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Thread: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

  1. #1

    Default SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    I remember this was a nightmare the last time I was in Japan due to their weird local telco ecosystem and all the "galapagos keitai" nonsense, but general-purpose, standardised-platform smart phones have been a thing since 2006 now, and I'm pretty sure Japan's had the iPhone at least since 2008, so I'm hoping things are better now?

    I'd like to bring my Galaxy Note 4 (N910G variant), which is completely carrier unlocked, and just sign up (in a store or online or whatever) for a voice and data plan of some sort (or possibly just data, since apparently voice can be an issue and most comms go over mail or IM anyway). When I last went, the advice was "Just buy a local phone anyway as it's too much hassle otherwise", but I'd really like to be able to use Google Maps, Translate, etc on a large screen like I've gotten used to. Plus, it's damn awesome phone and was pretty expensive at that. Would be a real shame if I can't keep using it.

    For the technically inclined, my unit apparently supports:

    2G Bands:
    GSM 850/900/1800/1900

    3G Bands:
    HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100

    4G/LTE Bands:

    1(2100)
    2(1900)
    3(1800)
    4(1700/2100)
    5(850)
    7(2600)
    8(900)
    28(700)
    38(2600)
    40(2300)


    Some preliminary research leads me to believe there are some products available that will work with this unit even if the choices might be a bit limited or expensive, but most of the info I could find was at least five years old and sometimes vague or somewhat self-contradictory, so I'm far from certain. Still, five years is a long time in he digital age, and things have gotta have improved since then, right? ...Right?

    Oh right, Japan.

    Anyway, there must be some folks doing something like this already by now, I hope, that can chime in with some wisdom? I don't particularly care if I can't get 4G support as that isn't really a practical option at home, either, and for mobile use I can live with 3G just fine, but it'd be nice if it's possible and isn't massively more expensive.

  2. #2
    Fit via vi Virgil's Avatar
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    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    If you don't speak Japanese then just give it up. If you do then it is worth a try if you know what you're talking about. I read a lot before I brought my Note 4, and couldn't find anyone who had successfully done it. I tried briefly with a mixture of English and broken Japanese before giving up and just buying a brand new phone.

  3. #3

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    You need a working phone number in Japan so your colleagues / delivery guy / police / NHK etc. etc. can call you.

    For almost everything you do online in Japan, you will need to provide a phone number. You may even need one to set up your bank account.

    In short, you need a number. Data only will not fly.

    How you do that I'm probably not best qualified to say as I just bought my phone here.

  4. #4

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Right there are a bunch of other threads over the last two years, but in summary there are three main options:

    1:) Bring a phone from home and find SIM only plan.
    2:) Buy a SIM-free phone and a SIM only plan.
    3:) Go to one of the Big Three or their discount subsidiaries, get phone and plan through them.

    Number one is the most work but cheapest. Here's the relevant LTE bands - that might be out of date, so check the Japanese LTE wikipedia page. The Big Three have refused international/US models of phones on their networks, but it seems like a case by case thing and not a set policy. But coverage in the inaka is spotty (I only have one LTE band available in my town - so only one real option as far as the network goes.) Smaller data only/prepaid SIMs are super cheap - if you use Skype/Line instead of voice etc.

    Number two can be pretty cheap as well. Buy a new or used SIM-free phone and find a SIM provider. New phones can usually be bought off contract through a number of retailers (like Yodobashi or even online as well.) Used phones? Head down to Dospara etc in Akiba and peruse their selection. The Note Edge came out here - you should be able to find one cheap if you want. You might only find locked carrier models, but there might be a few international or unlocked models too. (Japanese unlocking law just went into effect, only original owner can get the phone unlocked if fully paid off and after 6 months IIRC.)

    Number three is the easiest, but most expensive. The Big Three have Zero Yen campaigns pretty constantly, but that cost is replaced by paying higher data/voice rates. Those contract rates have gotten worse over the last couple years. (Two basic lines w/ voice and 5ish gigs data was ¥5000 when I got to Japan. Now about ¥8000 for the same.) Also contract penalties etc. Also, carrier specific models in Japan (at least for Android) don't get OS updates. AFAIK the last OTA update issued for a carrier model was in 2012.

    I recommend option 2. Although I'd avoid the Big Three.

  5. #5

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dululu View Post
    You need a working phone number in Japan so your colleagues / delivery guy / police / NHK etc. etc. can call you.
    My apartment last time had a land-line when I moved in, and if it doesn't this time, I'll still probably have to get one for ADSL unless fibre is available. You can use that line for such purposes and go data-only on your mobile for Internet, email, IM and VoIP stuff.

    Quote Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
    If you don't speak Japanese then just give it up. If you do then it is worth a try if you know what you're talking about.
    I do speak Japanese but I'm rusty as hell after eight years with almost no practice. I have an IT/CS degree though so yes, I do know what I'm talking about. Expressing it effectively in Japanese is another matter, though, and even dealing with first-level IT support staff at home often they have no idea what I'm talking about and a lot of explanation is required, so in Japanese is going to be, um, interesting. I'm all moved in to this handset app and data-wise, though, and it's been the best phone I've ever had (and I'm pretty demanding of my devices) so I'm not keen on abandoning it (plus it's the only phone that works with my Gear VR headset, which is really going to blow the kids minds). My only real complaint is that Samsung broke USB Audio support in the Lollipop update, and I was planning to use that and a compact external DAC to audition HiFi stuff in shops without having to lug a laptop around.

    So yeah, I guess this is gonna suck after all but hopefully I'm sufficiently stubborn. The Japan Mobile Tech blog has articles saying it can be done, but that's the five-year-out-of-date info I was talking about in the OP.

    Quote Originally Posted by webstaa View Post
    Right there are a bunch of other threads over the last two years, but in summary there are three main options:

    1 Bring a phone from home and find SIM only plan.
    2 Buy a SIM-free phone and a SIM only plan.
    3 Go to one of the Big Three or their discount subsidiaries, get phone and plan through them.

    Number one is the most work but cheapest. Here's the relevant LTE bands - that might be out of date, so check the Japanese LTE wikipedia page. The Big Three have refused international/US models of phones on their networks, but it seems like a case by case thing and not a set policy. But coverage in the inaka is spotty (I only have one LTE band available in my town - so only one real option as far as the network goes.) Smaller data only/prepaid SIMs are super cheap - if you use Skype/Line instead of voice etc.
    NTT supports LTE band 1 and plans support for band 3, KDDI supports band 1 (via NTT I believe), and Softbank also band 1, and has planned support for band 8, all three bands which my phone supports. Like you say, though, coverage is spotty with 4G tech and I expect to be stuck on 3g most of the time.

    3G support seems to be lead by NTT with bands 1, 6 and 9 (2100, 800, and 1700MHz), Softbank with bands 1 and planned support for 8 (900MHz), and eMobile with band 9, probably piggy-backing on NTT. Mine supports bands 1 and 8, and since all providers support band 1, in theory at least it's compatible, and the only potential barrier is greedy providers network-locking to try to force you to repurchase your hardware at their higher prices. If people in general had a better grasp of this stuff, there's no way mobile carriers would get away with acting as unethically as they do in the US and Japan (and pretty-much everywhere, really). It's like the finance world; keep it boring and impenetrable enough that most people don't understand or care what's happening, and you can get away with astonishing degrees of oiliness, like lobbying elected officials to protect your monoplies and margins, etc... :/

    Supposedly you can sign up for SIM plans via the Softbank website, and I think there was another alternative but I forget who, but I was hoping to hear from someone that'd actually done so recently, instead of the quite dated info I got from the blog.

  6. #6

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    There's a good number of CS/IT background folks around. Even some who speak really good Japanese. It won't help you when you run into a clerk/manager at a branch (or just about every branch) that barely even knows how to use their own products functionally, much less understand their company's network infrastructure and policies.

    As far as having a phone number goes - your CO will probably mandate that you have a land-line in your house/apartment. In my case, I refused to pay for it - so they foot the bill (¥2800 a month.) I've fielded exactly 0 phone calls from it. I use email and Line primarily, facebook etc as a backup. If my supervisor wants to talk on the phone, he calls the school while I'm there.

    Here's a fairly recent post I found about bandwidth resellers in Japan with a little about each. I do know two people that use BMobile and have no voice service - they get by with Line. (BMobile does have a voice+data SIM, too.) Here's another pair of links. (Second one has SIM-only voice service vendors.)

    I don't think you'll have an issue with finding a SIM-only plan from a reseller - but I'd still recommend avoiding (at least the physical stores) of the Big Three.

  7. #7

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Thanks, look like a useful list. Seems to be a number of options claiming to work with Android devices, many with voice too.

  8. #8

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Not having a working mobile phone number is irresponsible, impractical and I would be surprised if any BOE will allow it.

    What happens when there is an emergency and you are out of Data Service?

    Get a mobile phone number.

  9. #9

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dululu View Post
    Not having a working mobile phone number is irresponsible, impractical and I would be surprised if any BOE will allow it.

    What happens when there is an emergency and you are out of Data Service?

    Get a mobile phone number.

    I don't think most BoEs will care - if you have a home line (even if you don't use it.)

    Emergency correspondence (Earthquake message board and emergency calling) is available without data service. You can call 119 etc from a data-only SIM as long as it has a GSM radio. Also, wifi is much more widespread - if you can find an open network.

    CLAIR's emergency contact (ALSOK) is all through email as well. And there isn't any mandatory - you-must-have-access-to-internet-policy either.

    But I agree that common sense suggests that you have a voice service, even if its something like Line's voice number or Skype. (Although I don't know how well Skype works in Japan.

  10. #10
    Feckless Manchild Otaku word's Avatar
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    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dululu View Post
    What happens when there is an emergency and you are out of Data Service?

    Get a mobile phone number.
    See, 99% of the time you're in Japan, you don't need voice services.

    But there's that other 1% of the time, and right around then, you're gonna wish you had it. I've spent more time talking on the phone today than I have in the past three months combined, and am glad I had the option.

    I doubt the BoE would care, nor would they really be able to do anything about it if you went data-only, though.
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  11. #11

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    I don't know how people can't live like an adult and not need voice services. What happens if you need to make a reservation at a restaurant, make a doctor's appointment, contact delivery services, contact your workplace, etc? I guess you could use skype all the time, but that's pretty inconvenient.

  12. #12
    Perpetually confused. johnny's Avatar
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    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    To add to that, data services can be spotty in a lot of rural and even suburban areas that we find ourselves in. Skype might not work very well all the time.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ini View Post
    Teach them something new?? Are you mad? All you do in Japan is rehash the same stuff over and over for 15 years. Hello song, what do you like sports? and fruit basket. The holy trinity of English education.

  13. #13

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Wow, it's like people have forgotten that pay phones exist, or that teachers and BoE staff have email. And worse come to worst, there are pay services to make VoIP calls to real numbers via data access, and it's very rare to have voice coverage and not at least 2G GSM data coverage also available.

    And I want voice; it's right there in the subject line. I'm just aware of the possibility that Japan might not let me have it, because Japan.

  14. #14
    Gizmoduck - blatherskite Gizmotech's Avatar
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    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amleth View Post
    Wow, it's like people have forgotten that pay phones exist, or that teachers and BoE staff have email. And worse come to worst, there are pay services to make VoIP calls to real numbers via data access, and it's very rare to have voice coverage and not at least 2G GSM data coverage also available.

    And I want voice; it's right there in the subject line. I'm just aware of the possibility that Japan might not let me have it, because Japan.
    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA

    Teachers/boe have email... Sure... Except for the not checking it regularly ( I once went two weeks without a reply to an email sent to my sup at the other school). Pay phones? Not as common as you might think. Not have GSM coverage? Welcome to where I lie. Go too far out of town towards the mountains and you can totally lose data :P

    On another point... if I can find it again, I remember reading something about not having access to LTE via re-sellers.

    Another silly side Q... does the note support calling? I thought notes were tablets....
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    Fit via vi Virgil's Avatar
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    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gizmotech View Post

    Another silly side Q... does the note support calling? I thought notes were tablets....
    Are you being facetious or are you just and old man like me?

    The note comes in phone and tablet varieties. Although the phone is usually referred to as a phablet.
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    Frigga please.
    RIP Virgil of 2015

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    Gizmoduck - blatherskite Gizmotech's Avatar
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    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    I don't know and couldn't be arsed to research it :P
    Quote Originally Posted by Cytrix View Post
    Organising anything with ALTs is like herding cats on catnip

    Quote Originally Posted by Antonath View Post
    We Jeeperneez are express all emotion through money. Wedding is happy money. Funeral is sad money. Izakaya is friendship money. Girl-bar is almost-sex money. But babby-borning is bery happy money, as no babby in Japan. All babby is special so we is givings much money as presento for babby.

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    Fit via vi Virgil's Avatar
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    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Ah, I went through a phase recently where I compared all of the recent mobile devices. Cant wait for standardization of this nonsense. mobileatx. It's coming.
    Quote Originally Posted by Shincantsen View Post
    Frigga please.
    RIP Virgil of 2015

    Quote Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
    Gross. I hate people and their sexy times.

  18. #18

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amleth View Post
    Wow, it's like people have forgotten that pay phones exist, or that teachers and BoE staff have email.
    Well your teachers and BoE staff have absolutely forgotten that they have email.

  19. #19

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Your phone needs to be unlocked and work in Japan (WillMyPhoneWork.net - Check if your phone works on a network). You can use a MVNO ( mvno - japanlife) that works on the normal big networks. You need a residency card to get the calling capabilites Android phones in Japan? : japanlife

    I'm currently looking iijmio which you can order online or buy in store. �O���l�̕��iFor foreign nationals�j | IIJmio It's a monthly plan and you can check out the prices on the website.
    Last edited by singinglupines; May 25th, 2015 at 22:39.

  20. #20

    Default Re: SIM options in Japan for voice and data if bringing your own phone?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gizmotech View Post
    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA

    Teachers/boe have email... Sure... Except for the not checking it regularly ( I once went two weeks without a reply to an email sent to my sup at the other school).
    ESID, I guess. I haven't been in-country for eight years but last time I was there I got email notifications from teachers and my BoE more often than calls, I guess because they liked taking their time to compose their English message beforehand since this was the only way they'd been taught to communicate with it (or had any practice, at least). When they did call the BoE seemed to always use the land line, too. They were basically the only people that called that number, actually, apart from deliveries. It was in their name, so maybe it was free or cheaper or something.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gizmotech View Post
    Pay phones? Not as common as you might think. Not have GSM coverage? Welcome to where I lie. Go too far out of town towards the mountains and you can totally lose data :P
    No, not very common, but they're only really there for emergency/opportunistic use. They're certainly not for people who can't afford phones, as they're expensive as hell to use. :/ Do they have pay phones in conbinis? Never thought to look.

    Yes, losing data completely is possible, but if you've totally lost data service, you probably have barely enough signal for voice, too. It all runs over packet data anyway, with modern digital networks; it's just that voice service is prioritised in bandwidth-limited conditions.

    And as has been observed, in a genuine emergency situation, you can still call emergency numbers via voice service even without general voice traffic enabled on the SIM, for public safety reasons. There's a lot of other ways to access a phone, too, if it's just something as simple as reporting a delay during return travel to your work or whatever. It's pretty damn hard to be completely out of contact these days if you don't want to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gizmotech View Post
    On another point... if I can find it again, I remember reading something about not having access to LTE via re-sellers.
    That's the exact sort of arbitrary market weirdness I wouldn't put past Japan, but the Japan Mobile Blog seems to think getting a SIM with LTE service is possible now. There are posts on the blog that indicate it was an issue, but they date back to 2006. I can live without it, though; 3G is plenty fast enough for mapping or translation tasks, or web browsing. Even video streaming, but that's a bit of a waste of bandwidth if you have a cap.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gizmotech View Post
    Another silly side Q... does the note support calling? I thought notes were tablets....
    Right, prepare to get nerded on.

    The original Note was a 5.1" 720p OLED screen phone with a digitiser pen, and it was a couple generations before they added tablets too. The current model phone is 5.7" quad 720p OLED (actually the best display available in any phone at the moment), and packs more internal horsepower than most tablets, and basically any other phone available. It can handle most of your communication* and media consumption needs, plus a lot of general-purpose computing and productivity tasks, to the point it could replace a laptop for most users, but you can carry it around in your pocket. It's like a tiny graphics tablet, too; the digitiser pen supports hover, variable pressure, and angle sensitivity (but not rotation like a full-sized digitiser). It's not just like tapping the screen but with a smaller "fingertip"; once the currently still semi-primitive software tools catch up with the hardware you'll be able to do serious design work on the go.

    (*All, for most people)

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