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Traditional flip mobile phones, known as garakei, a staple of the days before the arrival of the iPhone in Japan, will become unusable within a few years due to the termination of 3G telecommunications services.

KDDI Corp. will stop 3G radio wave transmission for flip phones at the end of March, followed by SoftBank Corp. in late January 2024 and NTT Docomo Inc. at the end of March 2026.

From April 1, "out of service" indications will appear on the screens of KDDI's garakei phones.

The company had several million 3G contracts at the end of March last year. With their contracts canceled automatically on April 1, subscribers will no longer be charged services fees but will be unable to make calls or use emails.

Photo and other data stored in their handsets will be preserved. As contract information will be maintained until the end of June, subscribers can conclude new contracts while keeping their phone numbers during the period.

KDDI is calling on subscribers to upgrade to new models, saying the switch is available for free before the automatic contract cancellation.

Giving consideration to users who are accustomed to garakei phones, the company offers garakei-style handsets that are compatible with 4G wireless networks, the current mainstay service.

But it faces difficulty persuading all 3G subscribers to make the switch, as some want to use their current handsets for as long as they can.

In Japan, the 3G service started in 2001, led by NTT Docomo. With the total number of contracts standing above 120 million at the end of March 2012, garakei phones became the predominant handsets in the country.

Garakei is named after the Galapagos Islands, known for endemic species, as the phones came with a range of features unique to Japan.

Currently, the 4G service, as well as the ultrahigh-speed, large-capacity 5G service, which was launched in 2020, are the main wireless communications networks in Japan. Still, there were a total of about 26 million 3G phone contracts at the end of March 2021.

NTT Docomo is encouraging 3G garakei phone users by direct mail to make an upgrade. SoftBank offers a special discount for 3G phone subscribers who switch to newer models.

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