Japan’s telecoms industry regulator the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) has announced that from next year, the country’s mobile network operators (MNOs) must sell smartphones and tablets with the SIM card unlocked, if a customer requests it. The lifting of restrictions on which network a subscriber can use marks a sea change for the Japanese cellular market where, until now, consumers have been tied to two-year contracts, with an option to sign up for an alternative plan. With mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) generally offering less expensive voice and data plans, the MIC’s edict will force the big three MNOs – NTT DOCOMO, KDDI (au) and Softbank Corp – to introduce more competitive pricing.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in July this year the MIC revisited plans to impose obligations on the country’s cellcos to unlock their handsets and map out the procedure details by the end of the fiscal year (ending 31 March 2015). Previously, the MIC formulated guidelines for removing SIM locks in 2010, but little progress was made, as the unlocking procedure was not deemed obligatory.