Lots of friends have been asking me of options to get mobile internet in Japan, especially for a short visit (1-2 weeks). Here's the updated version of such options.
b-mobile Data Only SIM
If you have an unlocked GSM phone that supports W-CDMA 2100Mhz, getting b-mobile's data only SIM is the cheapest path. Get their latest in the lineup b-mobile 1GB Teigaku SIM from Amazon or at stores like Bic Camera, activate it by phone (they have English menu) and put it into your SIM slot and you get 1GB data for 1 month. No contracts required and there's no 300kbps bandwidth cap which they still have with cheaper SIM (U300). Note that they have standard SIM and micro SIM, choose whichever suits your needs.
The only barrier for getting a b-mobile SIM card is that you need a working Japanese cellphone number to make a call to activate the SIM card. Welcome to the bootstrap problem. If you have a Japanese friend this would be easy, but otherwise you might have to consult store employees.
- Network: DoCoMo
- Devices: Your own unlocked W-CDMA phones (e.g. iPhone 4, Nexus S) or hotspot (e.g. Huawei E585)
- Price: 3100 JPY
- Cap: 1GB data, no bandwidth limit
Also, if you plan to use b-mobile's data-only SIM with Android 2.x devices, be aware of a possible Android's bug where it drains battery a lot when used with Data only SIM. The only workaround is to enable Airplane mode when you don't need the data network.
Using a data only SIM also means you have to give up your regular SIM. It may or may not matter to you depending on how you use your phone numbers. To me it doesn't matter since I use google voice as my primary number, and i don't receive as many phone calls anyway.
Pocket Wi-Fi/mi-fi rental
There are some rental plans available for "Pocket Wi-Fi" (e-mobile's MiFi branding).
I haven't personally tried any of these options, so i can't recommend any specific. You can google for Pocket WiFi rental Japan to see more options.
- Network: e-mobile/b-mobile(?)
- Devices: Pocket WiFi router
- Price: 5000-7000 JPY for a week
- Cap: Unlimited data/bandwidth
I've been trying to find a prepaid/rental WiMax rental optoins from UQ and its MVNO partners, but couldn't find one. Some have 1-month option, but it still requires a setup fee.
The only "available" option is their trial service: Try WiMAX. You can choose the hotspot option and it is FREE for 15 days.
But obviously, they want some commitments - at least you have to prove your residency in Japan, and submit your credit card information, etc. So this should only be doable if you have a kind friend or family in Japan who can help you. But if it's there, this is the most affordable option - FREE!
- Network: UQ WiMAX
- Devices: Aterm WM3300R (hotspot)
- Price: Free
- Cap: Unlimited
Data Roaming from your own provider
If you have a good Wi-Fi connection at places you stay and work, and only need mobile data services for email/twitter/chat with your mobile devices, data roaming from your own provider might be the easiest and affordable option.
You might think that data roaming should result in a crazy bill, but with AT&T's global data roaming packages, you can get 125MB of data for $49.99/mo. Note that it prorates by day, so you have to be careful when to enable this option and disable, but this worked well for my wife's stay. AT&T partners with DoCoMo and Softbank for roaming, but unless you have a specific reason to, you should choose DoCoMO as a network since it has better coverage and speed.
- Network: DoCoMo/Softbank
- Devices: Your own W-CDMA phones with AT&T SIM
- Price: $49.99 (other prices available)
- Cap: 125MB data, no speed cap
If you're on T-Mobile US, their data roaming plan is $10/1MB - you don't want to do that.
There may be other options that I am not aware of, but most of them are either a) pricy or b) requires residencies in Japan. Tell me in the comments if you have other suggestions.