SIM free iPhone Japan: officially on sale by Apple in the online Apple store

SIM free iphone japan finally arrive in Japan – directly sold by Apple.

SIM-lock free iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c are now officially sold via the Japanese section of the official webstore.

It has been official policy recommendation (not regulation) by Japan’s General Affairs Ministry (総務省) for Japan’s mobile operators to sell SIM-free mobile phones, or to remove the SIM-lock of phones when requested by customers. However, Japan’s mobile operators have been very shy to follow the Ministry’s recommendation, and particularly Japan’s operators did not follow this recommendation for the iPhone.

Apple has now taken the step to offer SIM-free iPhones (model 5s and 5c) officially via the webstore in Japan.

This is a further step on the way of disruptive innovation sweeping through Japan’s mobile phone sector, which evolved from NTT monopoly and leased phones, via step-wise liberalization, entry of newcomers, and now domination by three groups NTT-DoCoMo, KDDI/AU and Softbank.

SIM-free iPhone sales in Japan- What will be the implications?

  • For customers, it will be much easier now to switch operators in Japan under the Mobile Number Portability (MNP) program keeping their iPhone. It will be seen, whether operators follow up with their number portability procedures to include the iPhone, which was not the case until recently.
  • For customers, roaming and international travel will be easier, customers will be able to use their Japan-bought SIM-free iPhone on foreign networks inserting local foreign operators’ SIM cards. Japanese operators might lose some limited amount of roaming income (which has never been very high, unlike in Europe).
  • For operators, churn under the Number Portability Program is likely to increase, increasing competitive pressure on operators to differentiate via radio connectivity, customer service, and innovative services.

How to get and use a SIM-free iPhone in Japan?

We have not yet done this ourselves, but what we hear is:

  1. Buy a SIM-free iPhone from the Apple online Apple-store (apparently SIM-free iPhones are not available from operator stores or physical Apple stores). Take care, the models may differ depending on which operator you want to use the iPhone on, i.e. Docomo or KDDI/AU or Softbank. Better check with the operator about prices and conditions before you purchase the SIM-free iPhone, just to be sure.
  2. Take the iPhone to a mobile operator store (i.e. Docomo, KDDI/AU or Softbank, depending on which type of iPhone you have bought), subscribe for service and get a SIM-card for the iPhone.
  3. There are also some mobile virtual operators (MVOs) in Japan, i.e. operators which purchase capacity from Docomo, Softbank or KDDI, and then retail this capacity to end users. Check their conditions, service speed, bandwidth etc before you buy.

Report on Japan’s telecommunications industry

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