A guide to switching to a Japanese MVNO

japanese mvnoIf you live in Japan, you might be paying too much for a Japanese cell phone contract. I recently switched to a Japanese MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) and couldn’t believe the difference in my monthly bill. What if I told you that your monthly bill could go from 4000-5000 yen ($40-$50) to something around 1600 yen ($16)? That’s some major savings. I’m going to talk about the current major carriers, the differences, and how to switch to an MVNO.

Updated 9-10-2016 (Mentioned that Biglobe lets you pay without a Japanese credit card)

Why MVNOs?

Japanese MNVO companies buy the rights to use a major carrier’s network and repackage it as a service to customers. Most MVNOs do not operate retail stores or have to spend as much money to operate, so they can afford to pass the savings onto consumers.

Before we get into the Japanese MVNO business, let’s talk a little bit about the major players in the Japanese mobile industry.

The Major Carriers

japan mobile marketshare
There are three major players in the Japanese mobile industry. You’ve got NTT Docomo, KDDI AU, and Softbank. Each company has its own brand image and types of customers they target, but I’m going to quickly give you a rundown of the three main carriers.

NTT Docomo

ntt docomo logoDocomo is the big dog in Japan when it comes to mobile. It was formed from the major telecommunications company NTT and has about 45% of the market. It has the most widespread network and coverage, which means if you travel a lot or go to areas with spotty reception, you’ll probably want to make use of Docomo’s network.

KDDI AU

kddi auCommonly just called “AU”, this company has tried to brand itself as an innovative cell phone company targeted at the younger generation and families. It has about 29% of the market.

Softbank

softbank logoI’m going to talk the most about Softbank because it was the mobile company I was with the longest. It has an interesting history due to its founder, Masayoshi Son who is known to be a high risk taking entrepreneur, a rarity in the Japanese business world. Softbank wasn’t even a mobile carrier until 2006 when it purchased the carrier “Vodaphone” and rebranded it into Softbank.

The only reason Softbank gained any market share was because it was the exclusive carrier of the iPhone when it was released in Japan. After the iPhone 4S was released, Softbank was no longer the sole carrier of iPhone. Of course, now all major carriers offer the iPhone, so Softbank’s uniqueness as a carrier has been diluted.

Softbank has 25% market share as of March 2015, which is quite an achievement considering it took over the declining Vodaphone business and turned it around.

Policies for non-Japanese customers

I wanted to quickly mention this because it’s important for any foreign nationals living in Japan that have cell phone contracts. I don’t know the policy for Docomo, but Softbank and AU have strict rules about letting foreign customers pay off the price of their new phones.

Softbank

You must have at least 2 years on your visa in order to qualify for monthly payments on a new phone. This was most likely instituted because a high percentage of foreign customers would get a new phone and return back to their countries, leaving Softbank to foot the bill. However, the visa situation for everyone is different and not everyone can guarantee that their visa will have 2 or more years on it when he or she goes to renew or get a new phone at a carrier. I was personally burned by this experience, despite being a customer for five years.

However, the visa situation for everyone is different and not everyone can guarantee that their visa will have 2 or more years on it when he or she goes to renew or get a new phone at a carrier. I was personally burned by this experience, despite being a customer for five years.

AU

I have heard AU is not as strict as Softbank and only requires a 1 year or greater visa to give foreign customers a monthly payment plan on new phones. If you have to go with a major carrier, it might be worth looking into either AU or Docomo’s visa policies.

Switching to a Japanese MVNO

All right, so you are sick of paying high fees every month to one of the three main carriers and want to save some money. What do you do?

First, you need to know if your phone/smartphone is SIM locked. If it is locked by the carrier and you cannot unlock it, that phone can only be used on the network to which is it locked. That doesn’t mean you can’t use an MVNO, though.

For example, if you have an iPhone that you bought from AU, that means you cannot use it with an MVNO that uses the Docomo network, BUT you can use an MVNO that uses the AU network. Does that make sense?

If you have an AU or Docomo phone, there are plenty of options for you when switching to an MVNO. There are no Japanese MVNOs that support the Softbank network*, so you’ll need to change over to a phone that works with the Docomo or AU network.

*Update: SoftBank has a smaller mobile company called Y! Mobile which promises cheaper prices, but they’re a joke. It’s better to leave Softbank and head to an MVNO that uses AU or Docomo’s network.

Using your existing smartphone

If you have a phone that uses the Docomo or AU network, life is easier for you. A SIM free phone is even better. All you need is to confirm that your device will work on your chosen MVNO and use their SIM card in the device.

Buying a used smartphone or non-contract phone

If you’re switching to an MVNO from Softbank or want to buy a better smartphone that will work on an MVNO, there are some options. You don’t need to buy from a carrier to get a phone.

Buy New

You can buy SIM free iPhones directly from the Apple Japan website. These phones will work with any Japanese MVNO and are guaranteed to be problem free. If you’re an Android fan, you can purchase new Android phones through Amazon Japan. However, new phones can be expensive and because MVNOs are all about saving money, there is another method we can consider.

Buy Used

There are a few ways to buy used phones in Japan. If you prefer to see the phone and have more assurance that it won’t break, you’re better off going to a real store.

geo used phonesYou can usually find used phones at the rental shop GEO or other second-hand stores. The prices will be more expensive than buying used on the Internet, but you will usually get a money-back promise of a few months if something is not right with the phone.

Internet Auctions

This is the probably the most cost-effective way to get a used phone for a decent price. However, it is time-consuming and tedious to get everything set up if you’re not knowledgeable in Japanese or dealing with Yahoo Auction.

yahoo auction phoneIf you can do it yourself or have a friend knowledgeable with Yahoo Auction help you, you can get a used smartphone in great condition for a good price.

Which Japanese MVNO do I choose?

There are too many MVNOs to choose from, so I’ve chosen the three companies that I personally would consider signing up with. No need to research because I’ve done it for you!

IIJMIO

iijmioThe name is sort of strange, “eye-eye Jeh-me-oh” but don’t let that fool you. IIJMIO has a great reputation and is one of the top MVNOs to choose from. The prices are decent, but not the cheapest. IIJMIO uses Docomo’s network, so you can rest assured that you will always have a great signal or speed wherever you go in Japan.

IIJmio also has an app for both iOS and Android that lets you track your data usage and other information as well. Really handy!

mvno iijmio app

Update: If you’re an iPhone user, I highly recommend IIJmio because they are the fastest to support iOS software updates compared to DMM and the others.

 

Link: iijmio.jp

DMM Mobile

dmm mobile

This Japanese MVNO is somewhat new but has quickly gained a good reputation for its service and prices. As far as I researched, DMM had the lowest prices for data plans. DMM uses the Docomo network and even has an app that you can use to check your data usage.

dmmmobile appThere’s also a cool feature in the app that lets you choose to turn on or off the high-speed data. If you turn high speed off, your data usage will not count against you.

Link: mvno.dmm.com

MINEO

mineo logo
The unique thing about Mineo is it uses both the Docomo and AU networks. You have to choose which network to use when signing up to get the SIM card for your device, but it sure is convenient that this MVNO covers both networks. I really like the look of the company’s website and their prices were affordable.

Here is what Mineo’s app looks like so you can monitor data usage and switch on/off high speed. mvno mineo app

Link: mineo.jp

The Switching Process

Step One:

You need to get an MNP (Mobile Number Portability) number from your current carrier. All you need to do is go into a store and ask them to create one for you.

The MNP is a number that you give to a company that you are transferring to. This allows you to keep your phone number and take it with you when you switch.

Note: There is a fee for getting an MNP. AU/Docomo is 2000 yen while Softbank is 3000 yen. Also, if you are not in the month where you can cancel your account for free, it will usually be an extra 10,000 yen as a cancellation fee. It’s worth it, though because you’ll break even after a few months on a cheaper plan anyway.

If you don’t want to keep your number: Skip step one.

Step Two:

Either go to an MVNO’s website, order an application from Amazon, or go to a local place that has partnered with an MVNO such as GEO or AEON.

You are going to enter your registration information, select a plan, AND select the appropriate SIM card. There are three kinds of SIM cards, so know which one you will need. iPhones use nanoSIM cards, Android phones usually use MicroSIM cards.sim cards

In my case, I went to DMM Mobile’s website and applied there. I entered my MNP number and other registration information. If you want a new phone number, choose the new number option. After registering, DMM needs proof of identification such as a passport, driver’s license or residence card.

The best thing about this is you don’t have to make a copy or fax it. You can take a picture of your identification and upload it to DMM directly. After they check it, you’re good to go.

WARNING: For most Japanese MVNOs, you will need to use a Japanese credit card to pay your monthly fees. However, after doing some research I have found that Biglobe is one of the few companies that will you let you pay with a Japanese bank account!

Step Three:

After you’ve applied, you have to wait for your SIM card to be created. After the SIM card has been created, your account at your current mobile provider will be cancelled. This means that you might be without service for anywhere from a few hours to a day.

In my case, I went one day without phone access, but the SIM card arrived promptly the next morning.

Update on activation time: Japanese MVNO companies have come up with a way to activate your SIM card without having to make you wait a day or more for activation. Now after you receive your SIM card, you can have it activated in about an hour and working with your phone. This has been confirmed for DMM, IIJMIO, and Mineo. Others are probably now doing the same thing, but make sure and check!

Thanks to contributors “V” and Ian for confirming IIJMIO and Mineo’s new activation process.

Step Four:

There are two things you need to do: Insert the new SIM card into your device and also install the APN profile on your device. This is easy and can be done quickly. Most companies provide you with instructions, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting a step. WARNING: If you don’t install the APN profile, your device will not work on the cell network correctly. Please don’t forget this step!

Step Five:

Enjoy having a mobile plan that isn’t over priced!

Final Thoughts

After switching to DMM mobile, I think I made the right choice and am satisfied with the service and price. Switching to a Japanese MVNO involved a lot of steps, but it wasn’t difficult.

Update: After being with DMM for a few months, I’m pretty satisfied, but one big issue for me is the slowness to support iOS updates. With MVNOs, you have to confirm with them before you update iOS to make sure the network and everything still connects, etc.

DMM has been a bit slow (1-2 months lag time) before confirming the latest iOS update works on their network. IIJMIO has usually been the next day after Apple releases an update. If you’re an iPhone user, it might be wise to go with IIJMIO or another MVNO that updates quickly.

If you’re thinking of switching from your current carrier, it’s worth looking into. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me or ask in the comments below.

57 thoughts on “A guide to switching to a Japanese MVNO”

  1. I am a user of MVNO service provider myself. I use B-Mobile service provider, which sits on the NTT DoCoMo Network. For a user like me whodoes not do high-speed gaming or skyping on my mobile phone while on the go, MVNO dataplans are perfect for me. My plan only charges me pay-per-usage on outgoing calls and sms, and free unlimited 200kbps speed dataplan and free incoming calls (monthly ~~1700Yen). Very reliable and so far no disappointment.

    Thanks for this great website kuro-pixel. Very useful and practical stuffs for foreigners in Japan! 🙂

    • Thanks for letting me know about B-Mobile, I hadn’t heard about it before.

      By the way, if you want to cut the cost of outgoing phone calls in half, I recommend the app “Rakuten でんわ”. It lets call phone numbers for half the price and does not use data.

  2. Thanks a bunch for the guide!

    I still don’t have a phone subscription here in Japan, I only bought the visitor sim for the meantime for data but it’s tedious to keep buying those sims or renewing the plan. I’ll be staying here for 3 years or more.

    Whenever I ask my friends how much they pay for their contracted phones, their answers make me cringe. I just can’t afford that and imagine how many I could buy with that amount of money.

    Do you know how the registration for MVNO for a user that doesn’t have an existing subscription to any Network?

    • Hello Kris. You can sign up at most MVNOs without a previous subscription to a cell phone network. You can either go in person to a place or order a start pack online and you can get a new phone number. 🙂

      • Awesome. I guess I’ll go with IIJmio. I have an iPhone ready (but the glass is cracked so I’ll buy a new phone later in the month or next year) so I would be getting a nano sim. Would it be alright to use the sim on multiple phones? Like, when I get a nano sim, and I have a sim adaptor I can just plug the nano sim on an Android phone (when I get one).

          • Thanks! My iPhone’s an iPhone5. I was able to the a visitor sim with it. When I saw the network, it’s with NTT Docomo. If I remember right, it’s Wireless Gate.

            Crap, so I cannot just buy any unlocked smartphone in the future and hope to use it here? Because I was planning on purchasing a Samsung Note 4 SN-910C or LG G4 H815 that “might” be compatible to the bandwidth here in Japan (according to http://www.willmyphonework.com).

          • If a phone is pretty recent and sim-free, there is a good chance it will work, however I strongly recommend confirming it will work from a list because you don’t want to subscribe to a service only to find out your phone doesn’t work and you’re locked into a 1 year contract.

            Try checking the device list on the iijmio page. Even if you have an iPhone 5, there are multiple models of the 5, so check just in case. You can also check Android devices on the earlier link I posted.

            If you want to go to a physical store, try checking the list of AEON malls that you can get help at: https://www.iijmio.jp/aeon/detail.html

            However, you can do everything online if you buy the sim card packages on Amazon JP.

  3. Dear Bryan,

    I found your page here while looking up info about switching over to MVNOs. Your website looks very simple and neat, and explains things in a way that is easy to understand, so congrats to you.

    Here’s my current situation:
    I currently own an LGL22 by LG which I got almost two years ago from AU. My contract ends in February of next year, meaning that I’ll be able to cancel my contract in March without cancellation fees. My goal is to keep my current phone, and move over to an MVNO that uses the AU network.

    However, as I’ve been looking into this more, I’ve run into some stumbling blocks. For instance, when I quickly learned that at the AU shops, won’t unlock this particular model, I took to the internet to find other solutions. Now here’s the tricky part. while it seemed to have been possible to unlock your LG phone in the past, it seems that with a recent update of the Android OS/LG user interface from June this year, it is now no longer possible to tap into those “hidden” screens or menus that you previously could when entering numbers such as 2945*22*# or using apps that assist you in unlocking the phone. From what I’ve found in Japanese on the internet, that update automatically locked the phone again, even if it had previously been unlocked. And my latest software update is from August, meaning that I don’t have access to those hidden menus any more.

    Is this something you are familiar with, and do you know of any ways that I could still unlock my phone? Or is it best to just get a second hand phone instead?

    • Thanks for the kind words as well as letting me know your situation.

      From what I understand, you should be able to use your existing LGL22 phone directly on a MVNO that uses the AU network even if it is locked. Going from AU to a AU MVNO means you can continue to use your phone and don’t have to bother trying to unlock it.

      I confirmed your model will work with Mineo’s AU network plan here: http://mineo.jp/device/devicelist/au/

      Hope this helps!

      • Hi again, and thanks for the quick reply.

        Oh, now that you mention it, that does make sense.I hadn’t thought about the fact that it might not be necessary to have your phone unlocked if you’re still using the AU network. Great to know.

        After I wrote that post, I kept looking into more details on the MVNOs, but it seems that you need to have a credit card for virtually all of them. I didn’t read about this in your post so I never thought not having a credit card would be an issue, but since I don’t have one this could become a problem. I’ve heard plenty of stories of people getting rejected even though they’ve spent years in Japan. (I myself have been here as a student for 5 years and now work for a Japanese company)

        • If you need a credit card, I recommend applying for a Rakuten one. They are supposed to be less strict about giving them to non-Japanese customers. If you do a search online there should be some guides.

          If you’ve been in Japan for a while and you work for a Japanese company, I think there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be approved.

          • Thanks for the tip. I will look into that.

            I ehar it’s rather random in Japan. People who have lived here for years and have a stable income may get rejected from one place but not from another, so all I can do is try.

            One other option is signing with an MVNO that allows for bank transfers instead of credit cards, but from what I found, only Big globe seems to be going down that route at the moment.

          • BigBlobe seems to use the Docomo network, so you wouldn’t be able to use your existing smartphone.

            It’s pretty convenient to have a credit card, so why not apply for Rakuten and if it works, you can apply for a MVNO that uses AU’s network.

            Wish you the best of luck!

          • Thanks. I’ll probably opt for Mineo for the time being. As long as I can start paying less for those phone bills.

            As for credit cards, I tried applying for a Rakuten card yesterday, and I got rejected less than 24 hours later. I’m speechless. I guess this is going to be an uphill battle…

          • Did you find a guide online and apply for the Rakuten card?

            Another thing I thought about but not sure if it would work, is a prepaid visa card that you can get at convenience stores. I wonder if that would be accepted at Mineo?

            Your other choice would be to buy a used phone that uses Docomo’s network and apply to a company that will let you pay without using a credit card.

  4. Hi again, and sorry for my tardy reply.
    First off, a happy 2016. I wish you the best of luck with all your projects and I also hope this blog will be useful for more people to come.

    To answer your question, I simply filled out the form in Japanese as instructed when I applied for the Rakuten card online, that’s about it.

    According to Mineo’s website, they may not accept debit cards or prepaid credit cards depending on the circumstances.
    So what I’ve done for now is apply for a credit card at the post office where I also have a bank account. Let’s wait and see how that turns out.

    There was one company (biglobe I think) that allows you to sign up with a bank account only, but it required that were already anvexisting customer for their internet service which requires…a credit card!

    Anyway, I’m confident it’s going to work out eventually. I’ll keep you updated. Wishing you a healthy and productive year!

      • Yeah I did find that form on the internet but actually only glanced over it fairly quickly as I thought I didn’t need it. Perhaps not doing so was a mistake…

        The post office offers several credit cards. The one I’ve applied to is called EXTAGE, which is one aimed at young people between the ages of 20 and 29.
        Judging by that age demographic which I’m in too, it shouldn’t be so hard to get.

          • Dear Bryan,

            Here I am once again with a short update on my situation.

            I finally got my new credit card delivered to me a few weeks ago. I actually got rejected a few days after applying, but the people over at customer support were kind enough to tell me the exact reason of the rejection, and said that if I could fix that problem, they would revise my application. So that was exactly what I did, and in the weeks that came, I completed the final steps of the application process.

            So as of now, I’m just waiting until March 1st for my contract with AU to reach its 更新月, and then I’ll be applying to Mineo right away. I’m so excited!

          • Hey V, thanks for the update! I’m sure you can’t wait for your AU contract to be done with.

            Is your new credit card super shiny? 🙂

          • It certainly is shiny, and black. And there’s a Roman centurion on the front too…

            I wish!

          • Bryan,

            I finally got my new nano sim card in the mail yesterday! Finally!! Took just under a week from the time I applied on the Mineo homepage.

            Still can’t believe I’ll be living with a cheap cellphone bill from now on. I’ll have to wait for the first bill to arrive to truly believe it.

            Also, I’d kind of hoped that my network would now say “Mineo” instead of AU, but oh well:)

          • Congratulations! Is everything working well? Yeah, MVNO names won’t show up for your network, you’ll either have AU or Docomo. Fair enough since they use that network, I suppose!

            Welcome to the cheap cellphone bill club!

          • Thanks man! Part of it is thanks to your blog here as well!

            I’ve only been using it since yesterday, but I haven’t noticed any problems so far. Internet works fine.
            I can also attest to what Ian said; when I got my new sim card, I followed the instructions and inserted it in my phone, then went to Mineo’s website (had to do that on my laptop though…), and filled in some information to initiate the activation process. I then waited for about half an hour after which I called a “test” number, and then was informed that the activation was complete. All that was left to do after that was activate the internet on my phone, but the instructions provided by Mineo were very easy to follow.

          • Bryan,

            There will be the yearly Youtube hanami party in Yoyogi park on April 2nd. I’m thinking of going myself for the first time, and was wondering if you’re free/interested in showing up yourself. If you’re interested, the FB page with info is down here:

            https://www.facebook.com/events/904611689653128/

            Would be cool if we could meet each other there!

          • Thanks for letting me know about the event. Unfortunately, I can’t go, but if you end up going, let me know if it’s any fun. Thanks!

  5. Quick cost comparison for a more expensive phone.

    Thanks for this article – it explains the MVNO situation really well. I have been considering switching to one rather than going on my normal biannual process of switching carriers and getting as much cashback as possible with a new iPhone.

    I’m sure the MVNO option is best if you already have an old phone you want to use or are going to get a cheaper one, but how about with an expensive phone like a brand new 64gb iPhone 6s?

    My quick estimate shows:
    MVNO @ (¥1600 x 24) + iPhone @ ¥98,800 = ¥137,200

    Where an example of ¥6000 x 24 on one of the big 3 = ¥144,000.

    ¥6,800 cheaper but any cashback they give you for switching carriers would easily make the big 3 option here cheaper over the 2 year period.

    What do you think? (Maybe I’ve overlooked something!!!)

    • Whether you use a MVNO or go with a main carrier, you still have to pay for the new phone. In your calculation using the big 3, I didn’t see you take into account the price of the new phone broken up into installments. That’s still going to cost you.

      Imagine ¥6000 yen x 24 plus the cost for a new phone every month.

      Going with a MVNO, you’d have ¥1600 x 24 plus the new phone up front. However, you’d make out better because your monthly fees are much lower every year than the main 3 companies.

      Hope this helps! Thanks for leaving a comment. 🙂

  6. This is an excellent guide! I just recently made use of it and am now freed from my SoftBank-imposed chains! Thank you. A bit of feedback: with iijmio (and perhaps the other MVNOs), they now send you your new sim and once you’ve received it you need to call in and activate it. Having done so, your old sim will deactivate and you’ll be able to use your phone in a few hours. In other words, there is basically no wait time when switching now.

    One problem that cropped up, however, was that you need to download a new APN profile, something which wasn’t made clear in any of the documentation from iijmio, and kept me from being able to use my phone for almost two days.

    • Ian, glad to hear you’ve broken free from Softbank! That’s really awesome that you can call in and activate the SIM instead of waiting like before. Thank you so much for letting me know.

      It must have been horrifying for 2 days not being able to use your phone, but I’m glad everything got sorted out. Hey, at least it was as simple as installing the APN Profile and nothing too bad, right?

  7. Hello,
    Thank you for this thorough guide!

    I just have one question. Is it possible to use a foreign unlocked phone or does it have to be a Japanese phone?
    I’m going to move to Japan in a few weeks and it would be much easier to buy a new phone here in Italy (as they are sold unlocked) and then get a MVNO sim card once in Japan, but I want to be sure it will work there before I purchase it.

    Thank you for your help.
    Cheers

  8. Hello! So I read ur article regarding the MVNOs matters. So here’s my problem: I didn’t own a phone at that time so I saw Mineo’s ads and saw the requirements. It said that it needs an AU locked phone so I decided to buy it from Amazon. Then I signed up for the AU VoLTE SIM Card and now when I tried to activate it the phone said it’s not supported so it couldnt be activated. Is it because I applied for the VoLTE SIM Card and supposed to be the NANO SIM Card or is it because I don’t have any AU Contract at all before? Fast replies would be highly appreciated. Thank you very much 🙂

    • If you have a sim free phone or an AU phone that has a clean history (not stolen or someone failed to pay all their bills before leaving AU), the phone should work with Mineo.

      Mineo supports both Docomo network and the AU network, but you have to sign up for the right plan and get the right sim card.

      If you have a VoLTE sim card, the phone has to be unlocked for it to work. After doing a quick search I saw a list of compatible devices here: https://king.mineo.jp/magazines/special/175

  9. Thanks for the info, its good to know some people know their stuff! I’m thinking of switching to an MVNO from Softbank, I’m done with them. Ideally I’d like to use my existing 5s, but the only option is Y! Mobile it seems. Do you know anything about unlocking pre-Iphone 6? Softbank won’t do it on the 5s, and I’m wary of trusting it to the plethora of unlocking services that come up on a google search. Seems such a waste to have to get a new sim-free phone if I can use my existing one. Plus I’d also love to be able to use it worldwide.
    Appreciations

    • Hey Chris, nice of you to drop by!

      If you’re trying to leave Softbank, I’d stay away from Y! Mobile since it’s owned by them as well. You’re better off going with a real MVNO that can offer cheaper prices. If you really want to keep your iPhone 5s, I have seen adapters that can allow you to use a SIM locked Softbank phone on other networks. I can’t vouch for any particular one, but try Amazon Japan by searching “SIM lock”.

      My recommended option is to go down the less frustrating path and buy a used iPhone 6/6S/SE that is a Docomo version. It’s much cheaper than buying the SIM free ones. Even if an iPhone is SIM locked to Docomo, you can use it with most MVNOs like IIJMIO, Mineo, etc.

      Best of luck to you and I hope everything works out. 🙂

  10. Hi!

    I just wanted to check in, since this was published, is it still not possible to use IIJMIO or DMM if you do not have a Japanese credit card. I am coming to Japan to study and I won’t be able to get a credit card, I will only have a bank account.

    Is credit card still the only option?

    • You can’t use IIJMIO or DMM without a Japanese credit card, however I did a quick check and there are some big MVNO companies that will let you pay with a Japanese bank account. The three I found were OCN Mobile, BIGLOBE, and Rakuten Mobile.

  11. Thanks so much Bryan for continuing to post this information in English. It is so useful! I was wondering about your most up to date opinion about Y!Mobile. I know they are owned by Softbank but they seem to have some pretty decent monthly plans: S plan which has 1G of data (boosted to 2G for the first two years) with 10 minutes unlimited calling for 1980 yen and 2890 for the second year or M plan which has 3G of data (boosted to 6G for the first two years) with 10 minutes unlimited calling which is 2980 yen for the first year and then 3980 for the second year. It is a two year contract however but we can bring any unlocked sim free phone. Are the MVNO really that much cheaper especially if you want to be able to talk and make contact with friends for up to 10 minutes at a time?

    • Hey Mark, thanks for stopping by! Y!Mobile has certainly become more aggressive with their pricing, but I personally don’t trust them due to their ties to Softbank which loves adding hidden fees or nickel and diming its customers.

      For you and your friends, wouldn’t it make more sense for everyone to use an app to call each other? Then you wouldn’t have to be using minutes. If you do need to use the ol’ normal phone call, I use Rakuten Mobile’s calling app that inserts a special number before I call someone. It saves me yen by the minute when I do need to talk to people without smartphones.

      If you sign up with a MVNO, you get a cheap monthly price and it’s usually a 1 year contract instead of 2.

      If you want a lot of data each month and the cheapest plan, maybe Y! Mobile works in your favor. I’d personally consider going for IIJMIO/AEON Mobile/Mineo if I were choosing a MVNO today.

      Anyway, good luck and I hope you find what works for you. 🙂

  12. Thanks Bryan for your reply! I went down to Yodobashi Camera today to try and get the scoop but am now my head is swimming. Personally while my spoken Japanese is decent, my reading and writing is way under par. Probably because I was a foreigner, staff tried to steer me towards OCN. I guess because they have some written material in English and the contract duration is only 6 months. I haven’t heard of anyone who uses them. Have you? I notice that you don’t recommend them. You mentioned that you used Rakuten Mobile’s calling app so does that mean you are signed up with them for now? You recommended IIJMIO/AEON mobile/Mineo. Are there are some advantages for them in particular. I am also wondering if I can get away with using my old (bought in Australia) free Motorola Moto E which is running Android 4.4.4 (although I believe it can be upgraded to Android 5.1). This is the phone that I still use on a pre-paid plan when I go back to Australia. My demands on my keitai are so modest and amount to a few phone calls, checking email and occasionally looking at apps like Google maps. I am really trying to cut down any unnecessary phone charges without making it too difficult to do. Anyway, once again thanks again for any advice that you might have and sorry if these questions are difficult. Best regards, Mark

    • Anyone can use Rakuten’s Denwa app no matter what carrier they use. It’s not through Rakuten Mobile.

      I’m with DMM Mobile, but that actually goes through IIJMIO’s system but is a tiny bit cheaper.

      OCN is fine, it’s a pretty big internet service provider that also is an MVNO, so it’s trustworthy. The prices are a bit higher than other MVNOs, though.

      If you want to know if your smartphone will work on Japanese bands, I would check https://willmyphonework.net/ and find your model. 🙂

  13. Hi Bryan, it has taken me a long time but I have finally bought a sim free iphone SE. Now I am just about to take the plunge and perhaps sign up with iiJimio. My Japanese reading ability sucks so do you recommend I go to a big store like Yodobashi or Bic Camera and sign up there?
    What all the staff there say is that at peak periods like after 5PM there is a great slow down in data speeds. Have you found that to be the case? Do you still think iiJimio is the best? Heard anything about LINE mobile? Any input much appreciated…Thanks

    • Hey Mark,

      It really depends on the area where you live in regards to speeds slowing down. I like IIJMIO because they are pretty fast about posting status updates in regards to device support. If it’s more convenient for you to go to a real store and apply for a service, then that might be better than struggling with a Japanese site.

      I’ve heard of some people using LINE mobile and not having a problem. At this point, I think most MVNO companies are pretty much the same with small twists to their benefits to stand out.

  14. Howdy again Bryan, thanks for being so patient with my questions. What do you mean about it depending on the area you live? Like in Shibuya it slows down or…… I thought it had to do with the number of users all wanting to access data at the same time …like after work at say 6PM. Have you personally experienced any significant slow downs when you wanted to access something? I’m guessing if you are still subscribing ….it can’t be too significant?? The other thing that foreign and Japanese friends have said is that they feel a bit nervous about not having any shop front that you can take the device to if there are any problems…..but I guess that is how they save money on expensive overheads. If the system is pretty reliable without any glitches, I guess it doesn’t matter too much. Have you had any cause/need to contact customer service for any enquiries/problems?

  15. I also can’t work out why all the young guys at places like BIC camera (who I assume are tech savvy) try to talk me out of getting a contract with the MVNOs in favor of something like Ymobile claiming that the MVNOs are way too slow…Is that just because they are speed addicted or perhaps not getting any commission for recommending an MVNO?

  16. Hi Bryan. I stumbled upon your interesting website. I want to break free from au right now. Is your analysis still applied in this 2017?? Pardon me to ask that, but i am very interested with what you wrote. A japanese friend also used iijmio. But a website http://www.iphone-kakuyasu-sim.jp/news/how-to-select-point-sim/ (in japanese, but i translated it using google translate) shows many options, confusing me. but what do you think? I also interested in using iijmio. what about japanese people themselves? do iijmio also the top popular mvno used by japanese?? and what about rakuten mobile? do you think it’s recommended as mvno??

    Thank you very much before. Sorry if i ask too much.

    • Hello Arfan,

      Are you wanting to bring your existing phone with you to a MVNO? Is it SIM locked by AU and can you unlock? If you can’t get it unlocked, you will have to choose a MVNO that uses AU’s network. (IIJMIO/Mineo offer both choices)

      I don’t recommend Rakuten if you aren’t comfortable reading Japanese. Rakuten’s website is horribly messy and not simple to understand, even for native Japanese speakers.

      My recommendation is IIJMIO or Mineo. Both have decent websites and are very popular among Japanese users.

      Let me know if you have any other questions. Take care!

  17. Hello! Hopefully you still check here! Ive got a quick question. I have a Mineo AU sim I’ve been using in my AU iPhone 5s, but I recently inherited an Iphone6s. If I have Softbank unlock this phone, do you think the Mineo sim will work with it? Thank you!

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