give me the code, I prepared a modified android build with a Phone.apk that would write the unlock code to a /sdcard/log.txt . That was a fun day learning how to build an android image etc :)

    As it happened the guy wrote the code down on a piece of paper and then went into the back room to get a SIM card, leaving me alone with the code, so my day of hacking was wasted.

    BTW any non-docomo SIM will cause the unlock screen to appear, so they are not single-use (or if they are, that's Docomo being silly).

  10. Oli ”オリバー” HoJanuary 24, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    Seems they have recently changed the spec of Docomo unlocked phones, I was looking at Note 3 and Z1 and noticed that the radio bands they are compatible with are rather limited and have bands for "roaming" compared to the overseas unlocked phones. I hope roaming they mean the sim can still work on those bands with a local sim too.

  11. Totally worked. I'm not going upload a 200M image but if you're feeling adventurous, building an android image is well documented, fairly straightforward and the file you need to tweak is


    just before it calls


    I believe in the UK it's the law that they must unlock after 6 months for free (that's how it was in Ireland anyway). In Japan it seems they came to some sort of agreement instead of actually making a law... which is why iPhones don't get unlocked.

  12. I guess they're refusing to unlock for now because they did those deals to hold on to existing customers.

    After a few years with the iPhone they might relax their stance a bit.

  13. Thanks for the answer Ole.

    So I shouldn't have any problems with using this phone in Europe with european sim card, after using it in Japan (the A1453 model)?

  14. Correct, there should be no issue whatsoever. Read the sales blurb on the Apple Japan website (in Japanese, but get someone to translate) and it says basically the same thing as it does elsewhere, the details being: "The unlocked iPhone includes all the features of iPhone but without a wireless contract commitment. You can activate and use the unlocked iPhone on the supported GSM wireless network of your choice, such as AT&T or T-Mobile in the United States. The unlocked iPhone will not work with CDMA-based carriers, including Sprint and Verizon Wireless." Note that this means you cannot "port" the device from one CDMA carrier to another, for example if you sign up for AU in Japan or Verizon in the US, you won't be able to take the phone to Sprint in the US, but it will work with ANY GSM carrier which bascially means any carrier in Europe.

  15. Thanks again Ole. The phone is working with my european sim card, so it looks good. They started to sell unlocked phones in stationary stores (at least at the one in Shibuya). The phone was activated by a staff member with their sim card. I was also told that the phone is covered by an internation warranty.

  16. Oli ”オリバー” HoFebruary 4, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    Was at Toyosu Docomo shop, the girl behind the counter knew exactly what to do and took her only a few minutes to unlocked a Z1, noticed in the manual it explicitly says you can not roam on LTE. Meh oh well..

  17. Y'know, if it's a Galaxy SIII, try unlocking it by going into service mode. If docomo didn't disable the backdoor on your current firmware version (on the S3-Alpha it's the oldest available firmware, on the regular S3 it's one of the 4.1.1 updates) you've just saved yourself 3000 yen.

  18. Arturo Javier Garza CortezFebruary 10, 2014 at 7:47 PM

    In my case they dont change the sim, maybe in your store dont have the experience before

  19. As a temporary resident on working visa, I signed up for this SIM no problems at all. You need to use a credit card, so I am using my Australian VISA card, meaning monthly charges can fluctuate a little depending on the exchange rate. If/when I get a Japanese card, it's easy to change to this payment option.

    It works fine with my HTC One X, although I needed to use the cell standby bug fix in the beginning. Using the 3gb option, the speed was around 1.5 Mbps, however in some areas (subway) it dropped to around 200 kbps, which is the same speed as the unlimited free option.

    After the first month, I didn't use much of my 3gb (I have Wi-Fi at home/work), so I cancelled that and bought a 500mb turbo charge. I find the unlimited (slow) data rate perfect for messaging, and OK for map searching and trip planning. Heavy internet browsing on non mobile optimised sites, or trying to view many photos can be a little slow.

    Tethering works seamlessly, and I can use my laptop with it (although I need to enable Turbo Charge via the my-Bmobile account page). Unfortunately, I can't use the app to switch the Turbo Charge on/off, as it has the error message:

    "We are unable to retrieve your SIM card information. Either you SIM card is not inserted properly or it is in Airplane mode."

    I don't have it in airplane mode, and I'm sure the SIM is inserted correctly (otherwise I couldn't make calls, etc.)

    Anybody else have this issue?

  20. I'm using bmobile and had it running fine but I've updated today to ios 7.1 and... "no service" ! Great :(

  21. You might be able to fix it simply by turning Cellular Data off and then on again. I'm also on 7.1 on the Apple Japan unlocked 5s, and my Bmobile Smart Phone Sim is working fine. The throttled speed is still terrible (despite having the 3GB "high speed" option), but it does at least see the network.

  22. :/ Doesn't seem to work. When I bought the phone I had the same problem till I turned LTE off (cause my sim card is for 3G), but not it's turned off and still "no service" :(. I've turned data off too, reboot and all... :/

  23. Hi !, Do you think that the list of compatible smartphones for this plan is the same as for the visitor's prepaid sim? (listed on the b-mobile's english site). I have an iPhone 5 (A1429) bought at Apple Store in Poland and I'm just wondering if I could use it for both LTE internet and voice calls in Japan with this plan. Btw. Is the speed of LTE still that sluggish ?

  24. The list of phones will be greater for this. Basically, it will work with just about any phone. I'm not sure if you will get LTE or not with an iPhone. ALL of the MVNO SIMs are slow compared to carriers. If you want to have a very fast data plan, get a contract with one of the carriers, not an MVNO.

  25. are the bic camera/e-mobile deals still the best/fastest for pocket wifi? should i choose LTE or 4G? thanks!

  26. Karol KaczorowskiMarch 18, 2014 at 6:33 PM

    Thx a lot! So, do you know if any of "the giants" offer a sim only, 6-months (max) contract, voice and data plan or prepaid ?
    How bad is b-mobile's internet for Skype and Internet browsing ? I guess there is no point in using iPhone with b-mobile sim as a mobile wifi hotspot/router for a laptop or an ipad, right ?

  27. No 6 month contract. No prepaid voice.

    The problem that people have with b-mobile and other MVNOs stems from them not really understanding what they are getting. I've explained this before (see the "updated comparison on b-mobile SIMs" post linked at the top), but none of the MVNO SIMs are going to be fast by carrier standards. The wholesale cost from the carriers is too high to allow this if they want to continue to stay in business.

    If you buy one thinking you are going to constantly be getting double digit Mbps download rates, you will be very very very disappointed (and spend a lot of time complaining in blog comments).

    Skype is usable. internet browsing works. I tethered all the time with a b-mobile SIM. It works. If you want it to be as fast as possible, you will need to pay 6,000 yen per month to a carrier with a 2-year, automatically renewing contract with a 10,000 yen early cancelation fee (even after the first 2-years).

  28. Thanks for putting it into perspective. I am among those who have complained upon my initial disappointment with b-mobile's speeds. But in the month since leaving Softbank and jumping to b-mobile, I've learned to live with the slower speeds — and enjoy the savings.

  29. Karol KaczorowskiMarch 22, 2014 at 1:36 AM

    Thx a lot for the precious info ! Does anyone know which of the carriers has the lowest cancellation fees ? I need sth for 6months only.

  30. Stratos AzizoglouApril 5, 2014 at 10:24 PM

    how can unlock my nec n-06c without go to japan??

  31. I was wondering if anyone knows that with the Free Data SIM, if I don't activate the account, will bmobile still bill me per month? I haven't received the postcard with the activation code yet as I think Japan Post either returned it to sender or threw it away. JP initially sent me a slip to confirm whether I live at the address specified, and since returning that slip, they still haven't delivered it. At this point I only have 16 days left to activate the SIM.

    If they don't bill me, that's great, I'll look at going for a contract instead with Docomo.

  32. hello japan mobile tech sir, my NTT docomo N-06c mobile phone lock so help this phone code and unlocking this phone help please.

  33. https://discussions.apple.com/message/25655811?tstart=0#25655811?tstart=0

  34. Interesting that so many have said they won't give you the unlock code. I had my new Galaxy S5 done a couple weeks ago and the lady wrote my unlock code right on my official receipt and gave it to me. Guess I will have to safeguard this as it may be unlikely to happen again if I have to do a full reset later.

  35. A big late on this chime, but Yodobashi camera offered me a 15000 yen discount on an iMac if I upgraded to the new HW through Wimax! [ 2014}

  36. Did you end up getting an unlocked iPhone 5s and were you able to connect to KDDI's network? I am in a similar situation but don't want to fork out the money to find out KDDI won't let it on their network. TIA.

  37. I read on their FAQ that the cancellation button will only appear 25 months after the start of the contract. (http://help.gmobb.jp/app/answers/detail/a_id/14769) Does this mean that there is no way to cancel without paying the cancellation fee? I'm thinking in two years I might need a new terminal because the lithium ion batteries in mine might be worn out by that time.

  38. Found the answer in https://help.gmobb.jp/app/answers/detail/a_id/41/:




    It seems I can cancel on the 24th or 25th month, return the SIM (trying to figure out how), and I won't be charged anything.

  39. I'm a bit furious right now. I got the SIM lock removed by Docomo for my Galaxy S3 a while ago. Now I'm back home and got a new SIM card and it seems my phone is still SIM locked as it's requesting "SIM network unlock PIN".
    What did I pay Docomo for? I even double-checked with them when I cancelled my contract that the SIM lock was removed!!!

    Any idea what I could possibly do now?
    I already contacted Docomo via "My Docomo" website. But I doubt they can do anything if I can't show up in a Docomo store, now can they?

  40. Would love to hear more about this. I got the SIM lock removed by Docomo and paid the 3150 yen, but now that I'm back in my home country it still seems to be locked and I just have no idea what to do anymore. :(

  41. Never mind. I called Docomo and they confirmed that they've unlocked my phone and I received the unlock PIN and it worked just fine. No idea why it didn't work in the first place. Guess they made a mistake.

  42. Hi japanmobiletech,

    Is it possible to unlock a docomo phone which I just bought on a "中古 shop" (second hand shop)?

    I was wondering if i could buy one on those shops and have them unlocked on docomo shop? (assuming that the phone is cleared on any outstanding bills)

    thanks & regards,

  43. What is the requirements for buying pocket wifi wimax

  44. Hi, I want to unlock my iphone bought from docomo store. Can you help me?

  45. My experience with shop staff of every kind in every shop in japan is that they categorically know nothing about the products they sell. It's as if this is a requirement of the job, that they must absolutely not be able to help you with anything more complicated that picking up merchandise and dropping off money. I have had some really hard times and angry incidents involving the massive incompetence of japanese shop staff. Take their warning about full data loss seriously: you're lucky they didn't just format your phone the moment it did something they couldn't understand (that happens).