Thursday, February 18, 2016

Rakuten Global Roaming: at least it's cheaper than docomo

Rakuten announced a global roaming SIM in combination with Cubic Telcom. The idea is that you buy the SIM in Japan, and it just works when you land (in 190 countries). Having a SIM active immediately can be very convenient, especially if you are somewhere you don't speak the language well, not to mention it removes the hassle of getting a new SIM activated and connected.

Thus, I've actually considered Docomo's world wing roaming service... for about 5 seconds until I stopped being stupid – I'd pay more in one day than I would in total for a local SIM. For example, when in Vienna, I always pick up a Nimm3 data SIMfrom Drei Austria (3) for 9.90 euros that covers me for the entire time I'm there. I can easily get a couple of weeks in Germany with either a Vodafone or (god forbid) Lycamobile SIM. I've got a pile of used T-Mobile SIMs from the US, most of which cost $3/day for 200 MB, and even O2 in the UK is going to be cheaper than Docomo.

So what about the Rakuten Global Roaming SIM? Well, I guess it's cheaper than Docomo.

In the screenshot above, you can see that in Hawaii, the Rakuten Global Roaming SIM will get you a whopping 30 MB of data for 880 yen. Docomo costs 980/day. So if your usage is reasonable, 50 MB could last for several days. Heck, I used to use only 200 MB in an entire month, so at that pace, I'd get a week out of ¥880 in Hawaii, compared to ¥6,860 with Docomo (albeit with much more data).

However, comparing to a T-mobile SIM in mind that T-Mobile offers 500 MB for $5/day on their revamped "pay as you go" plans.

It really depends on what your plans are. Will you be primarily with access to wifi, and really only need data occasionally when outside hunting for a particular place? Maybe all in all, this Rakuten SIM could be a good deal in that case. If there is a reasonable validity period on the Global Roaming SIM, I might actually pick one up, but if it expires after a very short period of non-usage, I'm not interested.

Below are the particulars as currently known.

  • Available from March 10, 2016
  • ¥3,000 to purchase the SIM
  • Loaded with a 30 MB change
  • Will be limited to 3G or GSM apparently
  • Choose between prepaid or post paid (credit card)
  • Prepaid plans by region, post paid by zone
  • Data only, or data with voice/SMS
  • Prepaid validity limited to 30 days for North America and 7 days for everywhere else

  • Comes with a SIM card case a "present"

  • There is no word on the how long the SIM itself is valid. That is, after how many months of non-usage does the SIM become invalid?

  • No idea what the units are on the post paid data packages. ¥18 for... what exactly? a single packet?

  • The reason for lack of LTE is practical. The bands are all over the place. In North America, frequency bands are allocated differently than pretty much the rest of the planet, and as a result, rarely do Japanese phones get a 3G signal. This means you would fall back to a non-3G connection, which trust me, is absolutely unusuable on a smartphone. If you do not have a phone that is known to be compatible with T-Mobile or AT&T in the US, DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME AND MONEY on a roaming data plan.

    Prepaid Data Plans

    50MB 200MB 500MB
    Europe ¥820 ¥1,930 ¥3,850
    North America ¥880 ¥2,040 ¥4,240
    Asia ¥1,040 ¥2,310 ¥4,950

    Prepaid Voice and SMS

    100 min / 100 SMS 300 min / 300 SMS
    Europe ¥3,190 ¥7,150
    North America ¥4,290 ¥9,680
    Asia ¥4,070 ¥9,020

    Post paid plans

    There are 7 zones with variabile pricing. Much of Zone 1 covers Europe, Zone 2 has much of Asia, and Zone 3 captures North America (except for Alaska, which is Zone 7), Australia, and New Zealand, and Zone 4 is the Middle East. The Phillippines and Cambodia fall into Zone 5, Vietnam is all alone in Zone 6, and the rest of the world is Zone 7.

    Data in Zone 3 is the cheapest at ¥18 and Zone 7 is very expensive at ¥743. Don't ask me what the units are, because it doesn't say. A packet? A kilobit? Who knows.

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