The US Mobile industry may be as competitive as any other, but one wouldn’t know it based on the monthly bill. Japan, on the other hand, is seems to be on the brink of mobile technology, and is always trying to find ways to incorporate more data at a lower rate.
Let’s have a look at data rates and usage fees for cell phones in both the US and in Japan:
First, a look at AT&T, the Official iPhone Carrier:
Carrier plans in the United States are often sold in tiers. For instance, AT&T offers their basic Nationwide plans at 450 minutes for $39.99, 900 minutes for $59.99 and unlimited minutes for $69.99. However, data usage is another story.
If one goes for the data pay-per-use they are looking at a whopping $2 per MB–better hope you have wifi around the house.
DataPlus 200 MB for iPhone, BlackBerry and “Smartphone” are each $15 a month. Data would include browsing, checking email, etc. It can add up fast without a paid plan.
Then, there is DataPro 2GB which is also available for all the smartphones. This is $25 a month.
As you may have noticed, both of these are in-line with the cost of data on an iPad. Only that the iPad does not require a carrier subscription.
Now, if you want tethering, 2GB of data will run you $45 under AT&T’s monthly plan. Tethering is an awesome feature, but perhaps not everyone out there needs it, at least not at $45 a month.
This means that if you go with unlimited minutes and choose to go with what AT&T would likely be considered the high-end data plan (while leaving out tethering) it can add up to about $95 a month. Texting is another $5 for Messaging 200, $15 for Messaging 1500 and $20 for their unlimited Messaging plan. Many of us probably won’t go over 1500, unless we are SMS maniacs. That brings our estimated monthly bill to $110. We have unlimited talk minutes, the top data plan and 1500 text messages at our displosal each month. If you opt for unlimited texting it’s bringing your estimated bill up to $115 per month. Of course this is all before tax, which unfortunately is probably out of AT&T’s control.
This is not an end-all be-all number, this is just based on the information available on AT&T’s website, and the numbers they provide.
Many can say what they will about Sprint, but when it comes down to it, they seem fairly straightforward in their approach. Their “Simply Everything” plan is well-put. It’s just all the features most of us ask for in one package for $99 a month. Their claim is as follows:
Everything you phone, PDA or smartphone can do nationwide – unlimited text, surf, email, listen, watch, find and of course, talk – on one simple plan.
While still pricey, it’s nice to not feel like you are being nickel and dimed each of the features. Keep in mind, they don’t seem to claim any kind of data cap, like the one AT&T enforces. Again, this is based on the numbers they provide on their website. We welcome comments where users share their experiences with the service and their pricing.
Verizon offers unlimited talk and text at $89.99. This, as it sounds gives you unlimited text and phone service. Data is $1.99 an MB, and rounded up to the next megabyte, but most will probably go for an unlimited data plan, which will cost $29.99.
That makes for a grand total of $119.98. Keep in mind that though it costs more than the other two, and costs a bit more than AT&T, they claim this:
Access personal email via Mobile Email, included at no additional charge, as well as access to the Internet. Have the peace of mind that comes with no overage charges.
How About T-Mobile?
T-Mobile offers a plan at $99.99 per month, which sounds just like Sprint’s pricing for the “Simply Everything” plan.
The important things are in there again: Unlimited nationwide calling, messages (text, picture, etc) and unlimited web access. Again, this plan doesn’t seem to place a cap on usage.
So here are the stats for those who want everything plans:
AT&T – $115 per month (2GB Maximum Data)
Sprint – $99 per month
Verizon – $119 per month
T-Mobile – $99 per month
(We are assuming users are going for a common 2-year contract, and these numbers are based on individual plans rather than family plans, etc.)
Japan always seems a little ahead of us when it comes to broadband rates. Even in early 2009, we were hearing about Japan hitting 160mbps broadband with J:Com at $20 a month. How about cellular rates?
Overall, based on information we’ve found, it seems as if minutes are practically given away (Softbank offers an unlimited calling plan at just over $10), while data seems to average out at about $70 for unlimited usage. However, their data speeds are very favorable.
A recent press release (issued May 8, 2010) by DOCOMO, Japans biggest mobile provider, shows a their strong push for flat-rate data.
According to their chart (below), a standard billing plan on a two-year contract, runs users about 5,985 yen. Interestingly, it sounds as if they pay about .042 yen per “packet” (128 byes) then hit a point in which they just pay the fixed rate.
According to current exchange rates, 5,985 yen amounts to just a little over 70 US dollars. Again, that is based on a two-year contract for one subscriber, and only makes mention of data.
AU by KDDI
AU by KDDI is the next largest provider in Japan. Just one look at their website shows a huge difference in the US approach and the Japanese approach to the handling of cell phone data and billing. There are various plans and discounts as well as plenty of resources to show users the various features. The site even offers the option to create your own custom phone, by choosing design, color, keypad layout, etc.: Here
Softbank is another major carrier in Japan. It’s the third largest. They also happen to be the official carrier or Apple-branded phones in Japan. Their unlimited packet discount flat rate at about 5,985 yen per month. (They currently have a discount through November for a plan at 4,410 per month) As we learned before, 5,985 yen is about $70 a month. 4,410 yen is about 52 US dollars.
A basic calling plan will set customers back 980 yen monthly. That will give them unlimited domestic voice calling to other Softbank and mobile Disney users. This is roughly 11 US dollars.
This adds up to a total of about $80 (in US dollars) a month for Softbank users. However, it seems as if Softbank offers packages and discounts based on what users sign up for. Let’s have a look at their iPhone plans and compare them to AT&T.
Now, let’s compare Apples to Apples
It’s time to see how much the iPhone will run a user in Japan and how much it will run a user in the States. Note that we have already converted yen to US dollars in the charts below (exchange rates at the time of this writing):
Below are data rates for those using the iPhone 4 32GB. As we learned, data is about $70 a month in Japan with voice being about $10. By signing on for maxed rates, users actually get a discount, and get better packet rates:
What does this mean?
While Japan’s data rates may seem a bit high, it’s interesting that their talk time is practically handed out for free. This may be because they’ve learned that most smartphone usage comes from data rather than minutes. That’s just a guess if we can’t back it up with hard facts, but a reasonable guess given how popular mobile internet and social networking is. In Japan, the case may be even more so.
Here, technology rules
Right now mobile payment using your cellphone is pretty much the norm in Japan. In the US, the closest we have is some Apps that require dongles, and even those are still just in the very early phases.
There’s no question that carrying around a phone and having unlimited data plans and calling plans is vital. However, the tech within the phone is quickly becoming the main selling point, but that’s a discussion for another day.