Using my Japan Softbank iPhone 7 Plus while traveling in the U.S. – America Houdai

At the end of March I will be making a two week visit to the U.S. for my mother’s 90th birthday. My mother and sister live in Boston.

Since I have an unlocked iPhone 7 Plus I thought of doing what I usually do – get an AT&T GoPhone SIM card and get a U.S. temporary account and phone number. They have plans for $45 per month which seem fairly reasonable, for unlimited talk and text within the U.S. and 4 GB of data at high speed, after which your speed is throttled.

But I ran into some problems, and it was starting to get expensive. For example, the GoPhone plans don’t allow tethering. I was surprised by that. So in order for me to do work on my computer I would need a separate mobile hotspot – more money for a new device, plus pretty expensive data plans with restrictive data limit caps. It was getting costly. I was looking at $45 for the GoPhone plan plus $119 for a mobile hotspot device + $75 or so for a hotspot data plan. All for a two week visit.

I had decided to go with AT&T anyway, because I do every year, but this morning got a notice that my online order had been canceled by AT&T because they “could not confirm my identity.” I don’t know why, since I have U.S. credit cards that match my U.S. address and have been using AT&T every year. But whatever…

While looking for an alternative a Facebook friend told me about Softbank’s “America Houdai” service. I happen to use Softbank for my carrier in Japan. The word “houdai” means “all you can.” For example, if a restaurant is “tabe houdai” (like the Sizzler salad bar) it is all you can eat. Some bars have happy hours which are “nomi houdai” – all you can drink. The Softbank America Houdai plan turns out to be quite a good plan:

  • There is no extra fee for using it. You just change certain settings on your iPhone to make sure you stay connected to the Sprint network in the U.S. because Softbank happens to own Sprint.
  • You get unlimited talk and text with calls made within the U.S. and also calls made to and from Japan. So people in Japan can continue to call me as usual.
  • The plan includes tethering. And currently there is no data cap. That’s unlimited 4G/LTE data for my iPhone and my computer.

The only drawback is that you don’t get a U.S. phone number. So when you make a call in the U.S., it looks to the person receiving the call like you are calling from Japan. And if they call or text you back at your Japan number, they end up making an international phone call. But for people calling me I can just tell them to use my Skype-in number, which is a Boston number, and avoid that problem.

It sounds like a good deal. No extra cost, unlimited talk and text, and unlimited data during my trip.

I think perhaps the AT&T network is better than the Sprint network. So I’ll report again how good the reception and speeds turn out to be. But it’s definitely worth trying if you are a Softbank person visiting the U.S. and have an eligible contract.

All the major carriers in Japan now have unlimited calling plans

All the major carriers now – AU, Softbank and DoCoMo – are competing and have introduced “unlimited calling plans” and all for about the same price. The basic cost is 2,700 yen/month for calling. This is 24 hour calling, to any carrier, and to regular phone lines as well. Then you choose a data package, typically starting at 2 GB per month and going up from there.

As I mentioned the other day, starting tomorrow my new AU package will kick in. I chose the 2 GB plan (which comes with an extra 1 GB per month for the first 13 months) since I checked and have never used more than 1 GB per month.

Today I helped a friend on Softbank switch to their equivalent package. He will save a lot of money because he makes lots of calls. His plan will kick in on 9/11. They also checked and saw he never exceeds 1 GB per month of data, so the lowest cost data package will be perfect for him.

And we both get to keep our tethering option.

There is one contractual difference between the Softbank plan and the AU plan though. In typical Softbank fashion, if you switch to this new plan you are recommitting for another two years as of the date it takes effect. With AU there is no contract extension; they just consider it a “change of plan.” In that sense, AU is nicer about it.

Anyway, it’s a good deal in both cases. It looks like the age of unlimited calling has come to Japan.

But as they say, what good are unlimited minutes if they all have to be spent on the phone?