Was the Commotion really Warranted?

Features - January 19th, 2007

Mobile Number Portability

by Robert Estel

Yes, Japan has finally caught up to the rest of the world in letting you take your valuable number with you if you change carriers. From commercials touting customer satisfaction to Cameron Diaz strutting her stuff, Japan’s three major carriers have been creating an ad frenzy to culminate with you wanting to switch to them with the start of MNP.

Mobile Number Portability officially started last October, and the commotion surrounding it has been enormous. But is it really warranted? What are the benefits? To be blunt, there really aren’t that many. While the carriers and market watchers are hoping for a big shift in power, from market share leader NTT DoCoMo, who holds 55 percent of the market to second place au, or in a distant third place Softbank, limited surveys have shown that less then two percent actually want to utilize this service. The major reason for switching would be cost; perhaps you spend too much with NTT DoCoMo, so maybe you can save more money with au, and similar thinking, is what drives most people. Unfortunately, considering that cell phones are a part of Japan life-style, chances are that if you spend a lot of money with one carrier, you’ll do the same with others.

The other reason to switch would be services provided vary on cellular phone models, so those wanting One Seg services may be interested in au, while others may be interested in NTT DoCoMo for their mobile wallet services.

All three carriers announced their fall/winter line-up early this year to show Japan that they mean business. au was first out of the gate to show off their new lineup consisting of 12 models. au’s selling point for the recent months has been their Lismo music store, a sort of online music store similar to Apple’s, which lets you purchase music to listen on your computer or your phone, and all 12 models in their fall/winter lineup are compatible with this service.

NTT DoCoMo announced their new lineup of 14 models a few weeks before MNP and was actually the slowest to get their new models out, with only the Sharp 903 being available as of MNP start.

Not to be considered down and out, Softbank is causing the most uproar right now, and it’s not because of their fall/winter line up of 13 new models. While their lineup has the standard low-end to high-end models, it also includes their new flagship model, the Sharp 910 with a five megapixel camera, does everything but cook for you. But it’s not their phones that are causing a storm, it’s their new service plans. Softbank has copied both au and DoCoMo’s service plans, while making them slightly cheaper, as a way to entice customers to join them through MNP. Not only that, their new yosougai plan supposedly offers free calls and mails to Softbank users at low cost. Not the word supposedly, however, as Softbank is coming under fire for misleading advertising and extremely small print.

So, in the long run, is it worth it to switch? You have to buy a new handset, and worst of all, you’ll lose that hard-earned discount yearly discount percentage. While one can say that au is the cheapest of the three major carriers, plan-wise, the truth of the matter is your cost depends more on your life-style then your carrier. My advice, as usual, is to wait and see, as the one hope of MNP is to force carriers to lower prices and be more aggressive in keeping their customers happy. Now if Japan would only stop locking their handsets to specific carriers… Wishful thinking eh?