There’s been a surge of articles today about NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest operator, apparently announcing it would go SIM lock free by next year.

Heck, even its shares were up almost 1.7% at the Nikkei 225 -actually outpacing it.

Much ado about nothing?

We’ll see. The plan is still “under consideration“, it’s unclear if all handsets will be included and what would be the exact conditions.

One thing is for sure though, DoCoMo wants in on the iPhone action. That’s what it’s all about.

Let me jog your memory. Last April, under the freshly-elected DPJ Government, Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications sparked a debate with its intent of rendering the whole mobile industry SIM lock free.

Following that month’s meeting with the big three, the government set a deadline for the public to give it feedback. That was June 23 -and, yes, it’s Japan, you could send your opinion by fax.

It’s all over now. The guidelines for 2011 are about to be finalized. The schedule is not lost on DoCoMo.

But we’re talking about guidelines. Yup, guidelines, not regulation. If you fancy reading the preliminary ones in Japanese, here’s the official document [PDF], but basically, they’re saying one thing: “we’d love it if you could unlock your SIMs, but just love it, right?, we’re not forcing you in any way”.

Hey, did you really think that government would take a stand with KDDI raising its network compatibility issues, Softbank pestering against it -projecting a doomsday with soaring costs in handsets-, DoCoMo being more lenient about customer’s choice and an onslaught of faxes?

Anyway, here are my thoughts: DoCoMo is probably the operator that has the least to lose in such a move. It has the better network, the largest -and very loyal- customer base (around 56m) and it doesn’t have the iPhone -nor the iPad. Yes, I know, some of you hate that thing, but it is shaking the mobile market in Japan: Softbank knows it and is adamant not to let this SIM lock free craze go without a fight.

I urge you to read SoftBankSucks’ coverage of the SIM-lock debate for more: part 1part 2part 3 part 4.

In the end, you have it all. Guidelines, a saturated market, a shaken industry and the battle for the smartphones.

Good drama.