back to article Japan tells operators: Put a SIM lock in a new mobe? You'd better unlock it for free

From May next year, all mobile phones sold in Japan will either arrive unlocked or be able to be unlocked. An edict from Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has stipulated that the mobile phone operators will have to unlock phones free of charge if the customer requests it. This is aimed at making the …

  1. John Tserkezis

    Yah!

    The locking of handsets is unrelated to contracts. The carrier goes to great lengths to make sure you're going to pay whatever is outlined in the contract, should you choose to stay the distance, or leave early.

    The locking is icing on the cake for them, a form of "if we can't rort you, we'll make sure no-one else can either".

    1. Marcus Aurelius
      Go

      Re: Yah!

      PAYG providers give you locked phones at a significant discount to unlocked versions (often £20-40). Thanks to the wonders of eBay, mobile phone shops and those nice chappies on a market stall, you can get an unlocked phone to use on Giffgaff or a similar MVNO quite easily for anything from £1-10 depending on who you ask.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Yah!

        If you're in a contract with a locked phone, unlocking doesn't remove the contract obligations.

        What _really_ hoses me off is outfits charging £20 to unlock, or simply just taking forever to do it - to the point that they _never_ unlock.

    2. Number6

      Re: Yah!

      A phone tied to a contract is not unreasonable if there's a subsidy to recoup, but when the two years (or whatever) is up, the lock should be removed automatically and for no charge. At that point the phone is paid for and the owner should be free to move it to any network.

      1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

        Re: Yah! @No 6

        In addition to what is said above; if I enter into a contract with, say Vodafone, how does locking a phone to Vodafone stop me from selling the phone to someone else who wants to use it on Vodafone?

        And if they insist on locking the phone to protect the contract, they won't chase after someone who stops paying?

        The contract protects the contract full stop. Locking the phone is just to spite you if you want to go elsewhere.

  2. Marcelo Rodrigues

    It will not make much difference. Here, in Brazil, we already have this law. I believe about 3 years already.

    But they get You by the contract, not by the mobile. Use it, burn it, toss it in the ocean... It's all the same to the carrier. You will pay what was accorded.

    1. Rodrigo Valenzuela

      Same here

      Same here in Chile.

      If you want it unlocked, OK, no problem.

      But you will pay.

      R

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Same here

        So you can't get a $600 iPhone for free on a 3year contract, unlock it and immediately cancel the contract and sell the phone on ebay?

        Damn - I had a whole business model based on that.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Same here

          Be prepared to pay likely $700+ in Early Termination Fees if you try that move. Even if you try to weasel out with an early-out clause, all of them stipulate you turn in the phone as a condition of using that early-out clause. Even T-Mobile isn't stupid. If you cancel one of their un-plans, they bill you for the balance of the phone you were paying in installments.

          1. Tom 38 Silver badge
            WTF?

            Re: Same here

            Be prepared to pay likely $700+ in Early Termination Fees if you try that move. Even if you try to weasel out with an early-out clause, all of them stipulate you turn in the phone as a condition of using that early-out clause. Even T-Mobile isn't stupid. If you cancel one of their un-plans, they bill you for the balance of the phone you were paying in installments.

            Gee, thanks for clarifying that! I thought, like everyone else, that if you cancelled your subsidized phone contract that you just got to fuck over the phone company. Who would have thought that they could use legal means to try and get you to pay for the goods you have received.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge
              WTF?

              Re: Same here

              Unless, of course, you just vanished and the identity you used was faked/stolen. Who would know where to track you down...?

              PS. It may help in future to employ the "Joke Alert" icon or some kind of Sarcasm Mode indicator. Text just doesn't lend itself well to sarcasm clues.

          2. Number6

            Re: Same here

            Even T-Mobile isn't stupid. If you cancel one of their un-plans, they bill you for the balance of the phone you were paying in installments.

            T-Mobile separate out the monthly service payments from the phone payments. You're free to cancel service but that is, as you say, grounds to demand the balance on the phone. Not sure if they'd just let you give the phone back instead or not.

      2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Same here

        France requires that operators supply an unlock code free after 6 months, but as other posters have noted that doesn't cancel any 12- or 24-month contact you may have.

        The big advantage that I've seen is that when you travel you can then pop in a local SIM for cheaper calls. If more phones accepted two SIMs even that wouldn't be necessary.

  3. Fuzz

    we need free unlocking in the UK too

    A lot of the teclos will already unlock your phone for free at the end of your contract but some (EE) will charge you around £25 to cover the cost of their "admin".

    This admin fee is charged to make you think twice about leaving, you can get a better deal that saves you a couple of quid a month but it will cost you a years savings so that you can use your own phone that you paid for how you want.

    Ideally we need to ban locking of phones completely, it's fine that your contract subsidises your phone but that doesn't need your phone to be locked you signed the contract so you have to pay it regardless of whether or not you unlock the phone.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: we need free unlocking in the UK too

      Indeed I've gotten rid of phones before the contract was up, having them locked is a pain.

      As long as you keep paying the contract I can't see why it makes a blind bit of difference to the network what you do with the original phone that they supplied

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: we need free unlocking in the UK too

      Its actually worse than this in the UK. A friend just sold me his iPhone 5s. He brought it new, unlocked from Carphone Warehouse last year. For the hard of understanding this means no contract. The first usage of it on the Vodafone network locked his new unlocked iPhone to Vodafone even though its his phone. When he sold it to me, he had to pay £20 to the crooks and charlatans at Vodafone to get his personal phone unlocked from Vodafone.

      Vodafone - Always bringing new ways to fuck the customer over.

      1. Richard Jones 1
        Black Helicopters

        Re: we need free unlocking in the UK too

        I understand you can blame the lovely folks at apple for that snafu. I was told that it was designed in by apple to lock you by something less than upfront honesty.

        It did not apply to other makers as I had a number of unlocked phones that I readily swapped about from network to network as I needed, but they were not so called smart phones.

        Black helicopter for the extended reach of dodgy dealing.

      2. Spanners Silver badge

        Re: we need free unlocking in the UK too

        It sounds like an Apple thing.

        I bought an Android (Nexus 5) directly from Google, stuck in a Vodafone SIM and it's still unlocked a year later.

        1. chr0m4t1c

          Re: we need free unlocking in the UK too

          >It sounds like an Apple thing

          Yeah, but it looks like it was CPW that messed up. Apple ships all phones unlocked, but some of them are pre-registered to be network locked as they're supposed to be sold under contract.

          They're not locked to a specific network until you put a SIM in them, at which point the locking is triggered and they are tied to the network of that SIM.

          CPW should either have not sold him that particular handset, or informed Apple (normally that's just done through the POS system) that the handset had been sold as SIM-free, he should probably take it up with CPW.

      3. Number6

        Re: we need free unlocking in the UK too

        When he sold it to me, he had to pay £20 to the crooks and charlatans at Vodafone to get his personal phone unlocked from Vodafone.

        I think I'd have filed an official complaint - they're holding your property to ransom. At the very least a small claims court attempt is going to cost them much more than £20 to defend.

  4. Matthew 3

    "...hard to wean off of it." Seriously? "off of"?

    *sigh*

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: "...hard to wean off of it." Seriously? "off of"?

      Yes, seriously.

  5. JimWin
    Coat

    No locking on PAYG

    Living in a rural area with an unreliable connection, a contract makes no sense so it's PAYG. It also has the advantage that the carrier/phone supplier, couldn't care 2 hoots as there's no point in locking.

  6. Barrie Shepherd

    We need to ban handset subsidising

    It's hi time handset subsidies were outlawed.

    All they do is create drawers full of perfectly good handsets and a waste of world resources and increased usage costs for all. The 1/2 year contract imprints the need for a new phone to users who would, if they had to pay the going rate for a handset, think twice about such a regular "upgrade".

    Handsets subsidies were fine to kick start the industry when handset costs were high, All they do now is force operators to keep usage costs high, to offset the subsidy to "new" handset owners at the expense of those happy to retain their older handset.

    Why should I pay the same usage costs as someone who has just got a new subsidised handset? If operators want to subsidise handsets then they should also be forced to offer SIM only service at appropriately reduced usage costs.

    1. therebel

      Re: We need to ban handset subsidising

      To be fair this is what O2 have done with their Refresh. You pay a fee for the tariff each month and a fee for the phone which is basically an interest free loan to cover the cost. At the end of the term the handset cost is paid back so that element stops and the user just pays the tariff part.

    2. durandal

      Re: We need to ban handset subsidising

      They've not really subsidised phones for a while now. All your two year contract is doing is providing a phone on credit at a bit of a discount to buying it unlocked on a credit card.

    3. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: We need to ban handset subsidising

      Surely if you have a perfectly good handset in your drawer, there will be a poor relative who is willing to pay good money for it. Or take it off your hands for free.

  7. Big-nosed Pengie
    Headmaster

    "Free" means, in this context, "at no cost", "for nothing". Putting "for" in front of it is a grammatical abomination.

    You're welcome.

  8. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Easy workaround

    Japanese carriers only need to "customize" the phone like US carriers so that they can not work with other phone providers. Surely Soft Bank can pick up this trick from Sprint.

    1. John Bailey

      Re: Easy workaround

      "Japanese carriers only need to "customize" the phone like US carriers so that they can not work with other phone providers. Surely Soft Bank can pick up this trick from Sprint."

      At which point, Japanese consumer law kicks in and tells them to un"customise" it.. And probably slaps them with a hefty fine.

      12 year olds arguing to stay up a few more minutes on a school night sneer derisively at your strategy.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy workaround

      >Japanese carriers only need to "customize" the phone like US carriers

      Carriers already customize Samsung etc phones with their own Android stores and specific short mail service etc. There is SMS but most carriers have their own systems that need their own apps.

      I'm not sure how far this sim unlock goes. You can already buy Unlocked ShiroROM phones here but I don't think you can pop in a major carriers sim and use it. You have to go the operators shop and them convince them the phone is legally yours and ask them to enable it to connect to their network. I don't remember exactly but I'm pretty sure I couldn't put my AU sim in my wife's AU phone.

      The sim only operators are usually a data plan over one of the major carriers network and then you pay extra for a VoIP service.

  9. Shannon Jacobs
    Holmes

    Breaking the 7 GB limit counts more

    I'm still not sure why SIM-locking matters, but I got a free smartphone from NTT Docomo for about 800 yen/month over the two-year contract. I actually felt kind of bad about it, even though I didn't make any of the rules. It is quite likely that my loophole is somehow related to regulation by the Japanese government, but it still feels like a violation of the Golden Rule. In the Kantian canonical form, if everyone did it this way, then the system would obviously not work. Yes, I had to agree to a two-year contract that would have cost much more, but NTT's own rules allow you to call up the next day and cancel everything except for the basic phone service. There was a nominal one-month penalty charge, but what actually hurt in a financial sense was that NTT had recently canceled most of their incentives for changing from another carrier.

    The problem I faced was the 7 GB limitation. I don't need the big speeds of LTE, but I want lots of data. I was actually quite satisfied with unlimited data under 3G, but that was offered via a different company. However after Softbank acquired that company (for their bandwidth), they basically rendered that option unusable. After a lot of rather tedious research, I settled on the solution of a NTT phone without ANY data plan, and WiMax for the unlimited data (and excessive speed). The 7 GB thing is apparently NTT's policy to push people to buy fiber for their homes, and I absolutely don't need a fiber at home. However, I used 50 GB of data last month, and 7 GB still looks like a joke to me.

    I want to make a prediction that things will get better, but then you have to ask why? NTT certainly isn't threatened by the competitors, though I'm unsure why. Perhaps KDDI and Softbank have been threatened with total war if they dare to offer unlimited wireless data?

    (By the way, KDDI might have a similar loophole, but the basic cost is more like 1,000 yen/month. I nearly went that way, but the NTT salesman at Bic Camera was slicker.)

  10. Frederick Tennant

    O2 unlocks your phone for free

    I saw an article hear (The Register) some years back that said customers who are with O2 can have your phone unlocked free So since then I have unlocked my iPhone 3GS, 4S, and soon I will be doing my 5S too, also you have two tariffs with O2 one for the phone and one for your contract so when you have finished paying for your phone you just pay for the tariff Score! in the UK.

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