Thursday, 19 September 2013

Using a SIM-free phone with Softbank LTE

I have been using unlocked phones from overseas (Europe) on my Softbank 3G contract for around 2 years now. Softbank's 900Mhz and 2100Mhz frequencies match up nicely with what most European spec phones are compatible with, and Softbank do not (at the time of writing) restrict their Opensoftbank APN by IMEI (the Andglobal APN does seem to be filtered however), making it a relatively simple procedure of slipping in the Softbank SIM card and setting up the APN correctly.

Last year I was using the fantastic and much underrated HTC One S, and this year in April I upgraded to the HTC One, which is hailed by many reviewers as the best smartphone made so far.

With the HTC One comes LTE support, but on my old 3G contract, there was no possibility to get LTE data (it may have been possible by setting the APN but charges would have been by the packet, so I never thought to try). So in the last month or so I started thinking how I could get LTE in Japan.

From a hardware point of view, the One supports LTE 800MHz(Band 20),  1800MHz(Band 3) and 2600MHz(Band 7). With LTE more so than with 3G, it is important if possible to check not only the stated frequencies but also the band names, as there are multiple bands in and around the same frequencies that may or may not be compatible.

In Japan, Docomo supposedly offers LTE at 800MHz. However, this is not Band 20 but Band 19, which operates on slightly different frequencies. Not only this, but Docomo's rollout of 800Mhz LTE is said to be extremely limited at this time.

Next up, Softbank. As with Docomo, Softbank's main LTE frequency is 2100MHz (Band 1), but they also have some (?) LTE coverage at 800Mhz; however, this is once again not Band 20, but Band 18 (the bands overlap to an extent, but the best outcome that could be expected is you get only one of uplink or downlink working, which everyone knows means no connection is practically possible).

KDDI is out, as always, since even if they had a compatible LTE band (they don't), their 3G network is CDMA, meaning it is incompatible with the GSM HTC One (or pretty much any unlocked phone you will import from abroad).

Finally, E-Mobile. E-Mobile offers LTE at 1700MHz, which is actually the 1800MHz band, AKA Band 3. Bingo! Just one problem: E-Mobile doesn't have any 3G frequencies that match the HTC One.

At this point, Softbank CEO Son-san comes to the rescue. Earlier this year, Softbank bought E-Mobile's parent company, E-Access, and gave Softbank LTE users access to E-Mobile's LTE frequencies as well as their own, marketing it as "Double LTE". This means, with the right Softbank contract, I can use Softbank's 3G network and E-Mobile's LTE network, where available.

So, how to get an LTE contract with Softbank? Easy! Get an iPhone! (Not a suggestion you are ever likely to hear me make again). Actually, Softbank now has quite a few models which support LTE, but I knew for sure that the iPhone would give me access to the "double LTE" I needed, plus the Japanese blogs I researched had all done the same thing with an iPhone SIM, not an Android 4G SIM, so there may be a chance that the Androids use a different, more restricted APN or frequency set.

Plan decided, I went to the nearest Softbank shop. The LTE compatible iPhone 5 should be cheap now, since the 5S and 5C go on sale in a week, I surmised; and indeed, the 16GB model was 1,680 a month over 2 years, with a special discount of, you guessed it, 1,680 a month, i.e. it was free!

I filled out all the paperwork, made my colour choice (black, of course), and listened to the lengthy explanations of tedious optional Softbank services that I will never want to use. I signed everything, then finally was asked for my ID to confirm that I was, indeed, myself. I produced my "Zairyu Card" (Foreign Resident's Card), and was shocked to be greeted with that Japanese sucking-air-through-the-teeth sound that always means whatever you just requested is less likely to happen than a month of Sundays.

"Sorry, we can't give you a 2-year contract. The payments run until 26 months from now, and you only have 25 months left on your Visa."

"But... I've been here 10 years, I work for a Japanese company, I'm paying with a Japanese credit card..." [i.e. I'm hardly likely to do a runner before the contract is up ]

"Yes, I see. Computer says no." (Or words to that effect. I was fuming at this point)

"So what does this mean? What can I do to get the Shiny Phone?"

"You'll need to pay the 40,000 yen price of the phone up front, and you don't get any discounts".

I didn't bother to try and reason with her any further, and just walked out without saying another word.

To cut a long story short, I then tried the Softbank counter in Yamada Denki / LABI in Oimachi. They again asked me for my Resident's Card. I offered my driving license instead, but they insisted; apparently since when I originally signed up to Softbank, I used the Resident's Card (actually Alien Card back then), I need to use that as ID forever more. So I proffered the card and waited nervously. "Thank you, here's your iPhone". Success! It seems that the visa rule is not really a rule, and different Softbank shops have their own interpretation of what is and isn't allowed. My hints to anyone trying to get a contract with Softbank would be: first, try and use any other form of ID possible if they will let you (one that doesn't show your visa status), and second, if you fail at one shop, try again at a different one.

Finally, I had my iPhone. Plus, Yamada threw in a FitBit Flex wristband, although I only later found out that this only works with Softbank's own "Healthcare" app, not with the normal FitBit app. Of course, the Healthcare app is only on iPhone, and requires a subscription (first 2 years are free though). So we'll see how much use that gets.

And... The main result: The HTC One works with Softbank LTE, and of course with 3G as before! I bought a nano-SIM to micro-SIM adapter in Akihabara, found the APN information for Softbank iPhone 5 LTE via Google, and that was it. 7 GB of 4G goodness a month to enjoy.

Softbank LTE Speed Test on the iPhone 5

Softbank LTE Speed Test on the HTC One - faster than the iPhone 5

47 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post. I've been using a Softbank iPhone black SIM card with an imported Galaxy Siii - my next step is exactly what you've just done. Currently thinking of the S4 or Nexus 5. Did you get a decent price for the iPhone 5 on yahoo auction? Or did you keep it?

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  2. I was originally going to sell it, but I decided to keep it as a backup phone, or a second line to use when I am abroad, so I can put the local SIM in my HTC but still have access to my Japanese number. Looking at Craigslist, I could probably get 30-40k for it, but since it was a free upgrade anyway, I'm not really bothered.

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    Replies
    1. Can you send a link to the LTE APN settings ?

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  3. I don't want to post the info directly on this page. To be honest, it is easily Google-able; that's how I found it. But I will throw you a bone: http://xiaolongchakan.com/archives/967351.html

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  4. I recently bought a Sim-free Galaxy S4 with LTE-feature. Is Docomo (Xi) still the best choice for it?

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  5. That entirely depends on the hardware you have and which frequency bands it supports. I'd suggest looking up your particular model, and check whether the Softbank bands or the Docomo bands support it better.

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  6. Hi Sven , Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I have a question about the other way arround. I go to Japan every year twice. I was wondering if I can buy the new Sony xperia z1 in Japan so I can use it in Japan and in Europe. Do you think it will work? Are shops like bic camera selling the phones simlock free? ID wouldnt be a problem since my wife is japanese and can handle this

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  7. You can't buy phones SIM free in Japan. You will only be able to get the phone on contract, then get Docomo to unlock it for you for an extra fee. But as a non-resident, you won't be able to get a contract anyway... You would be much better off buying the phone SIM free in Europe.

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  8. Could you suggest any good plan from japanese operators ? I had an iphone 5 with softbank but the bill was expensive. Next year I plan to go with a nexus 5 and make a 2yr contract (I will stay for 2-3 yrs).

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  9. Hey, Sven. I am currently considering buying the nexus 5 to replace my iPhone 5 which is halfway through an unlimited data plan on softbank. Before making the switch, I want to make sure I have everything prepared so that nothing goes wrong. I would just like to know if all I have to do to use an unlocked nexus 5 purchased on the Japanese google play store is buy a nano to micro sim adapter, pop the converted sim into the nexus 5, and then on the nexus 5 enter the apn settings for the lte iPhone 5 on softbank. Is this really all I need to do, or are some other details that I am missing? I would really appreciate some help.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, that should be all you need to do.

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  10. Hi, I have found the APN settings for the LTE iPhone 5 on Softbank, but on the website it only lists 4 settings; does this mean I leave the rest of the settings blank? I'm kind of worried, so please help!

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    1. Yes, it is just the APN name (which you can set to anything you like), APN address (jpspir), username and password. Nothing else filled in.

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  11. Hi Sven

    I'm considering to buy a Nexus 5 phone from the Jap Google Play store and I would really like to know if I would get alot of problems trying to get a sim only contract? and where would you recommend me going? i'll probably only be using Line, so an (unlimited) data plan would be preferred.
    I have googled around for some hours, but there was'nt alot that made me that much wiser :( also.. i could only find emobile that sold the nexus 5, is there any reason that softbank, docomo or au does'nt sell it?
    Any help is appreciated, and thanks alot for your post aswell.

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    Replies
    1. There is not really any such thing as a SIM only contract on the major carriers. If you want a data-only SIM, check out B-Mobile; they resell the Docomo LTE network and you can get a SIM only contract from them.
      The reason why SBM, DCM and AU don't sell the Nexus 5 is kind of a long one, but to cut it very short the answer is politics. Don't expect to see a SIM-free, bloatware-free phone on any of these carriers any time soon. Also note that e-mobile doesn't carry the iPhone...

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    2. Thank you very much for your fast reply! I will probably try to get my mexican friend (who speaks japanese 10x better than me haha )with me to e-mobile and softbank. Last time I was at softbank though I remember i asked, or at least tried to ask them about using my phone just getting a sim, and he said it could be done, but not to a locked phone..(and that it might damage your phone LOL whaat) but the important thing is the LTC frequensies right, and both softbank and e-mobile should work with nexus 5 when getting an apropriate plan right?

      Thank you so much again for this thread and for taking the time to reply!

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    3. You can get a SIM only from Softbank, but you need to prove that the phone has passed Japanese certification (it should have a sticker, which I can't see on my N5); also they won't give you 4G LTE access.

      The best way would be either to go with Docomo and get a Xi SIM, B-Mobile and get a data SIM, or to just get the N5 direct from E-Mobile.

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  12. Hello Sven,

    I just bought Samsung Galaxy Note 3 on Yahoo auctions. It's an unlocked Docomo model. I tried to get it to work with my Softbank sim-card, only to find out that the Motorola Razr M cards are different from others, that they have a unique username and password.

    Anyways, I was thinking of doing the same as you: getting iPhone 5 to be able to use the Galaxy Note on Softbank network. Found the required 4 lines for APN-settings, but I was curious if MMS-messages work with just this? Were you able to get the Softbank Mail application work on your HTC One?

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    1. Continuing on the MMS... Using the settings for MMS proxy "smilemms...." and installing Go SMS Pro and inputting user agent data manually to "iPhoneOS..." This should work?

      Thanks in advance!

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  13. Hello sven,
    Is it possible to use note 3 from indonesia and use it in japan?
    And is it possible just to buy the sim card? Im planning to stay in japan for about four years or more.

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  14. Hi there! ive just bought my sim free Galaxy Note 3 from Korea. Did everything like posted above. Went to Softbank shop, got my Iphone5S, took the sim card out and inserted it with sim adaptor into Note3. Then followed thru all steps and LTE doesnt work. When I have LTE sign on after restating my phone, then no one can call me(goes to answering service), then if i make a call it goes to 3G (displays 3G on phone) and i can receive or make calls. That is happening if i set up APN for "jpspir" ,
    Also, i have try using APN "smile.world" then i can only use 3G connection and it is stable but slow. Any sugestions on how to get LTE softbank.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I tested my Softbank 5s Sim card with my MT6589 based Amoi N828 Chinese phone, and it automatically recognized smile.world APN. However the data won't work until it switched to HSPA mode.
      By the way I also tested a Docomo HW-01E and an SK Telecom Pantech A830s, both unlocked, the voice and SMS worked but the data isn't working no matter which APN I used.

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  15. It is normal to go to 3G when you make calls, there is no VoLTE yet. But it should go back to LTE after you finished the call. Check the APN settings in my last post to see if tweaking it helps:
    http://www.japandroid.info/2013/11/using-softbank-iphone-5-lte-sim-with.html

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  16. Anonymous, were you able to get this working, and if so have you called up to check your data bill? Im hoping to do the same with my note 3 and iphone 5s sim

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  17. Sven, your post mentions that this applies to.the 5s sim as well. Have you tried it yourself or do you know of.anyone who has done it successfully?

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  18. Yes, a friend of mine did. The 5s SIM and the 5 SIM are the same.
    Nice handle btw. I ride a Burton 156 (Fish)

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  19. Cheers for that, I just got the 5s and the sim is working fine in the Note3, except for MMS. Any idea how to get that working?

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    1. Hi, may I know which variant of Note 3 you are using? I got mine from Singapore and followed the steps above using my current iPhone 5 sim, but I just could not make it work using the (jpspir) APN. But if I use the smile.world APN, I got get data but only HSPA+, not LTE at 2-3Mbps.

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  20. Forget my question above....I made it work! it now connects to 4G! I removed the APN and started from scratch, and it started worked! Thanks for all the info here. So happy to get 30Mbps yesterday at Yurakucho.

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  21. Hey Sven,

    I will be in Japan for the next 6 months and currently own a HTC One that I bought in the Netherlands from T-Mobile. I would like to use my HTC One in Japan (because it's awesome), and am in need of a Japanese Sim card for it. I would get data only to use apps such as Line and whatsapp, but as I will be in Japan on internship, my work prefers if I also have a Japanese phone number. 6 months is quite short, which means that I wouldn't be able to get a longer contract as you did and I therefore opted to get the sumaho ( http://www.japanmobiletech.com/2013/11/b-mobile-free-data-sim-will-lower-cost.html ) sim from b-mobile. So all in all, my question is would this work? I really don't understand all this phone stuff so I'm sorry for the lack of correct terminology and jargon. If what I opted to do doesn't work, I would appreciate it if you could share any possible solutions you have with me.
    Thanks in advance!
    Chris

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  22. It is sim unlocked^^

    Chris

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  23. I own sony Xperia m. I would like to know weather this phone will work with softbank or docomo. I need a condact number only. That means mainly incoming calls and sms. I don't need a data plan. Can anybody suggest a way to get such a cheap connection in Japan.

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  24. Thanks for the great info. Have you a solution for the EMobile 4G Nexus 5 sims not working in unlocked phones. As detailed here http://bit.ly/1iKOK3e. You get voice but no data. Got an unlocked Docomo Note 3 and can't get data with the EMobile 4G sim. Tried all APN settings. Thanks

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  25. I have tried your steps on a docomo xi sony experia z with an iPhone 5s sim frm softbank, but not able got get 4G connection.
    If I set the same parameters as you mention the LTE does come.
    If I leave the bearer to unconfigured I can get h+ signal.
    Any idea if this phone has A limitation or require specific settings?

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    Replies
    1. -- If I set the same parameters as you mention the LTE does come.

      Sorry, I mean LTE does not come

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  26. Finaly made it work on docomo xperia z.
    Had to keep bearer to Unspecified and go out as was not having giod signal at home. Now having LTE all the time.

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  27. Hey quick question, I'm now days away from being able to buy my HTC One 801s Asia edition from Expansys which is 1800/2600 MHz. Above you mention that Softbank is 2100mhz but that due to them buying up eMobile you now have more bands but no mention of what these extra bands are? I'm slightly worried as the Expansys HTC One does not seem to have the 800mhz band, is is that not an issue?

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    Replies
    1. Hey did you able to setup soft bank moto razar 201m sim in unlock nexus 5

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  28. I mentioned that Softbank has the Emobile band, and as I said, the Emobile band is 1800MHz (even though emobile calls it 1700Mhz, it is Band III LTE). So you should be able to get limited LTE service in areas of Emobile coverage.

    800MHz band used in Japan is not the same as 800MHz band used in the rest of the world(as explained in the article), so it is not important to have.

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  29. Hello Sven , I need your help.... I a living in French Polynesia, and in fact , I bought an iPhone 5 blocked by Softbank Japan, from someone here. After updating to iOS 7.1, the phone is now unactivated ...
    I need for a micro-SIM Softbank (even non-operational ), or ask a factory unlock directly to Softbank. The point is that I do not read nor speak Japanese . I wonder if you could help me in this ?!
    I feel blocked me as I've checked online, and a part from scams , I found nothing simple and safe.
    I look forward to hearing from you. thanks in advance

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    Replies
    1. Hi Charles-Olivier

      I'm afraid you are out of luck. If the phone was blocked by Softbank, it means the person did not finish paying for the phone. Therefore the phone is still legally owned by Softbank.
      Softbank also do not unlock iPhones. Ever. So there is no way to get a unlock for a Softbank iPhone legally. There may be some jailbreak tool you can use, but I am not aware of it.
      If I were you I would try to get your money back from the person who sold it to you, because you have been cheated by him/her.

      Delete
  30. Hello Sven, I have a nexus 5 and an using an iPhone 5s Sim thru Softbank. I still can't get MMS to work. I have LTE working and an using the jpspir APN.
    Any idea how to fix MMS?

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  31. Hi Sven. Call me weird, but I am tired of no Windows Phone 8.1 offerings in Japan. So I am seriously thinking of buying a Nokia Lumia 1520 (http://www.nokia.com/us-en/phones/phone/lumia1520/), they can be found unloked in eBay.

    The phone is originally designed for AT&T, so the procedure you mentioned should work (I currently have an iPhone 5 from Softbank with a white/black microsim). My question goes is more about the necessary settings, since there is almost no mentions about a Windows Phone in forums in Japan.

    Any thoughts? Do you know anyone that have tried it? Thanks in advance!

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  32. Quick question - I am not currently using Softbank, and I bought a Samsung Galaxy Grand 2 dual sim (has HSDPA 3G 900 and 2100 MHz connectivitiy among others) and want to use it with a Softbank voice-only 2,700 yen flat data plan. Do you know if my Samsung will work with any Softbank micro SIM card carrying this plan? Also, are the micro SIM cards that Softbank sells different; for example, is the SIM card in the iphones that Softbank sells different from the SIM card in the AQUOS phones Softbank sells? When I go in to sign up for the plan, they will ask whether the phone is Japan-certified (it isn't). Therefore, it seems that my options are to borrow a Japan-certified phone from a friend and go in and show it to them at the Softbank shop when I go to get the SIM card, or buy the cheapest micro-SIM-carrying Softbank smartphone model with the 2,700 yen voice-only plan and then swap out the micro-SIM card to my Samsung.

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  33. I tried to set Softbank black sim to galaxy note 3 below APN but does not work. is this different APN?
    • Name:Open Softbank
    • APN: open.softbank.ne.jp
    • Proxy:
    • Port: 8080
    • Username:opensoftbank
    • Password:ebMNuX1FIHg9d3DA
    • Server:
    • MMSC:
    • MMS proxy:
    • MMS port:
    • MCC: 440
    • MNC: 20
    • APN type: defau

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