Japan's wireless network providers have lifted restrictions on which network their subscribers can use, enabling all smartphones and tablets to be sold with their SIM cards unlocked upon customers' request.
As of May 1, all smartphones and tablets are sold with their SIM cards unlocked if customers ask for it and at no cost to users, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
The move frees consumers from traditional two-year contracts and gives them the option to sign up for alternative plans. Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO), which do not own any wireless network infrastructure but rents bandwidth instead, generally offer cheaper data and voice plans.
The move will push the country's three biggest mobile carriers network providers NTT DoCoMo Inc, KDDI Corp and SoftBank Corp to be more competitive with their pricing.
Docomo and KDDI have lifted SIM locks on handsets that customers keep for more than six months after purchase.
The new policy also gives MVNOs such as Aeon Co Ltd and Rakuten Inc a chance to increase their market share, currently at less than 5% combined.
The government has long criticized the three main carriers for giving consumers little choice over data plans, although they have held back from taking action until now.
Network providers lock the SIM cards of smartphones, often sold at a discount, to prevent subscribers from breaking contracts and hopping over to other networks after obtaining their handsets at reduced prices.© Japan Today/Thomson Reuters