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Japan Considers End to "Locked" Cellphones

AFP reports that the Japanese counterpart of FCC, MIC, is considering banning the practice of cellular carriers selling cell phones that are “locked”. A locked cell phone can only be used with that carrier. More importantly, if you go overseas you can only use it with your original US phone number and the outrageous international roaming rates that come with it.

How high are these rates? Consider the following discussion from T-Mobile on their website:
So what is the “international roaming rate for the country you’re in”? Even the worldwide resources of T-Mo it seems to be unable to put this information on their website. Isn’t that odd since T-Mo is a cellular carrier in 12 countries?

VZW does disclose their roaming rates, which range from $0.69 to $2.89/minute depending on country. Being a CDMA carrier, they can not provide service with their usual phones in Europe which has mandated GSM-only to boost their local industry.

AT&T at least makes it easy to find their high roaming rates. So why does it cost a dollar or more a minute to use your cell phone overseas even for calls to hotels and restaurants in the same city you are in? Don’t the carriers know that the fair market priced for competitive international service voice calls is under $0.10/minute? (Just look at the phone cards in your neighborhood 7-11.)

Well at least the Japanese MIC under the new left wing government is being pro-consumer here and thinking about allowing Japanese consumers on overseas trips to take out their Japanese SIM card and replace it with a local one from the country they are visiting. That’s what I do. As a former resident of Europe, I have an unlocked GSM phone. (France Telecom/Orange unlocked it for no charge it after I had used it for a year.) When I go overseas I buy a local SIM and use it for calls while traveling. ( I generally get a prepaid card for landlines to call home although I can receive incoming calls from the US on the cell phone.)

Now I know that the carriers will argue that their current pricing model with phone price being heavily subsidized by monthly fees justifies the introduction of smart phones like iPhone and Droid. But why is their so little information on the implications of this practice if you travel overseas and why is it so hard to get a simple phone that is unlocked in the US?


While passing through Narita Airport on the way to Singapore, I picked up the Japan edition of the IHT which has a section from Asahi Shinbun - the major Japanese left of center paper. They had their own article on the MIC proposal. Here is their more specific explanation of the proposal:

“The ministry is expected to ask carriers to lift the restriction on cellphones sold in the future if customers make such a request six to 12 months after the purchase of each handset. Although the guidelines are not compulsory in nature, mobile phone companies will be expected to comply on a voluntary basis.

The ministry has yet to consider whether or not to include cellphones already in use in its guidelines. The mobile companies have basically agreed to follow the guidelines.”
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