Hybrid optical fiber/VDSL access is almost universal; IP phone is a bargain. NTT Flets optical fiber connects phone exchanges to a box on the street or in a condo, and VDSL (over copper wire) or optical fiber is run from there to multiple users. Condo pricing is about ¥4,800/mo. and standalone houses about ¥300/mo. extra. The Internet provider gets about ¥1,000 of this total, and you pay the provider and NTT separately—usually by automatic deduction from a bank account. [You can get WiFi as well as wired routers from NTT; NTT VoIP Internet phone (“Hikari phone”) costs about ¥300/mo. extra, and you can get a 2nd phone no. for a further ¥200/mo.—plus phone usage charges, of course. You provide the phone or fax unit to plug into the Internet router.] If you apply for Internet access via a provider then you can choose between NTT “Hikari phone” or provider Internet phone—both provide toll-free calling within Japan, and cost about ¥8.4/3min., much cheaper than mobile phones. NTT “Hikari phone” gives you a regular local phone number, but a provider IP phone number starts with 050-. The other main differences are that provider IP phone can give big discounts on overseas calls (the rate depends on the provider & network; Plala, Nifty -F, and Biglobe PN overseas call rates seem the lowest—Plala and Nifty -F per-minute rates are ¥2.5 to the US, ¥8 to the UK, ¥9 to Australia/Germany, ¥16 to Brazil, ¥19 to China , ¥22 to the Philippines)—and callers can make toll-free calls to you within Japan. Note that there are two provider IP phone networks, apparently run by NTT-affiliated Plala and OCN, so most providers like Nifty & Biglobe give you a choice—Nifty-F and Biglobe PN phone use the Plala-affiliated network.
Special rebate deals. The price comparison site kakaku.com, and some providers like Biglobe and OCN, offer special signup promotion campaign “cash back” rebate deals—if you apply for Internet service via them—that effectively reduce the average price to about ¥1,000/mo. for the first year and ¥2,900/mo. for the second: You get the “cash back” ¥40-45,000 rebate from the provider after you have paid for 11, 23 or 14 months respectively, and NTT and provider fees are discounted or waived for a few months. These deals spread the ¥25,000 NTT installation fee over about 24-30 months, so that you pay virtually the same amount every month. (It costs ¥5,000 to break the 2-year contract.)
Special provider services. Some providers like Biglobe will cover the optional ¥2,000 router connection setup fee for you. kakaku.com seems to suggest that NEC Biglobe and NTT-affiliated OCN (both mentioned and linked above) are two of the most popular providers. Many providers offer secure web mail, so you can read your mail in a web browser anywhere—Biglobe's graphical drag-and-drop graphical webmail interface, accessed from webmail.biglobe.ne.jp, is surely the best, though sender name can't be changed after sign up. Asahi-Net has English support and claims a slightly lower monthly provider charge; they also offer a static IP service. (However, their web mail is clumsy to use, with the oldest mail appearing at the top, and their promotion campaign cash rebate of “up to ¥20,000” is smaller—but if you sign up, please quote my Asahi ID PF2K-WLKN as introducer). OCN now has an English web site, and English webmail, but their mailbox size is only 1GB, with no IMAP support. Fujitsu-affiliated Nifty(serve) dates back to its link with Compuserve, but no longer offers English support. Biglobe & Nifty both operate Japanese portals with news and seasonal attractions. Sony So-net and NTT-affiliated Plala are also popular. A few old-timers have stayed with more-expensive Fusion GOL, one of the first “English-language” providers—but their standard mailbox size is only 200MB, far less than the 1, 3, or 5GB of other providers (a large mailbox helps avoid “mailbox-full” bounced mail if you don't access your mail for a few days, or if someone mails you many large photos or files). Many providers offer email spam blocking (some of them allow you to view blocked spam mail on the web for a month or more, to confirm that important mail hasn't been wrongly tagged as spam). It's also useful to have multiple free or optional email addresses (e.g. for family members).
Mobile SIMs. As discussed here, OCN offers “Mobile ONE” LTE (with 3G fallback) data service (up to 2G/mo. @ 112.5Mbps, or 7G/mo @ 500kbps) for smartphones, tablets, and “MiFi” (Mobile WiFi) routers from just ¥980/mo. (compatible mobile hardware), a “050 plus” IP phone app bundle (like “Hikari” IP phone above, 050+ is ¥315 per month + usage), multi-SIM data-sharing plans (e.g. 60MB/day SIMs sold as three-packs that cost ¥472.5/mo. extra for each additional SIM used after the first), and 30M/day prepaid mobile data SIMs (¥3,980 for 1st 30days; ¥2,980 for 50-day extension) sold at Lawson stores; some of the Mobile ONE SIMs are sold on Amazon.co.jp. NEC Biglobe offers voice-plus-1G-data and 1G-data-only SIM plans. Biglobe is also offering the compatible NEC MR03LN “MiFi” (Mobile WiFi) router on installment at ¥933+tax/mo. for 24 months—¥1833+tax/mo. including provider fees. Most providers offer similar LTE/3G, WiMax, and/or WiFi (see below) mail & data access bundles (but, if you don't use secure web mail, be sure to set up SSL security for mail access over WiFi and wireless). OCN has 14-day prepaid data SIMs for visitors, and b-mobile (JCI) also offers similar 14-day prepaid data SIMs for visitors (compatibility), plus the first reasonably-priced 7-day prepaid voice-plus-data SIM for visitors, and a variety of data SIMs sold through Yodobashi camera and Amazon Japan. “Unlimited” 200kbps data-only plans are ¥1,570; you can add 100MB (¥300) or 500MB (¥1,200) “turbo charge” increments of high-speed data access, usable at will, and valid for 90 days—or add a 3G/mo. high speed data option for ¥1,570. The current “free data” voice-and-data smartphone SIM plan is ¥1,560/mo. plus ¥20/30sec. for phone calls, and includes “unlimited” 200kbps data; the above-mentioned “turbo charge” or 3G/mo. high-speed options can be added. Voice-plus-SMS SIM plans are also available. For mobile phone calls, Y!mobile (Willcom) PHS phones are arguably the cheapest when you consider the cost of phone plus phone calls; the cheapest plan is ¥1,450/mo. (¥21/30sec.—similar to b-mobile—for phone calls), but the ¥980/mo. “Dare de mo teigaku” (“unlimited phone call”) option includes up to 500 calls of up to 10 minutes. Willcom's WX12K phone offers English menus; it's available as a ¥2,730/mo. 36-mo. contract bundle—¥1,450/mo. base plus ¥1,280/mo. hardware repayment, which bundles the ¥980/mo. “unlimited calls” option for free. It can be operated over Bluetooth from a smartphone app. (there are no unlimited-phone-call smartphone plans). Such Willcom phones can be used with USB cable as dial-up wireless modems, but data packet rates are not cheap.
WiFi HotSpots. Some Seven-Eleven convenience stores offer free WiFi web signup (English), and Lawson convenience stores have free “Ponta” loyalty point cards (Japanese signup and iPhone/Android app for WiFi connection). Starbucks WiFi requires prior web signup. (This KDDI Wi2 WiFi network is widely available, but—outside of Starbucks—usually requires payment. There's a Visa card deal, visitor WiFi pricing is here, but the Japanese Wi2 site also shows a ¥380/mo. plan.) Competitor Docomo is offering competitively priced visitor WiFi access on a trial basis to see if they can capture a viable market share. If your computer has WiMax built in—don't confuse this with WiFi—then UQ offers ¥600/24-hr. and ¥4,480/mo. “Flat” (unlimited) deals, but only in Japanese. As mentioned below, Internet and Manga cafes are another option for cheap Internet access.
ADSL is mainly limited to country regions. In the city it's more expensive to run copper phone cable (with ADSL Internet superimposed on each individual-user phone line) than shared optical fiber, so ADSL can be about the same price as "Hikari" optical fiber, or more expensive (you pay a surcharge for Internet only, no NTT analog phone). ADSL is usually limited to distances of about 2,500m from a phone exchange.
Japan and Korea offer fast, low-cost Optic-Fiber wired broadband connections. According to a 2008 ITIF survey, (unmetered, wired) broadband in Japan offered both high download speeds (64Mbps) and low cost; Korean broadband usage was proportionally much higher, but speeds were slightly slower (50Mbps) and costs higher. Finland, France and Sweden came next, with speeds of 17-22Mbps. Germany, Canada, and US broadband speeds were 5-8Mbps (with US and Canadian pricing about 20 times that of Japan). In Australia and the UK, speeds were around 1.7-2.6Mbps.
Japan has the 2nd largest wireless & wired broadband markets in the OECD. The world's largest wireless broadband markets in OECD countries in 2010 were the US (136.6M, 31% of OECD total), Japan (22%) and Korea (11%); and the largest wired broadband markets were the US (28%), Japan (12%), Germany (9%), France (7%) and the UK (6%). Outside the OECD, however, the Chinese market is huge and fast-growing: about 747M mobile users (just over 50% of its population)—including 15M 3G users—in 2009, and 3G usage is quickly catching up with more-developed countries. The Indian market is also huge and growing rapidly.
Providers here lease “public” network capacity. VoIP fixed phones are widespread. In both Japan and Korea, the proportion of optical-fiber wired-broadband connections is very high, and the public phone company (formerly semi-governmental, now privatized) is required to both provide rural service and lease network capacity to private Internet providers. In Japan, typically this “NTT Flets” backbone connects the provider to the wired-broadband subscriber’s local telephone office. Most Japanese Internet providers offer optional wired-broadband VoIP Internet phone service and optional 050- phone numbers; there were over 20 million VoIP subscribers in 2009. VoIP provides toll-free outbound calls within Japan, and a 050- number (to supplement the regular area-code number) permits toll-free inbound calls within Japan. Some mobile phone operators will also be offering VoIP and 050- numbers. VoIP local call pricing is relatively standardized, but overseas call pricing is provider-specific.
What does it cost for ADSL, FTTH, VoIP phone, & wireless? Signup specials (which may require an 8-mo. minimum), can provide discounts equiv’t to 3-4 mo. free ADSL, or over 8 mo. free FTTH (3 mo. NTT fee & 1-yr. provider fee). You need to apply for both backbone (NTT Flets or KDDI AU) and provider service via the provider to get these discounts. Including provider fees, 39M ADSL costs from ¥3,860~/mo. (¥2,600~/mo. if you rent an NTT phone line separately for about ¥2,000/mo.), 50M ADSL is ˜ ¥500/mo. extra, 8M ADSL is ˜ ¥500/mo. less. For FTTH (optical fiber) in a modern ferro-concrete condo, shared 100M NTT Flets costs ¥3,990-4,300 (less than ADSL!) and KDDI AU 1G ¥5,250. If you’re in an apartment or standalone house, FTTH can cost ¥5,460~ with KDDI AU 1G or ¥6,300-6,700 for NTT. With ADSL or FTTH, you can get toll-free 050- VoIP phone bundled essentially free, though you’ll have to pay usage charges. WiMAX (max. 40M down, 10M up) (from KDDI AU subsidiary UQ) is widely available around major cities. WiMAX is built into many high-end PCs, WiMAX USB modems can be rented from providers for about ¥600/mo. or purchased for about ¥12,000, and KDDI AU has just announced smartphones with built-in WiMAX (the WiMAX option will be ¥525/mo.) Unlimited WiMAX broadband can cost about ¥3,880~/mo. (1-yr. contract, setup fee is ¥2,835), ¥4,480~/mo. (monthly contract, setup fee is ¥2,100), or ¥600/day. There is also a monthly contract (setup fee is ¥2,835) that ramps from ¥380 to ¥4,980~/mo. max. "MIFI" Mobile WiFi Hotspots, on WiMAX or various 3G networks like HSDPA CDMA, rent for about ¥4,000~/mo. (one-year contract) or sell for about ¥19,000. NTT Docomo's "Xi" LTE 4G service is currently available only in central Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. Public WiFi hotspots can cost from ¥500/day. Manga & Internet cafes typically cost about ¥200 for 30m, ¥400 per hour, ¥1,500 overnight (prices vary with location), and have free soft drinks/coffee machines; some have showers. Some Willcom PHS phones can be connected to a PC by USB cable and used as wireless modems (up to 256kbps); PHS service costs about ¥2,800~/mo. plus usage, but you'll have to pay for the phone (some are nearly free on a 2-yr. contract) and pay a ¥2,000 setup fee.
Phone dialup — provider fee from ¥200-300/month plus ¥5 per minute (plus phone usage). ¥3,700 for a 15-hr. Internet access package that includes phone usage. Analog phone line rental is about ¥2,000 per month plus usage (from about ¥10 per 3 minutes).
ISDN ( this allows simultaneous use of 2 channels — e.g. phone plus fax, or phone plus Internet dial-up ) is about ¥2,800 a month ( not including ISDN adapter rental or purchase ). ISDN is available virtually everywhere, even in rural areas, and 128kbps ISDN Internet is over twice as fast as analog dialup. NTT FLETS ISDN is always-on Internet — from about ¥3,000 a month (NTT) plus Internet provider charge from about ¥500 a month for unlimited usage. (FLETS setup fees are largely waived if you apply via your provider).
Mobile phone/wireless dialup ranges from about ¥900 a month (fixed) provider fee, plus dialup wireless data usage fees (Wilcomm Air Edge PHS is the cheapest) from about ¥1,000 plus about ¥10/minute or typically ¥4,000-¥10,000 for various large-user discount packages.
Wireless service: eMobile, eAccess, and SoftBank are teaming up with providers like BigLobe and Nifty to provide WiMax (mobile, fixed) 3.6Mbps wireless access (about ¥5,000 per month for unlimited use) from Dec. 2007.
WiFi Hot Spots range from free to typically ¥300 a month plus ¥8/min., or ¥1,700 per month unlimited. Some providers offer iPass — for secure WiFi or wireless-dialup Internet connection at about ¥8/min. in Japan, and for global roaming at ¥40/min.
Internet Manga cafes range from about ¥200 for first 30min., unlimited coffee & tea for about ¥100 extra or free with packages, e.g. from about ¥1,000 per 3 hrs. between 3am & 9pm, and from about ¥1,000 for overnight (12pm-5am).
CATV Internet: similar speed to ADSL; doesn’t offer all the services that big Internet providers do.
ADSL ranges from about ¥2,700 (1 Mbps) or ¥4,000 min. per month (requires analog phone line, billed separately). Usually IP phone bundle costs no extra. ADSL typically provides up to 4-8Mbps — usually there is no point applying for speeds faster than 8Mbps or 12Mbps — and usually requires that you be within about 3,500m to 5,000m from the nearest phone exchange. (Long-) Reach ADSL can provide 1-2Mbps out to 8,000m. or more. However, few carriers offer this service, and then only if they anticipate picking up a number of subscribers by doing so. NTT FLETS ADSL allows you to connect to two providers simultaneously if you wish. (ADSL setup fees are usually waived if you apply via your provider). (>14M ADSL users in Japan).
FTTH (Optical Fiber To The Home) is provided to large condos in major cities. A 1Gbps fiber typically connects to VDSL (very high speed ADSL), providing 100Mbps service to up to 8 or 16 users from about ¥4,500 a month. Non-shared connections (to houses or wooden apartments) start from about ¥7,000 a month. NTT B FLETS FTTH allows you to connect to two providers simultaneously if you wish. (FTTH setup fees are usually waived if you apply via your provider). (There are just under 8M FTTH users in Japan).
IP phone (VoIP): It usually costs no extra to get IP phone with ADSL or FTTH, except that an analog phone line is also required “for 110 emergency calls and the like” — however NTT's “Hikari phone” option for B FLETS (at ¥1,500 extra, including up to about ¥480 (3 hrs) of domestic calls) doesn't require an analog phone line. IP phones provide toll-free calls within Japan plus a toll-free 050- number for inbound calls from within Japan. Toll-free local call rates are much lower than long-distance rates, particularly for mobile phones. There are only a few VoIP carriers within Japan, and their rates are similar (except for calls to mobile phones) — but providers can use different carriers for overseas VoIP calls, and rates vary widely. eMobile (see Wireless Service above) will offer wireless VoIP phone.
Major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer a variety of free or optional extras — e.g. a large mailbox, spam catching, web mail, global roaming. The "big four" are Yahoo! BB, Biglobe, OCN & @Nifty. There are a few providers with English support — including Asahi-Net, GOL, SpinNet, Inter.net (formerly TWICS) & AT&T — but once you're connected, English support may not be a major issue.
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