January 5, 2007 15:37 | Social / Technology / Travel


Every time I come to Japan, the biggest frustration is getting a mobile phone. This time it's not a phone I need (I have two I could use) as much as just a connection. It seems that will be just as hard, if not harder to pull off.

Besides my keitai from 6 months ago, I also have my Nokia N80 which works on the 3G network here. In fact, I've got signal right now, but it's on roaming via my provider back home. Hello $3 a minute. And remember I disabled data/GPRS. SMS doesn't really exist here. Or rather, you don't really exist here if you can't email from your mobile.

So not only do I not exist here yet to all the people I know (and who are not necessarily IM or PC email contacts), but also all those people have ceased to exist for me... because the Address Book in my keitai was wiped. (The address book is the heart of your social network)

I'm going bat5h17 stir-crazy here. I need a mobile connection. ;)

The big question mark here is: are SIM cards in japanese keitai software-locked to the device they are in? I popped someone's SoftBank SIM into my N80 and it jumped on the network, but stupidly we didn't try to DO anything with it, like place or receive a call. I'm betting setting the device up for email in such a scenario is a P.I.T.A too.

The carriers, and in fact the law, here make it so hard to even just get an account, that no-one has tried this yet, or rather, it is so rare and specialized knowledge, it just isn't available.

So yeah... crazyyyyy...

I just had lunch with Mika who graciously allowed me to try her SIM card in the N80. After asking for her unlock code, the phone immediately jumped on the network. We successfully made a phone call AND, most importantly, I was able to send an email via the 3G. (i.e.: the network's data access point was autodiscovered and added to my available Access Points.)

This means that one solution is to find someone to get me a cheap phone+plan, and pull the SIM card out. ;)


Sorry for asking a different question, may be distantly related ;-) Any idea if it is possible to unlock the Japanese 3G phones to make it work abroad and to play mp3s? like the 902T from Softbank(vodafone)?

This is a multipart answer:
1- if by "abroad" you mean" another 3G network (in any of the lucky other countries that have 3G), then technically it should be possible to carrier unlock the phone BUT a) I know of no one doing this or having done it successfully since there is not enough of a market of people who buy these things and then leave Japan hoping to still use it and b) that phone is loaded up with software (mostly japanese) specifically for the carrier you got it from... and none of the software you might expect to use on your new network.

2- if by "abroad" you mean a non-3G network: easy. No. That's like asking if a solar powered car takes diesel.

The japanese keitai market is sown up, locked down and legislated. Your keitai is a paperweight the second your flight leaves the tarmac.

Your only small hope is to buy an unlocked 3G capable phone (get it from Singapore or Hong Kong or so) and pop in the SIM. HOWEVER since japanese carriers do not publish their push-email settings, and you can't just walk into their booth and ask them to set you up, you will not be able to take advantage of the carrier provided email services (Which in Japan is used as SMS) It is very important to understand this. It is a major tradeoff.

At the end of the day, unless you have a) someone to get you an account and b) your own email server with push-technology enabled and an account just for your phone... you might as well swallow the cost. ;)