N902i image  I just got back from a week in Tokyo, paradise for mobile geeks. 3G seems to be taking Japan by storm. In wandering around the city, I saw many of the latest 3G handsets in use. One of the most popular seemed to be NEC's Linux based N902i on the DoCoMo FOMA network. The selling point of this phone is the 2MP camera with image stabilization and auto focus, but the nicest part for me was the Netfront browser on the 2.5 inch, 240 x 345 (dubbed QVGA+TM) TFT screen with 262,144 colors. The N902i also has an MP3 player with equalizer, a PDF viewer, support for the Japanese i-Appli Java standard for games and applications and it does OTA MP3 downloads and uses a mini-SD for storage. You can read an English brochure or down load the English edition of the phone's manual here. The phone's UI can be toggled between Japanese and English and it can roam on European UTMS and GSM networks as well as North American 1900 mHz networks (see comments). The N902i sells for around $150 with a new two year contract and about twice that for a user who upgrades an existing NTT plan to 3G with a one year contract extension. At 106mm X 51mm X 25mm and 127 grams, the N902i is large by US standards (the RAZR for example, is 98 x 53 x 14 mm and 97 grams) but fairly typical for Japanese phones which generally feature large screens - several models have 2.8 or 2.9 inch LCD's.   D902i image  In fact the N902i has a stablemate, the Symbian based Mitsubishi D902i - a slider with a 2.8" screen which I also saw several people using in Tokyo. Both of these phones are considered feature phones rather than smartphones by the operators. Many Japanese feature phones run either Linux or a version of Symbian with a Japanese developed UI called MOAP ("Mobile Oriented Applications Platform"). Disappointingly, it appears that neither of these phones supports installing native Linux or Symbian applications. On the plus side, i-Appli, the Japanese Java subset, does seem to have more access to the phone's hardware than Java ME.

Japanese 3G uses two different technologies. The number one and number three carriers NTT and Vodaphone use UMTS at the worldwide (except for North America) standard frequency of 2100 mHz. Japanese UMTS phones are world-phones and can operate on UTMS networks in Europe and Asia. Most also support GSM at 900, 1800 and 1900 mHz. GSM is not used in Japan and is provided on these phones to enhance their international roaming capabilities. The older 2G Japanese systems used unique technologies and frequencies and were not comparable with any other networks in the world. The number two Japanese network AU by KDDI uses EV-DO which has a significant speed advantage over UMTS. That speed advantage seems to be paying off for AU which now has almost as many 3G subscribers - 21.8 million as DoCoMo which has 23.5 million. Vodaphone, which recently sold their Japanese operation to Softbank trails badly with only 3 million 3G users. Unlike DoCoMo and Vodaphone's 3G handsets, AU's use unique Japanese frequencies and won't work anywhere else in the world.

If you're thinking it would be neat to import one of these Japanese UTMS/GSM phones for use in your country, think again. In Japan phones are not normally sold without a contract and in addition all the phones are SIM-locked and only a few models have been successfully unlocked.

The cost of mobile service including data is coming down in Japan although it's still on the high side. A basic 3G plan runs about 4050 Yen ($34) including tax. You only get between 24 between 60 voice minutes per month (depending on carrier and time of day) with the 4050 Yen plan. Extra voice minutes are about $0.26 each.
The good news is that you can add an unlimited data option for an additional 4050 Yen per month. That's only for data consumed on the phone, tethering is extra.

It is a common observation that the Japanese use their phones constantly but rarely speak on them. I can certainly vouch for that. On the subway, where signs warn that phones must be silent - about half the riders at every given time were tapping away on their phones. Surreptitiously looking over the shoulders of my fellow riders, I did an un-scientific survey of what they were using their phones for. About 50% seemed to be browsing the mobile web, about 25% were reading and responding to e-mail and the remaining 25% playing games.

  mobile Suica logo  There was heavy promotion on the trains and TV for mobile Suica the just launched contactless e-wallet system that lets you use your mobile as a RFID based stored value payment card. Special gates with the SUICA logo (a penguin!) at most subway and train stations in Tokyo interact with software in the phone to operate the gates and deduct the fare from your SUICA account. You can recharge with a credit card using the phone or a website. The aforementioned N902i is one of nine phones that is mobile SUICA enabled. Suica has been around in the form of a RFID card for several years now and is also accepted at many coffee shops and newsstands.

Speaking of coffee shops, I was pleasantly surprised that lattes and espresso are currently the rage in Tokyo. I'd been warned that I'd be paying $5 a cup for coffee in Tokyo - not good for someone who consumes five or more cups of Java a day. I was resigned to switching to green tea. Instead I found Starbucks style coffee joints on almost every block. A few were actual Starbucks or Tullys but most were Japanese clones like Excelsior Coffee, Doutour and Beck's. A short latte was between $1.75 and $2.45 at these places - about the same as in San Francisco. Actually in spite of what I heard about Tokyo being incredibly expensive, I found just about everything about the same price as San Francisco. Our hotel which was great, with very comfortable beds, free wifi in the room and free PC's in the lobby and friendly, helpful English speaking staff was only $100/night for my wife and I. Breakfast averaged $5 a person at the hotel (including coffee!) with lunch at the conveyor style sushi places about $10 and dinner $25/person in a nice neighborhood sushi bar or tonkatsu place,

Staying off topic, I want to put in a plug for the Japanese rail system. Tokyo is the largest city in the world and most commuters use the subways and trains. The system is very complex (check out this map) with a couple dozen lines operated by at least six different public and private agencies - and yet for the first time in a major city I never once got on the wrong train or missed my stop. The signage in the stations is great, it's in English and Japanese as are the crystal clear automated announcements on the trains. The newer trains have sixteen 15" color LCD monitors in each car. Eight of the monitors alternately display a moving map showing where the train is, the name of the next stop in Japanese and English and a chart of the platform at the next station showing the location of each stairway and escalator. The other eight monitors alternate between showing advertising and system status such as delays. Even the older trains have a strip chart above each door showing all the stops on the line with a moving light indicating where the train is currently. I though London and Paris had great transit systems, but Tokyo blows them away.

Back to mobile trends, NaviTime - a GPS enabled application that provides driving and walking directions displayed on both maps and aerial photos was being heavily promoted on TV. NaviTime has several versions including Java for NTT and Vodaphone and BREW for KDDI AU. There is even a BREW version for Verizon in the USA. The slickest version and the only one with the aerial photos is a Mobile Flash application and works on several recent Flash enabled NTT phones including the N902i and D902i.

The launch of live digital broadcast TV on mobile phones was also being heavily hyped on both Japanese television and in the shops. The service called One-Seq, streams normal network broadcast TV to the phone. NTT DoCoMo and KDDI AU simultaneously launched the service, which is free for the first few months - however only three handsets currently support it. Wireless Watch Japan has a nice video of the digital TV service on AU's Hitachi W41H - which has a beautiful 2.7" screen. The video is available in WMV, Real, or QT.

  QR Code image  While they are not new, having been in use in Japan for at least a couple of years, QR Codes, bar codes that can be read by most Japanese phones were everywhere - on posters, flyers, web pages, business cards and in newspaper and magazine ads. QR codes are very versatile. Scanning a QR code with a QR capable phone can add contact information (typically from a QR Code on a business card) to the phone's address book or launch the browser and load a mobile site or load a ring tone or an image containing a map to a store. When we visited Kamakura, home of the great Buddha and other shrines and temples, the tourist information counter at the train station was giving out a map in English and on the map were QR codes for the Kamakura town i-Mode site as well as at least a dozen other QRs pointing to the mobile sites of advertisers. The Semacode project is similar and is available as a Java ME applet for most North American and European camera phones, however unlike QR Codes in Japan, Semacode has not yet been widely adopted. Based on the Japanese experience, I do believe that Semacode has great potential.

40 thoughts on “Tokyo!

  1. Please help me.. I need help as soon as possible,, How to openline the Docomo N902i? please send me an email at if you know the answer, thank you very much, im from the Philippines, my auntie gave me a cellphone from Japan,, i cant use it with the sim card here, please help me ASAP. Thank you
  2. I don't have any country codes for Japanese phones and I'm pretty sure they aren'y available anywhere. Users have reported success using the i-SmartSim and similar devices that fit in the SIM slot to unlock these phones. See comment 31 on this post for link.
  3. Dear sir.madam,
    My mobile is FOMA N900iG DoCoMo
    IMEI# [removed]
    FOMA N900iG
    NTT DoCoMo
    When i put SIM it give UIM error,
    any body help to solve this problem for me?
    Your reply is highly appreciated
    My country is Batam - INDONESIA

  4. mohammad ismail

    I don't think anyone has unlock codes for Japanese-market phones. Your best bet for getting this to work is probably a SIM card insert like the i-SmartSim 2008 (See the comment above yours for the link).
  5. I buy foma N900IS phone used in Pakistan. When i put my sim it give UIM error any body can solve problem for me.
    • I live in Thailand..
      I have Question...
      1. i-Smart sim 2008 SIM can use for Docomo N902i?
      2. If i order $3.75 incluld shipping or N?

    • I really can't say if the i-Smart sim 2008 SIM will work with the Docomo N902i as I don't have that phone and haven't tried it. It's a gamble.

      Shipping is included in the price.
  6. i am here in the Philippines, i used DoCoMo N900iG, Unfortunately i was not able to maximize the mobile because the UIM encountered an ERROR and no please help me to know the code this mobile...thank you so much
  7. tokyo is a very popular and good for letest technology in all over the world. i am from pakistan and wishing to work in any company of tokyo. thanking you
  8. Apologies if this is off-topic, but I'd really like to learn more about the technology that lets Japanese cell phones work so well (at least in data mode) in subways and stations. I've heard that is is a property of 3G/FOMA and possibly due to the use of lower-power cell "towers" (tranceivers) in some stations. Can anyone shed any light on how this works? I'm an American who just got back from visiting my in-laws over there and I've been puzzling over this.
  9. hey i have a softbank 3G 705SH, i live in Trinidad and i want to unlock it to use in my country, but when i enter a local sim card invalid UIM card appears. What do i do?????????????
  10. Akash,

    705SH is a Japanese market phone. These are almost impossible to unlock. I certainly don't know how to unlock it! You would need to unlock the Sharp 705SH to be able to use it in India.

    Good luck,

  11. my mobile is docomo n900is
    my country is pakistan
    my mobile donot accept the sim signal
    plz send me my network signal country code
    plz plz plz
  12. Well, bluetooth function has almost every mobile now. Does enyone has fotos japanies phones? Sorry for my English, I'm little out of practice.
  13. Hi,

    This is Carlos writing from Tokyo. Speaking of global roaming - I'm now using the Vodafone Sharp 705SH 'SLIMIA' model here in Japan and that can be used internationally, and the applicaple regions seem to be growing daily.
    I will be visiting Cairo and Istanbul next (or maybe not after this morning's trashcan bombing), and should be able to use the phone there. Moreover, it's a dang sexy phone. Very slim model which is pretty much a copy of the RAZR, down to the metallic keypad. Plays music, 2MP camera and other basic stuff AND, WAIT! -it's got Bluetooth chat function, which allows me to scan my immediate area on the train and IM them in real time. Kickass. Here it is for you to slobber over:
    Carlos Godoy
  14. Pingback: まとめ (PukiWiki/TrackBack 0.3)

  15. Pingback: Martin's Mobile Technology Page

  16. Very interesting, it's quite insightful. Good to know that the FOMA network at it's current software level does not seem to be too far away from the current 3GPP standards used in Europe. Thanks for the info!
  17. Martin,
    It looks like limited UMTS roaming is available on NTT DoCoMo. This NTT page says,
    Roam with your own handset
    The following handsets have been confirmed to work on DoCoMo's W-CDMA network.

    Motorola :
    all 3G handsets since A835, A1000, E1000, C975/980, V975/980
    NOKIA :
    all 3G handsets since 7600, 6630, 6650, 6680
    Others :
    LG U8138C, SHARP SX813, Sony Ericsson Z800i

    As of August, 2005. Interoperability for handsets other than the Motorola A835 is not officially guaranteed.
    Handsets listed above also may not be compatible due to software version. Please confirm details for each handset with retailers.

    Also, both Orange Switzerland and Mobitel in Slovenia claim that their UTMS customers can roam on NTT in Japan, and even make video calls.
  18. Hi! I've seen the NM850iG which is indeed a modified 6630 at the 3GSMWorldCongress in Barcelona this year. As it is quite an 'old' mobile phone just as the Motorola M1000, I wonder if the network was adapted for the phone or if the phones were adapted to work in the NTT DoCoMo FOMA network. I rather have a suspicion that the phones were adapted to the network. Otherwise all other UMTS phones could roam in the FOMA network as well!? Do you have more information on this. For the international traveler it does not matter so much these days anymore with Vodafone K.K. (Softbank) having a "real" UMTS network where European UMTS phones should be able to roam. Take a look here: . This contains some background information on inbound and outbound roaming and mentions a FOMA mobile N900iG which seems to be FOMA GSM.
  19. Martin,
    Thanks for the correction, I was wrong when I said the N902i can roam internationally. The FOMA network has been upgraded to allow international roamers to use UTMS handsets in Japan on DoCoMo but only a handful of FOMA phones can roam internationally. This NTT DoCoMo page lists them as the NEC N900iG, Nokia NM850iG (which appears to be a modified 6630), Motorola M1000, LG Simpure L and NEC Simpure N. The Simpures are "basic" phones while the N902iG looks very much like the N902i but is an older model with only a 2.2" QVGA screen and 1.3MP camera w/o image stabilization and it also lacks the mobile wallet feature.
  20. Hi, as I was really interested in the N902i you describe above I digged a little bit deeper. Interesting 26MB PDF documentation. I guess it takes some guts to deliver a 500 page manual with a mobile phone :-) I am not quite convinced that the phone is able to roam in overseas GSM and UMTS networks. The manual just mentions that "compatible phones" are able to do that in one place but does not specifiy if the phone is one of those "compatible phones" or not. Also on other web pages that described the phone I did not get conclusive information. So I doubt that a little bit. Some further info: The NTT DoCoMo FOMA network is not compatible to UMTS on 2100 MHZ. So phones only designed for FOMA for the Japanese market will not work in European UMTS networks. It will surely not work with UMTS networks in the US as they use a different frequency (1900 MHz) and that is not mentioned anywhere in the manual or on other websites I've checked. Vodafone (now to become Softbank) in Japan is an entirely different thing. Their W-CDMA network is UMTS and mobiles for that network are thus compatible with European networks (again not with US networks due to the different frequency bands). Some of the phones sold for that network even have a Europen brother (or sister? :-). Take the Sony-Ericsson V800 for example, that mobile is sold in Japan as well (different name and I guess different software with Japanese characters...)
  21. Hi there,

    I follow your site and wish now I'd known you would be in Tokyo, because it
    would have been nice to meet up with you. When you make it back here again,
    please definitely let me know.

  22. Thanks for the report, very interesting! I am quite surprised that mobile phone usage and data charges seem to be quite high according to your report. Thought it would be cheaper.

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