Cellular Considerations (Part 2)

NTT Docomo

Thanks to Mr Gerrit on Facebook, I was able to simulate the kind of costs I can expect to pay should I go the Docomo route using this bill simulation tool (Japanese only) which allows you to pick a phone and change some options for the plan you’ll sign up for. I’d recommend going through their English page of charges first to get an idea of what the options available are. I’m going to run through the options on the page a little for the benefit of those who may not understand Japanese.

My simulated bill

My simulated bill

You can click through the image for a larger version. According to this simulation, I can expect to pay ¥7,360/mth if I choose to pay for the phone in monthly installments over a 2-year period. Brief translations/descriptions of what’s in each step will follow. Feel free to comment and correct me if I’m not explaining them well; the following is just my own interpretation.

  1. Choose a different phone
  2. New Sign-Up or Recontract
  3. How you pay for the phone – over 24 months or in 1 lump sum upfront
  4. Provider: sp-mode – this seems to be a basic service that you have no choice but to sign up for
  5. Xi Talk 24 (Type Xi Ninen + Xi Kake-hodai) or Type Xi Ninen (without Xi Kake-hodai) – click through the links to the English pages; they’re pretty self-explanatory but Xi Ninen seems like yet another basic service you don’t have a choice but to get, and the Xi Kake-hodai gives you unlimited calls to fellow Docomo subscribers, so you’ll still be charged for calls to subscribers of other mobile carriers (au, Softbank, etc) at a rate of ¥20.50/30 sec if I’m not wrong
  6. Data Service: Xi Pake-Hodai Flat or Xi Pake-Hodai Light – Flat offers 7GB of data every month while Light offers 3GB. Based on my own usage at home, I don’t expect myself to use a whole lot of data on the go so I picked Light. There’s only a different of ¥1,050 so if you think you’re going to need that extra amount of data, go ahead and pick Flat; for me, that will up the cost for me to ¥8,410/mth.
  7. Monthly Support – Goodness knows what kind of support I’ll be paying for but there doesn’t seem to be a way out of this option
    Edit: Apparently this Monthly Support isn’t what you pay but a discount they give you, so it effectively cuts ¥2,835 off the bill every month. Awesome! I’ve also read about some shops that give ~¥20,000 cashback when you pay for the phone upfront, but I’m doing more research on where those shops are located. With luck, the bill could be much lower than this!

If I choose to pay for the phone upfront (Samsung GALAXY S4 SC-04E – ¥83,160), my monthly bill will amount to ¥3,895/mth. In case you think it may be cheaper to do it one way or the other, just do the math and you’ll see that what you pay for at the end of the day is the same astronomical amount. There are a bunch of discounts linked on the website but I’m not too clear on the terms and conditions, and how they’re applied so I won’t go there.

au-KDDI

Next, I’ll try to piece together what the monthly cost of using a smartphone on the au-KDDI network is like. I’m sure it’ll be full of mistakes, but I can’t find a similar bill simulator so it’s just what I can understand from their list of charges available. I can’t find the cost of any of the available phones so let’s just leave that out for now; I don’t expect the phones to be significantly cheaper than they are at Docomo though, and just in case anyone’s wondering I’ll be gunning for the HTC J One if I get on the au-KDDI network.

  • Basic charge: ¥1,961/mth – don’t be fooled by the Everybody Discount, they seem to be for long-term customers (think > 2 years)
  • Calling: Choose between au Flat Calling 24 (¥980/mth) and Wide Calling 24 (¥980/mth) – Flat Calling offers free domestic calls to au mobile phones at a monthly flat rate, while offers 50% discount on domestic calls to anywhere in Japan so you pay ¥980/mth plus a calling rate of ¥10.5/30 sec
  • LTE Connection Charge: ¥315/mth
  • LTE Flat: ¥5,985/mth for 7GB of data
  • Monthly Discount for purchasing a smartphone over 24 months: – ¥2,000/mth
  • Cost to Tether: ¥525/mth – neither Docomo nor Softbank charge for tethering within a 2-year contract, but there also appears to be a running promotion for free tethering right now, so I’ll leave this cost out for now
  • Total charge per month: ¥7,241/mth

I’m assuming this calculation of the total cost per month includes the cost of the phone, but since I can’t get any figures for that, I can’t say this for sure.

Softbank

As I linked in my previous post, Softbank has their plans laid out all nicely in a table, so from the main table (disregarding the discounts they applied there which may not be applicable to us) the plan will cost about ¥6,755/mth. If you add on unlimited domestic calling, it’ll be ¥7,255/mth. If you decide to get the iPhone 5, getting the 32GB version will bump the cost (on top of unlimited domestic calling) to ¥7,685/mth and the 64GB will bump it to ¥8,115/mth.

Summary

Assuming the most expensive options, i.e. 7GB data/mth, unlimited domestic calling, most expensive phone, the cost will be as follows for the 3 carriers I’ve listed above. I make no claims to the accuracy of the figures given, especially for the au-KDDI plan since I can’t find out how they factor in the cost of the phone.

  • Docomo with the Samsung GALAXY S4 SC-04E: ¥8,410/mth
  • au-KDDI (with/without no phone cost?): ¥7,241/mth
  • Softbank with the iPhone 5 (64GB): ¥8,115/mth

Docomo appears to be the most expensive, followed by Softbank, but of course all these figures depend on which phone you decide to get, and the choices you pick for parts of the plan for which you actually have options. Picking the cheaper 3GB option under Docomo will cut my bill quite a bit to ¥7,360/mth so I think I’ll probably go for this, barring situations and arrangements outside my control.

Cellular Considerations

There are several mobile carriers in Japan, of which the top 3 are probably NTT Docomo, Softbank and au-KDDI. From what I’ve read, the mobile coverage in Japan decreases accordingly from Docomo to Softbank to au (with differences in specific areas, of course, but this is speaking generally), but so does the price (meaning that Docomo plans are usually the most expensive). I’m not sure about the data speeds provided, but I think there’s a similar trend there. My own experience with Japanese mobile speeds is limited strictly to the two times I’ve used b-mobile, a MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) that leases Docomo’s network and the one time I roamed on Softbank’s network. Both times, my travels were largely limited to urban areas (Tokyo, Kyoto, etc) and I only used their 3G network, not the 4G or LTE network, so I can’t really speak for Docomo’s Xi LTE or Softbank’s 4G speeds. Their 3G speeds are, well, not too far off from my home country’s – that is to say, slow & spotty, and almost unusable in the underground train network.

Now, how’s this relevant to me? Obviously, being the tech geek that I am, I’m highly concerned about the options available to me when I go over in August. I’ll just talk a little about mobile carriers here, since I haven’t done much research into fiber-optic speeds for homes. According to this coverage map on OpenSignal for the Kobe area, NTT Docomo ranks best, followed by emobile (which I’ve honestly never heard of before this), then au-KDDI and finally Softbank.

Coverage map showing 3G & 4G coverage

From here, it seems like you can’t go too wrong with choosing either NTT Docomo or emobile; the latter may have significantly lower upload speeds compared to Docomo, but appears to be more reliable and has a lower ping.

I went about looking at the product line-up for each of these carriers, and Docomo has by far the most updated and latest phones available, with a much wider range and variety available for the consumer.

  • Docomo’s product line-up includes the Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z
  • au’s product line-up includes the HTC One (64GB variant, yay!) and a variant of the Sony Xperia Z
  • Softbank’s product line-up is.. to be honest, quite pathetic. Aside from the iPhone 5, all the other phones are years behind
  • emobile’s product line-up is similarly poor, if their (Japanese-only) website is anything to go by

Based on product line-up alone, I’d probably go for either Docomo or au. I’ve never jumped on the iDevices bandwagon, and much prefer to be able to hack, tweak and customise my Android devices as opposed to living in the high-walled, restricting environment that is iOS – but that’s just my opinion.

I don’t really have a lot of research done for price plans, but they seem to charge you a la carte based on the services you want to subscribe for. In any case, going through their websites for the various charges and services available thoroughly confused me. Here are links, make what you will of them.

  • Docomo – by far the most confusing
  • au – still confusing but slightly less so
  • Softbank’s iPhone plan – oh my god, tables that make sense! Sort of. Significantly more understandable and less confusing
  • emobile – everything is in Japanese, wall of text, brain.. refuses.. to.. proc- *fizzles out*

I should probably look through them and try to get a Japanese friend to explain to me what’s going on, how plans and billing works and all. But I’ve nearly forgotten about why I made this post in the first place. Apparently most of the JETs in Kobe use Softbank, and there appears to be free intra-carrier calling available, ie. Softbank to Softbank, Docomo to Docomo, and so on. It is probably more conducive to socialising if I get a Softbank line as well then, since fellow JETs will then be able to call me without abandon (depending on my popularity or lack thereof), but like I mentioned earlier, I’m resisting the idea of getting an iPhone quite a bit. Considering that LINE offers free calling, and my current usage informs me that I very rarely make or receive calls on my phone, I’m wondering if I couldn’t just get a Docomo or au line with a phone that I’d prefer using instead.

Sure, this is a pretty trivial problem in the grand scale of things, but it’s something that bothers me. Why is there such an imbalance in the line-up available at each carrier? Why are the plans so confusingly laid out? Why can’t everyone use wonderful tables that break down components of a plan and still provide an overall fee you pay per month? What if I have to use an iPhone after all?! How perplexing.

Alternatively, I suppose I could skip getting a phone line altogether (or circumvent it with a Skype line) and subscribe to one of the available data-only prepaid plans.