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Friday, July 16, 2010


Cell phone service option

On June 30 the communications ministry issued a guideline calling on cell phone operators to remove carrier-specific locks, or SIM locks, so that customers can change from one cell phone operator's services to another's without having to buy a new phone.

In accordance with this guideline, NTT DoCoMo announced on July 6 that it will not install SIM locks on its cell phones in and after April 2011. But it is unclear whether other cell phone operators will follow suit because the ministry's guideline is not mandatory.

At present, if one signs a contract with a cell phone operator, it is impossible to use services of another cell phone operator unless one buys a new cell phone from the other operator. In Europe and North America, in many cases, customers can use another operator's services through simple manipulation of the phone after some time lapses. The guideline pushes Japan's situation a bit closer to that found in those regions.

But even if SIM locks are removed from current third-generation cell phones, the scope of new services that will become available will be limited. Theoretically, if Softbank removes SIM locks, customers will be able to change from NTT DoCoMo's services to Softbank's services or vice versa. But Softbank is not enthusiastic. Even if SIM locks are removed, continued use of services specific to cell phone operators such as i-mode will become impossible.

If SIM locks are removed from cell phones of KDDI (au), customers will not be able to change to NTT DoCoMo's or Softbank's services because the transmission systems are different.

Still, cell phone operators should remove SIM locks to increase the freedom of choice among customers. Such a move will be reasonable because it is likely that the transmission systems for the coming new generation cell phones will be integrated. In principle, operators should remove SIM locks from all cell phones. Their removal will also help change the current system in which telecoms not only provide cell phone services but also sell handsets.

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