Japan to oblige mobile carriers to remove SIM locks from handsets

JIJI

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry plans to basically oblige mobile phone carriers to “unlock” their handsets so they can handle other companies’ services, informed sources said Friday.

The ministry is set to present the plan to a panel Monday and map out details by the end of the fiscal year.

SIM locks restrict the use of handsets to services provided by specific mobile carriers. SIM stands for subscriber identity module.

In June 2010, the ministry set guidelines for removing SIM locks, but little progress has been made because it was not obligatory. The ministry thus found the need to drastically review the guidelines, the sources said.

In the United States and Europe, mobile phone subscribers are usually free to use the mobile phone or smartphone handset of their choice for voice and data communications by switching SIM cards.

In Japan, by contrast, the major carriers put SIM locks on their most popular handsets and offer sizable discounts on them to lure new subscribers.

Smartphone users whose Internet use is limited and long-time subscribers are both upset about the expensive monthly rates being used to finance such discounts.

In addition to expanding freedom of choice, the SIM lock removal push is expected to bring down telecommunications fees. It is also seen as a way to promote the use of mobile virtual network operators, which offer cheaper services by using leased networks.