Japan’s Data and Voice SIM Providers Compared

Greg Lane
Japan sim cards
Photo by Karl Baron used under CC

Investigating Japan SIM cards? If you balk at the enormous monthly fees and hidden charges of the big mobile players like NTT DoCoMo, Softbank and AU, you might have contemplated going the “SIM-free” route—ditching your locked cellphone for an unlocked handset paired with a cheap MVNO SIM from one of the plethora of vendors that have seemingly popped up overnight.

Looking for the best combination of easy and cheap?: Sakura Mobile offers full multilingual support and flexible payment. They have voice+data plans from ¥2,980 + consumption tax/month, which include free talk time. Check their plans here.

The focus of this post is on longer-term SIM use in Japan. For an excellent intro to the whole mobile data scene, with an emphasis on Japan SIM cards for short-term stays, see our sister article Prepaid and Cheap Data Sim Card Options in Japan.

Introduction to MVNOs

If you’re among those who dwell on the dark side of a rock, MVNO stands for “Mobile Virtual Network Operator”, which means an operator that piggybacks on the network of one of the major players. For most, this means using NTT DoCoMo’s high-speed LTE network. In general, the offerings are so much cheaper than the cabal of three (sorry, but Y!Mobile is just Softbank in disguise, with even worse service), that for saving money you should just change right now.

The problem is that there are so many different offerings that it can be hard to choose. BIC SIM, Biglobe, DMM Mobile, IIJMIO, Mineo, Nifmo, Mobal, Rakuten Mobile, Nuro Mobile, U-Mobile and UQMobile are just some of the companies that we know of—there are possibly quite a few more.

The two basic SIM types

Although there are different SIM sizes (make sure you know if your phone takes a nano, micro or standard SIM before ordering anything), SIM plans are divided into two different categories—data only, or data + voice. Just because you get data only, it doesn’t mean you can’t text using SMS—all the providers have an option for this. However, without the voice option, you won’t be able to make or receive regular phone calls.

To save you the time of trawling through all the sites and all the fine print, we have prepared definitive comparison charts for data-only SIMs and data+voice. We even added sales tax, since every company conveniently leaves it out because well, it’s just so difficult to add 8% to everything right? Poor sneaky things.

Data + voice SIMs

Data + voice SIMs differ to data-only SIMs in that they have a minimum contract period and cancellation fees. Just like the data SIMs, they have a starting fee of approximately ¥3,240 (Sakura Mobile’s set-up is a little different). They all offer somewhere in the region of 40-47 yen/minute for voice calls and 3 yen for sending domestic SMS texts. Receiving texts (both domestic and international) is free.

All prices listed include 8% consumption tax.

Provider Data + Voice Plans
(Tax incl.)
Min. Contract Cancellation Free Contract Suspension English
Support
Link
Mobal 7GB: ¥6,000 (students & teachers ¥4,500)
Voice only (no data) ¥1,000
No contract ¥0 Pricing info
3GB ¥3,218
5GB ¥4,298
7GB ¥5,378
10GB ¥7,214
No contract ¥0 × Pricing info
3GB: ¥1,728
5GB: ¥2,160
10GB: ¥3,240
5 hours/day: ¥3,456
12 mths Remaining mths x ¥1,000 × × Pricing info
Biglobe 3GB: ¥1,728
6GB: ¥2,322
12GB: ¥3,672
12 mths ¥8,640 × × Pricing info
DMM Mobile 3GB: ¥1,620
5GB: ¥2,063
7GB: ¥2,765
10GB: ¥3,122
12 mths ¥9,720 × × Pricing info
IIJmio 3GB:¥1,728
6GB:¥2,398
10GB:¥3,521
12 mths Remaining mths x ¥1,080 × × Pricing info
Mineo 3GB:¥1,738
6GB:¥2,463
None None × × Pricing info
Nifmo 3GB: ¥1,890
7GB: ¥2,646
13GB: ¥3,942
6 mths ¥8,640 × × Pricing info
U-mobile 3GB: ¥1,707
5GB: ¥2,139
25GB (U-Mobile Max): ¥3,111
6 mths ¥6,480 × × Pricing info
UQmobile 2GB: ¥2,139
6GB: ¥3,218
14GB: ¥5,378
24 mths ¥10,260 × × Pricing info
Rakuten Mobile 3.1GB: ¥1,728
5GB: ¥2,322
10GB: ¥3,197
12 mths ¥10,584 × × Pricing info

Notes on above:

Mobal – Unlimited data, but throttled above 7GB. Domestic SMSes at ¥12 each. Call rates can be reduced to ¥29/minute if using 0063 prefix while calling. No resident card or visa requirements. Student and teacher(!) discounts available.
Sakura Mobile – Includes 30 to 60 minutes of free local/international calls (depending on the plan). Although there are no cancellation fees, there is an all-in-one ¥15,000 “activation” fee, discounted to ¥7,500 for Summer 2017. Flexible payment options. Student discounts.
Nuro Mobile – Formerly So-net (run by Sony).
Biglobe SIM – Also offers 20 and 30GB plans. Cashback discounts for Summer 2017.
DMM Mobile – Also offers plans of other sizes, and sharing is a possibility.
Mineo – Choice of DoCoMo or AU SIM, 1GB plan is speed restricted, voicemail included free. Might not be able to access the website from overseas.
NifMo – Also offer a mini 1.1GB plan.
U-mobile – Unlimited LTE plans are also available.
UQ mobile – Shorter contract periods are available, but data amounts go down and prices go up.
Rakuten Mobile – 20 and 30GB data plans are also available.

With some of these plans, it is possible to reduce call rates by using data-based apps. Although not explicitly stated above, many also allow data sharing with partners and family members.

Data-only SIMs

As above, there are certain things that all plans share. All have a “starting fee” (they have different names for this) of roughly ¥3,240. Unlike voice+data SIMs, data-only SIMs often have no set contract period or cancellation fees. Also note that for the additional feature of SMS, you will pay a monthly fee (upwards of 162 yen a month), plus 3 yen per domestic message sent. Receiving SMS messages is free.

In terms of data volume, we decided to skip the 1GB level. While you might be able to get it to work, for a whole month we find it’s a tough limit. If you are after a 1GB plan, the cheapest we found was DMM mobile at ¥519, followed by NifMo at ¥692 (a 1.1GB card), U-mobile at ¥853 and Mineo at ¥864.

All prices listed include 8% consumption tax.

Provider Data Plans (Tax incl.) English
Support
Monthly SMS Fee Link
3GB ¥2,138
5GB ¥3,218
7GB ¥4,298
10GB ¥6,134
¥0 Pricing info
3GB: ¥972
5GB: ¥1,188
10GB: ¥2,484
× ¥162 Pricing info
Biglobe 3GB: ¥972
6GB: ¥1,566
12GB: ¥2,916
× ¥130 Pricing info
DMM Mobile 3GB: ¥918
5GB: ¥1,307
7GB: ¥2,009
10GB: ¥2,365
× Pricing info
IIJmioIIJmio 3GB: ¥972
6GB: ¥1,642
10GB: ¥2,765
× ¥151 Pricing info
Mineo 3GB: ¥972
6GB: ¥1,707
× Pricing info
Nifmo 3GB: ¥972
7GB: ¥1,728
13GB: ¥3,024
× ¥162 Pricing info
U-mobile 5GB: ¥1,599
25GB: ¥2,570
× ¥162 Pricing info
UQmobile 3GB: ¥1,059
Unlimited data: ¥2,139
× Free Pricing info
Rakuten Mobile
3.1GB: ¥972
5GB: ¥1,566
10GB: ¥2,441
× ¥130 Pricing info

Notes on above:

Sakura Mobile – Activation fee ¥5,400. Unused data accrued to following month. Flexible payment options available.
DMM mobile – It may be possible to carry over unused data.
Mineo – Choice of DoCoMo or AU SIM. Website may not be accessible from overseas.
U-mobile – Reasonable, unlimited LTE plans are also available.
UQMobile¥2,139 plan restricted to 500Kbs speed (slow).
Rakuten Mobile – Unused data can be added to the following month. 20 and 30GB data plans are also available.

With some of these providers, it is possible to split one data plan among multiple SIM cards—this is great for families/couples. Ask when applying.

Payment options

One of the most frequently-asked questions is how to pay for a voice+data or data-only SIM contract in Japan. All of the providers accept Japanese credit cards, but unfortunately, some do not accept international credit cards. Both Mobal and Sakura Mobile are okay with international cards, with Sakura Mobile in particular offering flexible payment options such as paying by cash or credit card at convenience stores. For all the others, just ask at sign-up.

Japan SIM cards: In summary

As you can see from the above, there is lots of fine print with each of these Japanese SIM card plans. Things to look out for are daily maximum usage limits, connectivity speeds, payment methods (as noted, all accept Japanese credit card, some also accept direct debit from Japanese bank accounts) and age restrictions (some are restricted to 20 or over, while others are fine as long as you have a credit card).

If you’re looking for a good cheap handset, Kakaku.com is useful for a price comparison. If you’re trying to get a handset that’s not available in Japan, a good place to look is Expansys. The author of this post picked up a 3rd Gen Motorola Moto G from Expansys for ¥27,000, including postage and import duties.

More options for mobile internet connections in Tokyo

Watch our short YouTube video on getting hooked up with wifi in Japan:

This article was originally posted on December 2, 2015. Last update July 25, 2017.


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55 Responses to “Japan’s Data and Voice SIM Providers Compared”

  1. I’m using Docomo’s OCN 4G service for about 2,000 yen a month (voice/data). It is about 1/4 what I used to pay on a major carrier plan.

    • CheapoGreg

      I forgot about OCN. I think they’re under the NTT umbrella but they’re not part of DoCoMo. With the exception of Mineo, they all use the DoCoMo network though – so there’s a DoCoMo logo on the SIM.

    • Bluecider

      Are you on a contact with Docomo? Or is it like these other SIM card companies? Cause, you know you’ll lose out on data speeds over preferred contracted customers with Docomo.

      For me it matters quite a bit cause I have a tablet. So Rakuten Mobile SIM has a few plans for Data, like 5GB a month and throttle after 1GB(within 3 days), 10GB a month and throttle after 1.7GB(within 3 days). HOWEVER, the data speeds I’m getting with this isn’t so hot… So I suspect there’s further throttling going on somewhere, as all these SIM companies put in disclaimers saying they don’t guarantee the fastest speeds, even if device has the ability.

      Will be going with a new ‘unlocked’ handset next year and will try BIC SIM and do a side by side comparison with my Tablet (on Rakuten Mobile SIM) and my contracted Docomo Phone.

      • The contract is with OCN and they lease capacity from Docomo. Their pricing plans are multi-tiered depending on your usage (can switch tiers month to month). If you go over your daily allotment, the speed is throttled down to 200kbps. Unused bandwidth rolls over from day to day. Some of these SIM providers have too many users for their leased bandwidth and access is sluggish. I did a lot of research before switching and Japanese users rated OCN and IIJmio as the best services. So far OCN has been good and I’m happy with the 4G speeds.
        http://service.ocn.ne.jp/english/mobile/one/

        • Bluecider

          Thanks. Yeah. The daily limits of OCN wouldn’t work for me with my Tablet, considering lots of browsing and youtube watching.

          • Their pricing tiers go from 110MB/day to 15 GB/month. That’s a lot of web surfing.

          • Bluecider

            15GB is a lot, but if speeds are throttled at a low daily(or 3 day period) quota, it doesn’t really do me any good.

          • hows are the data speeds for streaming (spotify) or are the speeds only fast enough for messaging apps and simple browsing?

          • CheapoGreg

            Hard to say – it all seems to depend on the MVNO. The U-Mobile SIM I got has been a little disappointing – but I may have made a mistake with the compatibility of the handset I bought. Using the Ookla Speedtest app, I get 1.2Mbps download and 12.35Mbps upload. Weird how the upload speed is so much faster which lends me to believe it might be a handset issue.

          • Thanks for the insight, as long as I can browse occasional videos that’s fine with me. I recently purchased a Nexus 6P directly from Google so I will be using that with a new plan with an MVNO, most likely OCN and IIJmio according to the feedback from everyone.
            Also Spotify does work via a VPN. Actually I’ve noticed the ads that play have now been replaced from US to Japanese. Maybe indication Spotify plan to enter the market soon.

          • They provide 4G speeds, I haven’t tried spotify but youtube and other videos are fine.

          • Bluecider

            This will all depend on a few things. Firstly, if you’re going with an MVNO, you won’t get priority for network use(regarding speed, etc), as if you were actually signed up and a Docomo customer(for example). SO during peak times, your speed could become quite slow.
            Also, if your handset isn’t CAT6 and doesn’t support enough bands on the network, then you wouldn’t be able to benefit from any possible Carrier Aggregation. (this is a tech that allows phones, that are capable, to use multiple bands at the same time to achieve faster speeds). I haven’t found anything CLEAR about if being on an MVNO would prevent using this tech or not. It’d be interesting to see, because some of these MVNO’s are advertising up to 225Mbps potential speeds, but that’s only possible with Carrier Aggregation, and in certain areas of the metropolis (like Tokyo).
            Considering you’re not going to get priority on network speed in anycase, I wonder how they can make this claim. Not that I’ve ever seen any tests with my friends on CAT 6 phones getting anywhere near such speeds. At most about 70Mbps down.

          • Bluecider

            Is Spotify in Japan yet? Last I heard they’re still working on it.
            If not, you’ll likely get blocked from streaming that service (From the U.S. or something. Spotify may prevent access due to your physical location in a market that doesn’t yet support it). Though you may be able to circumvent that with an unblocking service.

  2. can I use a non-japanese credit card to sign up on DMM’s service?

    • CheapoGreg

      I’ve never used DMM’s credit card processing before (after researching this I bought a U-Mobile SIM) but most payment gateways in Japan are getting better at dealing with international cards. You probably just need to try it. Also, you should be aware that you need some form of Japanese ID. For most non-Japanese this would be either a Resident’s Card or a Driving License.

  3. A question about the above, which I reckon is on the important side; while you cannot place/receive calls using the ‘normal phone functions’ with a data-only SIM, you would still be able to make use of a service like Skype to phone to cellphones or even receive calls (if you can get a number allocated).

    Do any of the service providers mentioned have restrictions regarding VOIP-usage on their data-only SIM plans? In South Africa, as example, if you use your data for VOIP purposes on at least one of our carriers they will promptly terminate your contract/SIM and charge you retroactively at a grossly-inflated rate for any data they determine you used for the purpose.

    • CheapoGreg

      Theo, That’s a good question. I know that at least one of the B-Mobile tourist SIMs blocks VOIP, but I’m not aware that any of the above providers do. I tried to examine the fine print as much as I could for each of the plans but didn’t see anything that mentioned this. There’s all sorts of extra fine print that pops up when you actually agree to the service though, so i guess you need to check that.
      I found an article in Japanese in which the writer is recommending a Data SIM with VOIP, it’s not clear if they’ve actually tested it though so I’d take it with a grain of salt. http://simchange.jp/ip-phone-mvno/

  4. Bluecider

    If you’re in to using Data more than Voice(as apps like Skype, LINE, Viber), and especially if you’re into using with your tablet for video, like Youtube, etc. You’ll want to be aware of this:
    Most of these SIM companies will throttle your data speeds down to about 200kbps after you go over 366MB data use within 3 days.
    If your device doesn’t support all the bands (Shuhasu) of the underlying network (Like Docomo or Softbank), then you’ll won’t get very fast speeds. Make sure your device can support (I’d say) at least 2 of the bands)
    Next is, since you’re not a primary customer of the network provider (i.e. you’re not a contracted customer with Docomo), you won’t get preferential data speeds. (during peak times etc, you’ll definitely notice a difference).
    My contracted Docomo phone vs. my other device using one of these SIM providers on the same network has proven that to me.

    If you’re just visiting Japan, most of the above won’t really matter.
    However, make darn sure your device supports the bands that the network provider uses in Japan.
    BIC SIM and RAKUTEN MOBILE use the Docomo network, for example.

    • CheapoGreg

      Thanks for sharing your experience. A lot of them have daily usage limits and I’ve tried to shine a light on as much of the fine print as possible. AFAIK, they all use the Docomo network while Mineo is the only one to also give an AU SIM option.

  5. Sophie Wright

    what kind of service would you get outside of tokyo? ie, i’m working in nagano over the ski season, and i was wondering if i would get better wifi/internet access using one of the sim cards

  6. can you suggest any telco for tourist to use in short period like a week or month only?

  7. mbjerggaard

    First of all, great blog! As someone who recently moved to Tokyo and are living on a limited budget, awesome! Second, do you happen to have any recommendations for sims on Softbanks network? My phone works best on their network and as far as i can tell all of the ones listed are on Docomo with some exceptions.

    • CheapoGreg

      The only service that I know of that runs on or with SoftBank is Y!Mobile. I hate that company with a passion though so I could never recommend them! I was a few days late with cancelling my 2 year contract so the contract was automatically renewed – so I had to pay a 12,000yen penalty to get out of it. Technically my fault for not closely observing the fine print but totally anti-consumer (as are most mobile providers).

      • mbjerggaard

        Ahh i see. I might just give it a try with docomo’s network then. Thank You!

        • Bluecider

          Yeah, Docomo will do the same as Softbank. Docomo will automatically renew your 2 year contract for another 2 years if you don’t do anything about it. Then they’ll stick you with about 1man yen fee to cancel out of it, and then hit you another 2000 to MNP your number over.
          U.S. carriers, I think, will convert you to a monthly no annual contract deal once your initial contract is satisfied.
          I told the Docomo staff that, they’re not making it any more appealing for me to ever come back to them in the future. Not that they care, but I wouldn’t shed a tear if they go belly up or get outpaced by a more innovative google-type provider. Would serve these carriers right for shafting us.

  8. Mineo have now released a 10GB plan. Data only is 2520円 (I assume 2721円 with tax)

    • I went for a router + yamada (powered by umobile) sim from Labi in Shinjuku. The router cost 19000 yen and included sim for free, rather than normal 3000 yen setup fee. I set sim to unlimited package.

      Speeds have been disappointing. Often 0.1mbps and at best maybe 1 mbps.

      I might consider switching to UQMobile’s unlimited package. It is only 0.5mbps. But if that is realiable then I might actually be better off. 0.1 is painfully slow.

      I think this post should make a strong point about disappointing speeds of these Sims. From further research lots of these Sims suffer similar problems. Might not be great cheapo options if they don’t work well.

      • Worth noting my current Airbnb gave me a UQ WImax router. That has been giving me 5 to 20 mbps. But I have no idea what the cost is

  9. Might also be worth mentioning that some providers offer ‘share’ plans. Where multiple sims can share the same data allowance. I know DMM do. I think BicCamera also do on their 10GB plan.

  10. Ardhi Adhary Arbain

    Thank you for the article. Do you know which providers who accept cash/bank account ? I don’t have credit card, and most of the providers only accept credit card for payment.

    • CheapoGreg

      Hi there, I would try the ones where you can buy it in person – like Bic Camera and Tsutaya (Tone). I know that Tone offers automatic payment from your bank account.

      • Nobody Special

        Tone wouldn’t sell me a SIM; it requires that you buy their cell. Not a bad price on their cell, but I’d save more in going with one of the providers that sell straight-up SIMs.

        • CheapoGreg

          Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, there’s often a catch with the super cheap deals.

  11. khanzahir

    Hi – Any idea about which one provides LTE stable and fast?

    • CheapoGreg

      Almost all of them are “LTE best effort” which means the big carriers – Docomo/AU/SoftBank etc. give priority for their own customers on their own networks. The GTN Mobile premium plan offers guaranteed high data speeds but it’s a bit more expensive than the others.

      • Thanks for the great write up.

        I am currently on an LTE plan with Rakuten Mobile which utilizes the Docomo network. Extremely slow and spotty. I live in Tokyo. I could be an outlier case, but I wouldn’t recommend it. perhaps a victim of the “LTE best effort”. I am nearing end of my contract and am looking for something better.

        • CheapoGreg

          Thanks for the feedback. What are the issues you’re having with Rakuten Mobile? I’m on U-Mobile and I find that the speed is OK but the latency is spotty. So Netflix streams really well but a lot of stuff takes a while to load. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is a network issue and what is an app issue. The new GTN plan mentioned in the article piggybacks on the Y!Mobile/Softbank network so they tell us it has regular carrier speeds rather than MVNO speeds. (Disclosure: They’re currently advertising with us)

          • I’m having both latency and speed issues. Interestingly prior to Rakuten I was using a data only prepaid LTE sim from iijmio. That was lightning fast and low latency. It’s expensive though since it’s prepaid. I’d I knew the postpaid plan above from iijmio had same performance as prepaid I would do it. Good to know about GTN – kinda pricy though. 7 month contract is encouraging though.

  12. George McFly

    Your post has helped me tremendously as I have transitioned to Japan. All should be advised that you need residency status in order to get the voice SIM option (data and data+SMS option does not require residency). Also, the BIGLOBE pricing has gone up and is slightly higher than what you have posted, but overall you have provided a great resource!

    • CheapoGreg

      Thanks for the comment! I’ll check the Biglobe prices and update.

    • CheapoGreg

      Just checked the BIGLOBE pricing – it hasn’t changed. Perhaps you added some options?

  13. Any experience with pre-paid data SIMS on AMZN from Yokoso / ReadySIM?

  14. Diego Garcia

    Anyone experience with FREETEL? I bought their sim free phones for the past 2 years. Pretty good. They also offer sim free cards.

  15. Luciano V. Dutra

    Great article and very helpful! Just a heads-up, I just signed up with big globe and they do accept bank transfers as means of payment, as long as you sign for the data only sim. You’ll need a credit card for the voice plan. Hope this helps someone as I had to comb tru the net till I found this info.

  16. Obi Hörnchen

    Do you have to pay cancellation fee even if cancellation is after min contract time? (umobile)

  17. Mary Penaloza

    I just purchased a bic sim with the 3gb per month. I will need to cancel it when I go back home after my study program is finished. How do I cancel the contract?

  18. Tested BIC SIM, which are OCN and IIJ MIO, at BIC Camera. Both were damn slow. The SIM cards came from Docomo. One via OCN and the other IIJ. Both were tested using Speedtest app by Ookla, and compared against a WiMax portable accesspoint. The WiMax tested on average at 5Mps up and down, using various servers in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. OCN and IIJ SIMs, under the BIC SIM label, tested at 500Kps. It was terrible.

    Also Rakuten appears to have some severe restrictions. They seem to work only with LTE and no 3G. They also appear to up sale people, by suggesting you buy a new phone for just a data SIM or will only let you sign up if your phone was bought in Japan. Beware of the sales people in the Rakuten Cafe. If you have a friend with a Japanese phone, you will need to use that to sign up with Rakuten.

    Another thing about Rakuten, is they have data download limits. If you exceed 1.7GB in 3 days, on the 10GB plan, they will punish you for 1 day with a 200Kps restriction.

  19. Im using AEON mobile and it’s great.

  20. Hi guys! You forgot “Min. Contract” column on data-only plans (wanted to see TONE but it looks like they only have only one plan for voice+data and the 24 months min contract doesn’t really appeal me)
    edit: and it looks like they force you to buy a phone from them

  21. Hi, Any idea whether any of these sim cards will work in iPhone6 locked to NTT DOCOMO?

  22. I got a SIMfree iPad mini at Apple Store.
    Yodobashi put in a NTT 4G SIM, 3GB of data per month. It is 1,000 yen per month.
    As long as you don’t stream video, it should be enough. I don’t use even a third of the data per month. I use Skype to make calls and have a Skype-In number to receive calls.
    Netflix allows downloading, so download over wifi at home, and you won’t need so much cellular data.


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