Rakuten Mobile has announced that it will delay full-scale launch of its mobile phone carrier service until spring of 2020, significantly behind the planned start date of October 2019. Rakuten’s official entry into the mobile carrier market has been eagerly anticipated and is expected to increase competition in a market currently dominated by three giants: SoftBank, NTT Docomo, and au KDDI.
The postponement is due to the difficulty of setting up mobile base stations and the company’s determination that its current infrastructure is not sufficient to handle a high volume of communication.
In the meantime, Rakuten Mobile plans to offer a free “limited service” to 5,000 people starting in October. More details about the free service plan are supposed to be announced on September 6th. We will update this page as more info becomes available on what’s being offered and how to apply.
In the meantime, here’s some background info on why cell phone price plans have dropped so much this year.
Why mobile plans have dropped in price this year
If you’re signing up for a new mobile service plan this year, it’s likely you’re getting a much better deal than you would have last year. The Japanese government basically announced last fall that Japan’s cell phone rates could drop as much as 40% to bring them in line with rates in other countries.
The three main carriers have responded by offering lower priced plans and by no longer requiring you to lock yourself into a two-year contract in order to get cell service. On average, the penalty fee for cancelling a cell phone contract is ¥10,000 ($95 USD). Many people are loathe to switch carriers if they have to pay a penalty, so in principle, no-contract service is supposed to increase price competition. However, the most economical plans offered by all major carriers are still those that require a two-year contract.
SoftBank was the first of the major carriers to roll out lower-priced options for people who have limited data and voice needs.
SoftBanks’ pricing for voice+data plans range from approximately ¥3,980 to ¥8,980 (about $37 USD to $84 USD) per month if you sign up for a two-year plan. For an in-depth look at the different SoftBank plans, please see the article on SoftBank price plans explained.
NTT Docomo’s voice+data plans range from approximately ¥2,980 to ¥6,980 per month if you sign up for a two-year plan.
au KDDI’s voice+data plans range from approximately ¥4,980 to ¥10,000 per month if you sign up for a two-year plan.
On its homepage, Rakuten Mobile is offering “unlimited data” (of up to 2GB) + voice for as little as ¥1,480 per month, but you are required to become a “Rakuten Member” For details, please visit the official site.
Please check directly with the carrier when you shop. There is a lot of fine print involved when it comes to how phone plans are described!
Things to consider when you’re shopping for a phone plan
When you’re shopping for a mobile carrier, one of the most important things to know is your own voice and data needs. If you’ll be doing a lot of streaming or downloading, it’s probably worth it to spring for one of the all-you-can-use (called tsukai-houdai, 使い放題) plans. These usually give you “unlimited” data up to about 30-GB a month.
Unless you use very little data, the least expensive plans are sometimes not the best option because they give you such limited data (for example, 1-GB a month) that you’ll end up having to pay for overage.
There are also a lot of discounts available. The most common ones are for signing a two-year contract, multiple-line discounts (if multiple people in your family sign up for the same carrier), student discounts, discounts for bundling your mobile carrier with your home fixed-line internet, and seasonal discounts offered throughout the year.
Despite the government’s push for the carriers to make rate plans simpler, they are still really confusing (even in Japanese!) and full of fine print. It pays to shop around!
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Getting a mobile phone in Japan : Prices are about to drop in 2019, here’s what you need to know
How to use your cell phone in Japan : With JP Smart Sim