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The newly elected government seems to have some iPad envy. Well, maybe not, but the upcoming arrival of the Apple device in Japan is having some unforeseen consequences -or at least, I’d say, some correlative coincidence.

Mainichi reports that the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry is reviewing the possibility of asking all Japanese mobile carrier to deactivate the SIM locks that tie their handset to their network.

Traditionally, handset manufacturers develop carrier-specific devices in Japan, making it more difficult for customers to switch operators during contract.

Notwithstanding the relatively historical high level of loyalty of users to their operator, the situation was also one factor often cited for the initial slow iPhone sales.

I don’t know if anyone of you tried unlocking a Japanese phone, but, trust me, I’ve tried asking: the blank stare of the official customer representative when asked about it was priceless. While official software doesn’t exist, a lot of shops offer that service across South East Asia -a secondary market for used Japanese phones (I’ve personally tested one in Manila for my old keitai, worked like a charm, except internet browsing obviously).
The official unlock for iPhones that Apple has to provide in countries where the law forces them to (France comes to mind) would also be welcomed.

It’s actually not the first time that such a change has been considered in Japan. In 2007 already, the same Ministry shelved such plans, officially because internet browsing capabilities were deemed not compatible between operators and would have left users without it when switching SIM cards.

The ministry hearing is due to take place next week, on April 2, and, notwithstanding potential heavy lobbying, the law could become concrete in late 2010 -the policy being mandatory for new cell phones only (i.e. not existing ones).

It will be interesting to see if such policy will actually be able to change the mainstream landscape of the Japanese mobile phone industry.

Will it shake the industry and the operators?

Will the switch practice become mainstream among users?

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