Executive summary: 5.7% more expensive than DoCoMo’s latest models over one year.

With the recent confirmation of the rumours regarding the release of the iPhone in Japan via SoftBank, and with Steve Jobs promising that no-one will pay more than $199 dollars for the 8GB device, let us look at what this will actually cost, once one adds a service contract into the deal. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume one US dollar equals one hundred yen, so the price Steve Jobs is promising is 19,900 yen. As a point of comparison, the cheapest price I see offered for the 8GB iPod touch is 32,448 yen, so for the handset alone it is over a third cheaper. However, this figure ignores the contract that must be purchased to go along with the handset. By working from the information provided on the SoftBank web site, one can determine the expected total cost of ownership.

  • Basic package free minutes:
    8,190 yen (L Plan Value, 300 free minutes, 10.5 yen per 30 seconds afterwards)
  • Voice mail service:
    315 yen (extra for visual voice mail?)
  • Email, web access fee:
    315 yen
  • Unlimited data packets:
    9,800 yen (X Series smartphone price)
  • Total monthly charge:
    18,602 yen
  • Total one-year cost:
    223,440 yen

Note that if you use less than 6 MB per month the data packet cost will be lower. So, adding in the 19,900 yen for the handset, that’s 243,340 yen for a year, or about $2,433 or £1,160 in the UK. Note that actual costs might be cheaper if you add family discount plans, loyalty discounts for existing customers, and so on. Actual costs may also be more expensive if you go over your minutes, and also adding in an extra 980 yen per month for free calls to all other SoftBank phones from 1 am to 9 pm, and free calls all the time to family members.

Another plan, the Gold Plan, has a basic package charge of 9,600 yen per month with 200 minutes, but free to other SoftBank phones from 1 am to 9 pm, and 21 yen per 30 seconds outside these hours or to other carriers, but with discounts from 37% to 70% for long-term customers, and loyalty bonuses can be carried over from other carriers. Then there’s the Super Bonus, which has even more complicated trade-offs, but we’ll not go into that here…

By comparison, looking at the just-released range of phones from DoCoMo, the 906i series, a handset costs around 50,000 yen, then monthly costs for a similar service to the above is 8,400 yen for L Value plan with 240 minutes then 10.5 yen per thirty seconds, 5,985 yen for unlimited data packets on full browser, 315 yen for voice mail, and 315 yen for iMode access, giving a total monthly cost of 15,015 yen, and a yearly cost of 230,180 yen including handset, or $2,302, or £1,101 in the UK. This makes the iPhone 5.7% more expensive than DoCoMo‘s offerings, although with a myriad of discount schemes available the real price difference is much, much harder to directly quantify.

Of course, without emoji icon support, both display and writing, it will not make much headway amongst the influential youth set (yes, that will be a deal-breaker), and with Flash definitely not supported, despite being a standard feature on most new phones, the SoftBank iPhone will be hard to sell. However, as I predicted over a year ago, and I am yet to see any data to make me want to change my mind, the lack of One Seg television and FeliCa-based electronic cash will not affect the desirability of the SoftBank iPhone.

Categories: Opinion


Sarah · August 18, 2009 at 22:33

I’m looking at the SoftBank iPhone now. If I don’t plan on using the minutes for calling except for quick, sparse calls and mostly text and use the internet, it sounds like a good deal, but the $.42 a minute is a whopper. Do they charge by the 30 seconds or the minute? Also, if I reach the 6MB limit before the month is over, will I be able to browse more websites or is it comparable to prepaid? I’m so confused. I don’t speak Japanese, so this is really frustrating. Any more insight you have would be appreciated.

Ken Y-N · August 19, 2009 at 00:36

Sarah, yes, minutes are a killer as no-one speaks on the phone! However, SoftBank support various schemes for unlimited calls to designated SoftBank numbers, or all SoftBank numbers at any time.

Sometimes they quote by the minute, although the basic unit is 30 seconds (so 31 seconds costs the same as a minute) so check the small print carefully!

The 6MB limit, I think refers to their unlimited plan. Basically the idea is that for less than 6MB you get charged per packet, but once you hit 6MB (5,985 yen) you can keep using an will never be charged any more.

SoftBank have a comprehensive English site for the iPhone, and I’ve heard that if you don’t speak Japanese when you go to their shops they’ll get an English-speaking operator to help you over the phone.

Finally, mobile phone pricing plans are designed to be incomprehensible in order to make it harder for you the consumer to compare companies. It took me two years to understand my docomo bill, for instance, and there’s still one or two points I’m not 100% certain about!

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