One of the most frequently asked questions received here at Mobile in Japan is, how can I get mobile data access when I’m in Japan?

Whilst Pietro has previously covered renting mobile phones in Japan, until now we’ve not looked at data options, something that many visitors to Japan might consider to be a lot more important than voice.

The main mobile data providers – Docomo, Softbank and EMOBILE, are known for their reluctance to provide access to their 3G networks on anything other than a long-term contractual basis – and only then if you have an alien registration card, something short term visitors to Japan won’t have.

Whilst major cities are well covered by public WIFI networks, these usually require you to be a customer of that same network provider for your home / mobile Internet, whilst outside of urban areas there’s very limited coverage.

Despite this, there are a growing list of options for temporary visitors who do not have residence or an Alien Registration Card, wanting to get online with their mobile devices. Here we cover a few, broken down into four categories:

  • Renting a phone / smartphone with or without Data
  • Renting data only
  • SIM / MICROSIM Rental for use in your own mobile device
  • Connecting to public WIFI networks

Please note that the information below is subject to change, but is correct as of the time of writing.

Please also check out the comments at the bottom of the post where readers have posted further information on available options.

3g-wifi-japan

Renting a phone / smartphone with or without Data

PuPuRu

PuPuRu offer a wide range of phones and service packages. With advance booking, the phone can be ready for you to pick from any location you specify, such as your hotel. Pick up from Narita, Kansai and Chubu airports is also possible, or PuPuRu branches in Tokyo and Nagoya. Payment is by credit card. They offer 2 packages: Basic and Prepaid (see site for latest rate information).

One important difference between these two packages that’s not immediately apparent is that on the Prepaid option, you can only use the handset for voice calls and sending/receiving email (and that being through the email address assigned by the company, not your own email address).

Whilst the Basic plan does allow for web browsing etc, it doesn’t come cheap at between ¥0.1 and ¥0.42 per packet (if my iPhone data was charged at that rate my bill last month would have come in at a minimum of ¥800,000 / US$9,950)

The majority of mobile phones available through PuPuRu are on the docomo network – although they do list a couple of options for those who have an inexplicable preference for the Softbank network. When asked about the iPhone, I was told that they are ‘thinking about providing them, but probably not until next year’.

PuPuRu have very good customer service, with helpful English speaking staff.

Softbank

Softbank also offer rental and prepaid mobiles to visitors to Japan (passport and credit card required). Somewhat unusually, they seem to offer different deals depending on whether you sign up in the shop or online. For online prices see their Global Rental site.

If you rent from one of their stores, the deal is as follows: As with PuPuRu, only standard Japanese handsets are available (i.e. no smart phones, including the iPhone). The daily charge for rental is ¥525, with calls costing approximately ¥105 per minute. Service is limited to voice calls and keitai email (these cost from ¥10 – ¥15 each), so no access to the web.

Prepaid: It’s ¥2,000 to get a prepaid handset from softbank, with call charges and email costing the same as on the rental plan above.

As noted, you can’t rent an iPhone from Softbank. See below for details on renting a SIM if you have an unlocked iPhone 3G or 3GS.

Downsides to using Softbank is the relative lack of English support (although they do have a number of stores that are supposed to have English-speaking staff) and poor network coverage in rural areas.

JCR Corp

JCR Corp have a very wide range of rental handsets, including the iPhone 4, EXPERIA and HTC. They offer free delivery to any location in Japan, with variable pricing depending on the length of rental.

Their primary market is the US corporate sector (thus explaining the $ pricing), and have built up an impressive list of clients over the past 12 years. Whilst expensive, friends have reported being happy with the service. I myself found the staff to be extremely helpful and knowledgable when I called. See below for more on data options.

Whilst pricey, if you’re looking to rent a smartphone whilst in Japan, JCR Corp are the only company we know that provide them. They have a variety of plans to choose from, ranging from voice calls only to full voice and data options.

Renting data only

Docomo, Softbank, EMOBILE & bmobile do not offer short-term data packages to non-residents without an Alien Registration Card.

PuPuRu

PuPuRu offer both USB-type and WIFI-type data dongles. With the USB type only able provide a network connection for a single USB-equipped computer, there’s little advantage in choosing this type over the WIFI variety, to which you can connect up to 5 devices at any time (including laptops, iPods/iPhones/iPads etc). One advantage however is that the USB-type L-05A uses the docomo data network (map), which offers far better coverage than the emobile network (map) that the other devices use. This need only be a consideration if you’re planning to spend a lot of time outside of major cities.

Transfer speeds are up to 7.2Mbps up / 5.8Mbps down (although in reality you’re unlikely to hit these speeds), and come with unlimited data use. Rental fees range from ¥7,350 for the first ten days, to ¥10,500 for a month, plus ¥1,050 postage each end of the rental period. This is almost 3 times the price that local users on 2-year contracts pay per month.

Japan Mobile Rental

Japan Mobile Rental are another good option if you’re looking for a 3G mobile WIFI router on an unlimited data plan. Their service is very straight forward: fill in the online reservation form, pay via Paypal or credit card, pick up your router at the airport upon arrival (Narita or Kansai International) or have it delivered to your hotel. If you want to extend or cancel the rental, just drop them an email (there is no cancellation fee). You’ll be charged a 10,000 yen security deposit when you reserve the device which is returned upon return of the router.

The router provided is the D25HW on the emobile network (check coverage map), offering the standard max speeds of 7.2Mbps up / 5.8Mbps down. You can connect up to 5 devices at a time via wifi, and one via mini USB.

JCRCorp

JCRCorp offer both the Buffalo DWR-PG and HuaWei E5830 mobile WIFI routers. Transfer speeds are up to 7.2Mbps up / 5.7Mbps down, and come with unlimited data. However, with prices starting at $150 (¥12,000) per week or $270 (¥21,000) per month – significantly more that PuPuRu – it’s hard to recommend. (One explanation for some of the expense is that these are both on the better yet comparatively pricey docomo network, and unlike EMOBILE, the routers do not come free with the contract).

E-Phone

E-phone offer USB data dongles on the emobile network for ¥1,000 yen per day for unlimited data, with pick up/ drop off from Narita Airport. Of course, with it being a USB device you can only use it with a laptop computer.

JALABC

JALABC offer an almost identical service to E-Phone, but this time on the Softbank network, costing ¥1,390 yen per day for unlimited usage.

UQ WIMAX

In what seems like a bit of a desperate bid to win customers, UQ WIMAX will provide unlimited data WIFI dongles to anyone with a passport and credit card. You’ll be required to take out a 1 year contract, but with a cancellation fee of only ¥2,100 if you quit within the first month, and ¥0 (yes, zero!) if you quit after one month, that’s hardly anything to worry about. The bulky WIMAX/WIFI router (NEC PA-WM3300R) will cost you ¥9,850 up front – it’s then ¥4,280 per month for unlimited data.

So what’s the catch? Well, with WIMAX still in its infancy, the network is pretty poor (map). Don’t bother thinking of getting online outside of the major cities. In fact, based on the experience friends of mine have had I’d say don’t take it out of sight of an antenna.

If you’re still not put off, you can sign up at any major electronics store such as Yodobashi Camera or Bic Camera. You can also order one online – see the comments on this post for more info.

SIM / MICROSIM Rental for use in your own iPad / iPhone / other smartphone

First off, to use a non-Softbank iPhone in Japan, it’ll need to be unlocked. Also, it’ll need to be able to use the 2100 MHz band – in English that translates as every iPhone except for the very first (non-3G) model. If your iPhone meets these criteria, you have a couple of (expensive) options:

You can rent a SIM card from Softbank that will allow you to use data too – but it comes at the extortionate price of 0.32Yen/packet (128bytes) – unless you don’t care about the bill, you don’t want to do this.

Previously mentioned JCR Corp offer SIM and MICROSIM rental for unlocked W-CDMA iPhones and other smartphones (but apparently not iPads – contact them to check on this). These run on Docomo’s Foma Network (offering good nationwide coverage) and tethering is possible. At almost $300 (¥24,000) a month though you’ll want to make sure it’s your employer paying the bill.

PuPuRu offer the same iPhone 3G/3GS SIM rental, but again, at over ¥24,000 ($300) per month it’s not cheap, and of course you’ll need to use a non-GSM handset.

Note that regular SIMs or MICROSIMs from bmobile (see our article here) are not an option for temporary visitors – no Alien Registration Card, no SIM. If you do have an Alien Registration Card it’ll take 2~3 weeks from the time you apply to the time you receive the SIM – and then only expect download speeds of up to 300kbps, not the usual 7.2mbps you’re used to.

Connecting to public WIFI networks in Japan

There are a number of WIFI hotspot networks in Japan that have pretty good coverage in the cities, mostly found at stations, in cafes and chain restaurants. In order to use these networks you’ll usually need some kind of account.

Be sure to check out the comments on this blog post for more info on WIFI availability

Wi2connect

Wi2connect is a great option if you’re going to be spending most of your time in the big cities. Giving you access to Yahoo BB, mobilepoint and Livedoor Wireless (location search). This covers branches of McDonalds (of which there are thousands!), airports, hotels, stations, airport buses and the Tokkaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Yokohama. With a maximum charge of ¥980 ($12) per month for unlimited use this is a really good deal.

To use the network you’ll need to download and install their application (on the iPhone /iPod touch you need to download and install their free app [iTunes], which will then install a profile in network settings).
(Thanks to Warren for tipping us off about this service). This should also work in 3G iPads, although I haven’t been able to test it myself.

BOINGO

Boingo is ‘the world’s largest network of WI-FI hotspots’ – and it covers Japan too. Having partnered with NTT you can get access to 7,486 wifi spots here – from as little as $7.85 a month for mobile devices. Sign up online.

NTT Hotspot

For 24-hour access you can get a 1-day pass directly from NTT for ¥500. Unfortunately the English site turns Japanese at the beginning of the checkout process.

FON

The FON network now apparently has over 2 million worldwide access spots (map) – a figure to be taken with a pinch of salt as many of these spots may be private networks no longer online. The idea behind FON is that you plug in one their wireless routers at home; this creates two WIFI networks – a private one for yourself, and an open one for the public. In return for sharing your home connection, you’re given free access to any other FON WIFI network. In Japan FON have done a deal with Softbank, leading to Softbank handing out free FON routers left right and centre, to both individuals and businesses, including restaurants, bars and cafes. An increasing number of Starbucks branches in Japan have FON networks, usually marked by the Softbank mascot, Otousan the dog.

If you are not a member of the FON network, you can pay for access at the time: an hour pass is 200 yen, a day pass 480 yen, and a pack of 5 day passes 1600 yen. (Thanks to aciara14 for updating us on that via post comments).

iPhone/ iPod / iPad users might want to download the Starbucks Search app [disclaimer - it's made by a friend of mine ...and it rocks!] from the Apple store, as in addition to showing where the stores are / opening hours, it shows what WIFI networks are available.

Your local Internet provider

You may also want to check out if your local Internet provider offers international access vouchers for use with their roaming partners abroad. For example, in the UK, BT will sell you 500 minutes for £27.99, which can be used with NTT wifi spots (of which there are thousands). Another example would be that of AT&T who have a spectacular 60 WIFI locations in Tokyo.

Private cafes etc

Whilst a little out of date now, CNNGo published a list of public wifi spots in Tokyo here.

Beware of the Sheep

A word of advice in this era of the Firesheep, if you’re going to access an open wifi network, make sure you take precautions to protect your privacy.

Summary

For the time being then, it would seem that pricing for smartphone rental, or SIM rental for smartphones / tablet devices such as the iPhone and iPad, your choice is still very limited, and where it is available it’s pretty expensive. The same applies to pocket WIFI devices, with visitors paying almost three times the price locals on long terms contracts pay. However, with the growth of telcom-sponsored WIFI networks, you can get online in Japan without having to take out a bank loan.

If all else fails, just seek out one of the mobileinjapan writers – it’s rare to find them not emitting a WIFI signal.

There are undoubtedly other options for short term visitors to Japan looking to get online, and we’d love to hear about them. Please either post in the comments below, or join the discussion in our community.

CEO Sanda had been talking about microSIM since last April & had revealed such a chip was in the work last May. The day has come: mobile virtual network operator b-mobile has announced earlier today it was about to release a microSIM for unlocked iPhone 4 in Japan.

Yes, for any unlocked iPhone 4.

And, well, that would also likely work with an unlocked iPad.

Unlocked. Mmh. Interesting. The problem is that in Japan, both the iPhone and the iPad are locked with SoftBank.

No matter the recent debate about a general SIM unlock in the country, SoftBank won’t bulge. There’s no way you can legally unlock your iPhone in Japan.

Some countries mandate operator to factory unlock (via an Apple software) the device after the end of the contract or after a specified period of time (usually 12 month). Nice, heh? But it’s just not the case in Japan.

So, honestly, what type of market is b-mobile after in all this iPhone envy craze?

First idea that comes to mind, the unofficially unlocked iPhone. Since the handset is only sold through Softbank and not Apple, the market remains tiny. The vast majority of people do not go and hack their iPhones, don’t delude yourselves. Plus, since they’re already paying for a full 24 months contract which started two months ago at the earliest, why would they go fishing for another contract before 2012? And, oh, the practice is illegal in Japan.

Inbound business (and geek) travelers? Unlikely. The information site b-mobile provides is in Japanese only and it wouldn’t, again, be a very interesting market. Not mentioning that it’s only a matter of time until SoftBank starts renting microSIM for those iPhone tourist addicts (see Pietro’s excellent summary of options if you’re travelling to Japan).

So what then? The obvious. Imported iPhones and iPads. Still, there can’t be a vast amount of the former, since it was just released and there was no microSIM available until now in Japan. Note that SoftBank won’t sell SIM-only contracts.
There might be a tad more of imported iPads. Before the Japan launch, you could see a reasonably good number of devices in the hands of Tokyoites (and in some shops in Akihabara with a crazy markup, 20% more expensive than those grey imports in Singapore)

But there too, there’s the fact that it’s illegal. Imports do not come with the technical seal of approval of the ministry of communications. You know, that little printed T on the back of your device. [NB: read the Update at the end of this post]
Not that I see this regulation being enforced anyway, but b-mobile is very aware of it, trust me. Sanda kinda address the issue in this morning’s paper, implying Apple could service imported material. His point: SoftBank has no exclusivity on the sale of Apple products and he’s willing to work with independent importers.

Now, I might be a little harsh on my view there. b-mobile is a small player that doesn’t have to invest too much in equipment since it uses DoCoMo’s network. It doesn’t need to have a very big market to make some interesting profits.

The micro SIM itself is free. It will cost you JPY 3,785 per month (roughly USD 44) or JPY 2,980 per month for data only (presumably for your iPad, and that’s approx. USD 35). You can pre-reserve it here.

[UPDATE, August 6, 2010, 9pm JST] Colm correctly points out, in the comments, that the regulation concerning the technical conformity certification -what I called the little T in my article, for the sake of expediency- are due to be modified. Last March, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announced that the display of that little T (the certification mark) could be now documented either by printing it on the device itself or through the screen. Check your iPhone 3GS, 4 or iPad, under Settings -> General -> About -> Regulatory and you’ll see a list of certification icons. While I’m under the impression that this modification of the law is not in force yet, it renders my certification point kinda moot, at least in the very near future if no strong opposition is raised. Sorry for my hastiness. It hence now all boils down to the nature of the exclusive deal between Apple and Softbank. Its exact dispositions are unknown, besides that iPhones are not sold by Apple in Japan, but only through the operator. Will “parallel” importers be able to find solid channels for mass imports? Will Apple Japan accept to repair imported iPhones? Will it be legally bound to? The international warranty should apply, but no one is certain. We’ll know soon enough.

SIM Locked or Not SIM Locked, that is the iPad 3G question in Japan.

In order to get our facts in order, I’m going to recap what we’ve learned so far.

May 8: Softbank keeps iPad SIM Locked

As pre-orders are about to start in Japan, rumors that Softbank was able to keep the device SIM locked in Japan are turning out to be true.

IT media reporting on Softbank press announcement:

ところが、5月8日にソフトバンクモバイルが公表したiPad販売に関する情報では、日本国内のソフトバンクショップやソフトバンクケータイ取扱店で販売されるiPadのWi-Fi+3G版は、ソフトバンクモバイルの3Gネットワークでしか使えないように、SIMロックがかかっているというアナウンスがあった。

translating into

According to information released by Softbank on May 8, iPad wi-fi+3G models sold from Softbank shops will be SIM locked so that they can only connect to Softbank Mobile’s network.

The wording used by Softbank to the media outlets is quite clear: SIMロック

It only mentions iPad sold from Softbank shops since the Apple Store only sells the Wi-Fi versions.

May 10: DoCoMo abandons plans to sell iPad microSIMs

Since Softbank’s relation with DoCoMo suddenly became even more exclusive, DoCoMo announces it backs out from its plans to sell iPad microSIMs.

May 12: iPad in Japan Not Really SIM Locked

Thanks to a Mobile in Japan community member, we are able to report that Steve Jobs contradicts Softbank:

Actually, the version of iPad sold in Japan does accept international SIMs.

May 12: Apple changes its official iPad FAQ, adds to confusion

The official iPad FAQ is changed on that same day (the 3rd edit since it got online) and adds to the confusion, due to what can be described as clever wording. Indeed,

you cannot use a microSIM purchased overseas for an iPad in Japan

can be read in multiple ways.

Our commenters seem to be agree that it means that while abroad, one is free to switch microSIM, the iPad is tied to Softbank microSIM in Japan.

May 15: Steve Jobs says both Apple and Softbank websites are wrong

Kernel Panic gets another clarification from Steve Jobs

Our website and Softbank are wrong, and we are getting them the correct information ASAP. The website should be fixed soon. Sorry for the confusion.

Steve Jobs is basically saying that Softbank employees, mentioned in Gabe Glick‘s original email, should not have been saying the iPad 3G was locked nor that it wouldn’t work with any other microSIM than Softbank’s.

May 15: Wall Street Journal Confirms iPads only work with Softbank in Japan

Thanks to Yukari Iwatani Kane reaching out to Apple for the WSJ, it seems now a certainty that iPads can only be used with Softbank in Japan:

Japanese 3G iPads will only work with Softbank’s 3G service in Japan. But outside of Japan, those iPads are unlocked, so they can be used with SIMs for local carriers in their respective markets. Whether 3G iPads purchased outside of Japan will work in Japan will depend on the roaming agreement that the users’s home carrier has established in the country

May 16: Steve Jobs confirms the Japanese iPad works with international microSIMs

On the following day, Ed Andersen gets the same confirmation from Steve Jobs himself:

It is locked to Softbank in Japan, but you can use any international microSIM.

Only to learn, one email later, that there must be some software SIM lock.

Thanks for the reply. So Japanese 3G iPads are not SIM-locked at all, you are just forced to take out a Softbank contract. Is this correct?

No, not exactly.

May 17: Softbank’s CEO responds

Friend Hideki Francis Onda adds a nail into the coffin with a brilliant post summarizing the iPad in Japan situation.

Son Masayoshi, the operator CEO candidly admits the iPad exclusivity is due to the relative lack of robustness of his network compared to DoCoMo

We are at a disadvantage compared with NTT. We will lose massive customers if we did not lock the Japanese iPads to our network

Interestingly, he adds that he would consider unlocking the device if Softbank can get the 800MHz spectrum.

Softbank has a long history fighting for this band that the government doesn’t want to license again until 2015, but already used by DoCoMo and au/KDDI.

May 18: Apple updates the iPad FAQ for the umpteenth time

The new FAQ wording makes it clearer. In Japan, Softbank only!

3Gデータプランについてよくあるご質問
iPad Wi-Fi + 3GモデルはソフトバンクのSIMカードのみに対応していますか?

日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルは、日本で使用する場合、iPad向け3Gデータプランを提供しているソフトバンクのmicro-SIMカードのみに対応します。海外で使用する際は、その国で発売されているmicro-SIMカードもご利用になれます。
その他の通信事業者のmicro-SIMカードを使って、日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルを海外で利用できますか?

日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルは、日本国内ではソフトバンクの3Gデータサービスのみに対応します。その他の国内通信事業者のmicro-SIMカードには対応しません。海外では、その国の通信事業者が提供しているmicro-SIMカードとデータプランを利用して、日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルを使用することができます。
micro-SIMカードはどこで手に入れられますか?

直営店のApple Store、またはiPad正規販売店でiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルと一緒にmicro-SIMカードを購入できます。(日本国外で購入したiPad用に、micro-SIMカードを購入することはできません。)

So, what do we know so far?

Any iPad 3G sold in Japan will be tied exclusively to Softbank while in Japan.

Any iPad 3G sold in Japan will have the ability to switch microSIM while outside of Japan (or to roam using Softbank microSIM).

Any iPad 3G bought outside of Japan won’t accept any Japanese microSIM, since Softbank is the sole microSIM vendor (at this point) and won’t sell the SIM & plans without an iPad.

It is unclear how Softbank is SIM locking iPads sold in Japan. A software lock is possible but not confirmed, but Steve Jobs remarks seems to indicate that there is more than a simple country contract exclusivity.

So, yeah, Steve Jobs was right all along: both Softbank’s iPad announcement (and customer relations) and Apple’s website (until today’s modification) were wrong. And misleading I should add.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

The iPad drama continues in Japan.

Since Apple’s CEO promised at launch that the device would be SIM free, long time contributor to our community, Doug Lerner, admittedly quite upset by the situation like many others, took the initiative to send Steve Jobs an email.

And, in one of these nice moments when Steve answers, Doug got this:

Actually, the version of iPad sold in Japan does accept international SIMs.

Here’s Doug original email:

Hi. In the U.S. iPad 3Gs are cool. They are SIM-unlocked, which is great. And the unlimited no-committment AT&T contracts are convenient.

But in Japan we won’t have the option to buy an internationally usable iPad 3G. SoftBank has been given exclusive rights to sell the iPhone 3G, and the unlimited data option at about $35/month requires committing to a 2-year contract. There aren’t any no-commitment unlimited contracts like the $30 AT&T plan.

And what’s worse, unlike the U.S. version, the iPad 3G sold will be SIM-locked! So we can’t get an AT&T microSIM to use during travel in the U.S.!

The reverse is also true. If you are coming from the U.S. to Japan, you can’t get a microSIM card from SoftBank to use your iPad 3G here.

The iPad 3G could be such a cool, internationally usable device. Why isn’t Apple letting it be open in Japan like it is in the U.S.?

Sincerely,

Doug Lerner,
Tokyo


Now look at these two screenshots taken from the official Apple website, more specifically from the iPad FAQ on the Japanese online store:

One is from yesterday. One from this morning. Notice anything different? Yes, Apple Japan does now explicitly states that you cannot use a micro SIM obtained from another country for your iPad.

Kinda contradicts what Steve Jobs just sent by email, no?

What a nice drama. We’ve got Steve Jobs relieving the Japanese iPad users willing to travel and avoid data roaming charges contradicted by a last minute edit on the official iPad FAQ.

Sit down and watch, I’m pretty sure there will be more to that story.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

The last 48 hours have been quite a rollercoaster. Following the announcement of pricing for the iPad in Japan and other global markets, the big question has been “will it be SIM locked”.

From the first announcement by Steve Jobs introducing this “Magical” new product, the announcement that the device would be SIM free has been a big boost for Apple. Sure, no other product on the market uses the micro-SIM standard that the iPad requires, but the possibility that you’ll be able to move your iPad easily to another network in the future should you move or find a better provider was sweet music to those iPhone owners suffering under less than satisfactory carrier restriction. The pricing model made sense. Since the device is wholly unsubsidized by the carrier, the iPad should be portable to any company that can provide a network compatible for it.

But of course, no one was sure if this promise extended to the iPad in other global markets. It is slowly becoming clear that this will not be the case, at least in Japan. While no official statement has been published on either the Softbank or Apple Japan webpage, entries in the iPad order page FAQ posted this morning on the Apple website seemed to imply that the iPad sold in Japan would indeed be SIM Free.

Specifically this section

As it turns out, this is simple a translation of this section found on other international Apple webpages.

You would assume that if you can travel and get a SIM in a country you are visiting, the device would have to be SIM lock free.  Well, you would be right, but in the case, it turns out that the website is wrong. In Japan at least we are getting confirmation that all iPads sold in Japan will be SIM locked to only work on Softbank’s mobile network.

From Impress Watch

“It has been announced that the iPad wi-fi+3g version sold by Apple will be be locked to only use SIM cards from Softbank Mobile.

Apple has also confirmed that “All iPad’s sold will only be able to connect to Softbank Mobile’s network”. No reason or details have been disclosed.”

From IT Media

“According to information released by Softbank on May 8, iPad wi-fi+3G models sold from Softbank shops will be SIM locked so that they can only connect to Softbank Mobile’s network.

Over the next 10 days, many people are expected to stop by the Apple Store to pre-order.  They will be told by Apple staff “Apple iPad sold in Japan are all have SIM locked”. Softbank is Apple’s exclusive partner with for the iPad and iPhone. Basically, all iPads sold in Japan are SIM Locked.

To make matters worse, more news is emerging showing even more draconian controls. Impress Watch goes on to explain that you will not be able to get an iPad compatible micro-SIM from Softbank if you do not purchase an iPad from them. You will not be able to use the Softbank network if you bring an imported iPad sold in another market. They explain this is due to the fact that imported models are not certified wireless devices.

Weekly Ascii backs this up by confirming with both Apple stores and Softbank that

  • No SIM Free iPads will be sold in Japan
  • 3G models will not be sold without a contract
  • Even using micro-SIM from another network will not work on SIM locked iPads
  • You can not make a contract for an imported iPad

What I’d like to know is when did Softbank kidnap Steve Jobs’s dog? Apple is getting nothing from this deal. Softbank is not subsidizing the iPad, except to waive interest fees for people who want to pay for their iPad on a two year payment plan and who sign up to a two year unlimited data contract. iPad customers will not be able to get local pre-paid data SIMs when they travel, and people coming to Japan will also not be able to use their 3G iPads in Japan without paying insane roaming fees. Japanese customers are getting a hobbled product and are not getting anything in return.

To add insult to injury, Apple seems to be pretending that nothing is wrong here. As of the writing of this article, the iPad Pre-order page on Apple Japan’s website still indicates that the iPad wi-fi+3G in not SIM locked. Apple has agreed to let Softbank completely run the show for this product, and Softbank has decided to lock this puppy down.

It will be interesting how Docomo will react to this. Just a few weeks ago, Docomo announced plans to release an iPad compatible micro-SIM with the expressed purpose of capturing some of the iPad market. However Bloomberg is now reporting that those plans are now officially dead in the water. It’s one thing to treat your customers like cattle in Japan. It’s a very different thing to lock out all your competitors from similarly abusing their customers. Especially when that competitor is a psudo-government entity like Docomo.

So what can you do?  Well, if enough people complain before the 28th, maybe something can happen. Nothing seems to be official enough that either Apple or Softbank is willing to just come out and say it publicly. However realistically it;s far to late to change things for launch.  Still, early online response to this is decidedly negative and the dissatisfaction is growing. We can hope that eventually Apple will develop enough of a backbone to stand up to Softbank as they did finally getting permission to sell iPhones in their retail outlets.

Or another option is just to grab an EMobile Pocket wifi and go with an iPad wi-fi model, it’s the solution I have been using for weeks now, and to be honest it works just fine. I can use Maps with no problem, get YouTube in full resolution, download any size app and even use Skype. All with no jailbreaking required.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

[Update: plans are abandoned following Softbank SIM lock of iPads in Japan]

The rumor has been floating for a while, but it’s finally getting serious: NTT DoCoMo will offer microSIM cards for the iPad in Japan.

The Mainichi Shimbun writes that the biggest Japanese mobile operator’s President mentioned the Apple device during the recent earning conference. The iPad being unlocked, operators are free to provide their own services, which DoCoMo is strongly considering.

There were no details on any data plans, nor any provisional schedule for the cards release.

While the device hasn’t yet hit the shores of Japan, mainly due to Apple delaying international sales after having a hard time coping with demand in the US, it has garnered headlines and big interest in the country.

SoftBank has been the sole operator carrying the iPhone since its inception on July 2008. It has helped the carrier rank high in subscription growth, slowly closing the gap with KDDI and DoCoMo. Unlike other countries, no law requires phones to be unlocked, thus leaving the iPhone in its exclusive hands, even after the end of the usual 2-year contract.

The operator has not yet finalized any microSIM rollout nor data plan for the iPad. The recent uncovering of the iPhone 4G however shows that the new SIM format will also be adopted for Apple’s handset and SoftBank, still believed to keep selling the iPhone in the short term, might hence soon announce some iPad service.

UPDATE 5/10: DoCoMo seems to have abandoned any plans to release micro-SIM cards for the iPad in Japan, following the announcement that the device will be SIM locked to Softbank’s network

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage