Wednesday, November 25, 2009

iPhone experiences of the Japanese kind

TOKYO-23rd November 2009

Before making my trip to Tokyo, I dutifully researched whether my (unlocked) iPhone would work normally in the land of the rising sun. I read internet blogs, asked friends who lived in Japan and read various on- and off-line guides.

The result was a set of conflicting viewpoints: no, it wouldn’t work at all; yes, it might work if I had the 3G or 3GS model, but only for data (not voice); and maybe it would, but on no accounts would I be able to slot in a Japanese SIM card.

So, when I landed in Japan, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I was, however, able to ascertain immediately what didn’t work. A SIM card I had bought earlier in Hong Kong (and had provided commendable service over there) did not work at all.

Fighting jetlag, I decided to make it over to the nearest cellphone operator shop I could find in Tokyo. Having listened the day earlier to Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son address the Mobile Asia Congress, my autopilot navigated me to the Softbank store.

Inside, my lack of Japanese immediately led to a total inability to conduct any meaningful conversation with the customer service clerk. But, she did call a number from her phone and she connected me to an English-speaking Japanese call centre clerk.

“We are not sure if your European iPhone will work in Japan” was the answer, followed by “If you buy our SIM card, we cannot guarantee it will work”. Not the confidence-inspiring answer I was expecting.

With already 1 million iPhone users in Japan according to Fortune magazine, it is perhaps surprising that the only Japanese cellphone operator to offer the iPhone isn’t sure about network’s SIM compatibility with foreign iPhones. But then again, I mulled as I observed sushi-shaped USB sticks in the neighbouring shop window, things are a little different in Japan.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my iPhone worked just fine in Japan with my European SIM card –not the cheapest option, but better than paying €50 to rent a Japanese cellphone for 3 days.