Monday, 25 July 2011

Softbank VS Wimax

It's quite funny how the docomo phone company used Darth Vader to star in their ad campaign.

In my mind the evil empire is Softbank.

My first beef was when I arrived in Japan they would NOT let me get just a SIM card for my unlocked phone. They vehemently insisted that I sign up with one of their "free" phones therefore locking me in for two years in which I'd have to pay for that free phone if I left. It added to injury that a co-worker managed to get a SIM only a few months later.

Secondly, when I foolishly decided to lower my Internet rate with Softbank, not only did it extend my imprisonment, but also auto-renewed my contract. Now in Australia once you finish your contract you can stay with the network as long as you like, or leave as you please.

Here, if I stayed with Softbank and decided to jump ship I would be subject to a 9,975 yen cancellation fee. Er, no thanks.

I asked what I could do. They said I could change my contract to 5,985 yen flat rate Internet contract (+ white plan, extra charges etc.) with no cancellation fee. Wow, pay even more. Thanks Softbank!

Finally I asked if I could go on their prepaid service. No.. Not with an iPhone! A phone that they provide, and locked only to them. What a fantastic company.

So, come July 10th, the last day of my Softbank contract I decided to cancel my phone. As soon as I left the shop my phone was completely dead. Thanks for cutting it off before the end of the day ********!

For virtually the first time since I got here I was phoneless, without contact with the outside world. Bit scary.

I was looking at my options, and what I had been thinking about doing is switching to a data only pocket wifi service. Most people in Japan rarely speak on their mobile phones, instead messaging by email so it's not as bad as it might sound.

I saw plenty of ads around, mostly with a blue Gachapin advertising the WIMAX service.

They talk of speeds up to 40Mbps, so I wondered if it was worth signing up with them. At this time of writing they had a free two week trial of their service, so it seemed a good time as any to see if I should switch.

They asked for a credit card in case I lost or damaged the wifi box. A few days later I noticed they deducted the 19,800 yen already. Thankfully before the end they did actually put it back. Maybe to test to see if the card was valid?

First thing I noticed is that the pocket wifi gets very hot. While it's not that big it is a nuisance carrying around an extra box and getting hot in this Summer swelter does not add to it's charm at all. Note that the running time is only 3.5 hours so best practice for me was to switch it off when I wasn't accessing my email, or have the power cable handy to recharge.

How was reception?

In most of the city areas I had no problem. At the beach in Zushi, the signal was extremely weak. Worse was underground. With a phone network you're able to get a signal at least at each subway stop. Totally dead here. Even on the first basement level of a pub in Shibuya I had nothing. Quite frustrating!

With a very unscientific test at home, I found that I was only getting about 3Mbps. In comparison my broadband is 20Mbps. For usual browsing with email and Safari it wasn't bad at all, but trying to download anything substantial would take quite a while longer.

So was it worth it? As much as I hate Softbank I sadly have to say no. For someone that's willing to put up with these shortcomings it may be ok, especially if you don't have any other kind of Internet access at home.

As of today I'm back with Softbank, BUT on their prepaid service.

I had a lot of hoops to jump through walking from Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya to get past lies and some not unexpected poor customer service. Yes, I AM using an iPhone (although for now my 3G), and it's working as I expected.

I'm paying even less than before. Almost half! So maybe I should thank them for that.