Japan Providers will now unlock phones

By on November 1, 2014

It’s official. Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Internal Communication has announced that it has ordered all cell phone, smartphone and tablet carriers in the country to unlock devices when requested by customers starting May 2015.

The move is intended to offer alternative payment options to customers instead of getting locked in a traditional two-year contract like the present scheme. From next year, subscribers will be able to move from their present carrier to another without being burdened by additional costs.

A movable integrated circuit in a mobile gadget that stores subscriber’s identity is known as a SIM card. The SIM card is used by all carriers to authenticate mobile devices.

As mobile devices become more and more indispensable tools of communication in the tech world, the new rules will allow business travelers to use their Japan devices by inserting a SIM card  available in the country they are traveling to, keeping the costs down. Presently, business travelers have no other option but to pay for roaming service at prohibitive rates offered by their Japan carrier.

The move is expected to spur competition among the local carriers and give customers a good run for their money.

NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and SoftBank sell flat-rate voice and data plans that cost at least around 6,500 yen . Subscribers can make as many calls as they want under these plans. But these plans are significantly more expensive than those offered by MVNOs. Rakuten offers a combined voice and basic data plan for an average monthly fee of 2,200 yen, excluding the cost of the phone with limited call options that suit people who want to have a device but do not make calls often.
Network providers often sell mobile devices at a discount rate to make subscribers sign up. The subscriber is then locked to a 2-year contract which at times could end up being more expensive in the long run. Some subscribers break the contract to switch to other networks after obtaining their handset at reduced price.

Carriers fear that this could likely damage their pricing scheme if exploited by subscribers. The Ministry will be considering exceptions to the rule which may include allowing service providers to lock SIM cards for a fixed period to prevent users from purchasing a device at reduced rates and reselling them for profit. With the rules made more relaxed for subscribers, it is likely that carriers will review their pricing and make adjustment to suit the rules ahead of the implementation.

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