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Japan phone network compatibility / 3G / 4G / Travel SIM

1) Network Technology – Will my iPhone 5 actually ‘physically’ work with the Japanese networks?

3G: You might think yes, but it’s not that simple. There are two technologies is use in the world for 3G voice & data:

1. GSM used in Europe & large parts of the rest of the world
2. CDMA used in USA & Japan

4G: Things get both simpler and more complicated when it comes to 4G (also known as LTE). This is being rolled out throughout the world at the moment but there are two flavours of 4G/LTE:

1. FDD which has 27 frequency bands
2. TDD which has 12 frequency bands

3G and 4G info here

It seems my European iPhone 5 (model A1429) has European GSM 3G technology (no good for Japan) but also 4G/LTE FDD connectivity on frequency bands 1 (2100 MHz), 3 (1800 MHz) and 5 (850 MHz). iPhone Info here

The good news (I’m hoping!) is that Japan has a 4G/LTE network provider that uses frequency bands 1 (2100 MHz) and 3 (1800 MHz). Japan 4G/LTE network frequency info here
The bad news is that LTE is DATA ONLY for now (in future it will carry voice too, but not yet). If, like me, you’re happy to use Voice Over IP (VOIP) apps such as FaceTime and Skype, this is not an issue.So, hoping that my phone will work on 4G/LTE data only, the next issue is the SIM…

(2) The SIM / Contract

Japan does not have a ‘Pay as you Go’ market. Everything is long term contract and usually tied to the purchase of hardware / phone at the same time.

However, things are (slowly) starting to change – some say in the build up to the 2020 Olympics. You can now buy a 2GB 4G/LTE SIM in Japan (Passport ID may be required) such as the IIJmio Travel Sim

For a reasonable amount this gives you 2GB of 4G/LTE data that you can top up as required.

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