Ditching the Big 3 – Alternatives (that is, cheaper) Cell Phone Providers

ByMark Guthrie
Dec 25, 2020

Ditching the Big 3 – Alternatives (that is, cheaper) Cell Phone Providers

Do you remember when cell phones were a thing of ridicule? When you were in a coffee shop, in a meeting or at a bar, and there was that one guy (and it was always a guy) who whipped out an industrial brick of a phone and smugly slapped it on the table, and everyone else in the room thought, geez, what a tool? If you don’t remember that, it’s probably because (a) you’re too young, or (b) you were that tool.

But even if you were that tool, history has proven you right, as every Tom, Dick, and Harriet has a cell phone permanently affixed to their hand. But being in Japan, to do so can be pretty expensive, as contracts can cost an arm and a leg, as for a long time Japan’s cell phone service was a triopoly, ruled by the Big 3 of Softbank, au, and Docomo, and monthly packages were astronomical.

Now, I’m not saying that there was any collusion between these companies to keep the costs artificially high, as to do so could probably land me in pretty hot legal water, but after nine years in Japan, spending close to 10,000 JPY a month at the Big 3, I did a little research and discovered that I was paying out of my backside for a service that I could have for a fraction of the price.

In the end, I went for UQ Mobile (partly because it had a pretty good deal, partly because I have a strange attraction to the stern-faced women on the adverts, and partly because I am lazy and it was the first counter that I came across when I went into BIC Camera), but there are a number of decent providers out there. Here are a few to consider, all of which have differing levels of data available, though for simplicity below I will just cover the one that I feel offers the best value.

GTN Mobile

Specifically targeted at non-Japanese residents, GTN provides multi-lingual support, and various payment methods including at convenience stores and through credit cards, its primary targets are tourists on short stays in Japan as well as long-term residents.

They have two plans, one that is data only, and another that includes calls. The latter requires a visa of more than 90 days and costs 2580 JPY per month including 5GB of data, free domestic calls up to 10 minutes, and is discounted to 1980 JPY for the first three months. The latter will set you back 1490 JPY every month.

Website: gtn.co.jp

UQ Mobile

With connections to AU, UQ Mobile claims to have the fastest data speeds available and boasts numerous cost-saving schemes. One such scheme is that when I signed up with my wife, I received a 500 JPY discount every month. She didn’t, for some reason. Winner!

UQ’s ‘Smartphone Plan R’ costs 2980 JPY per month for 10GB of data, though by signing up with an AU ID, that can be bumped up to 12GB for the first three months. Furthermore, any data that you do not use can be carried over to the following month.

Website: www.uqwimax.jp

Line Mobile

For the perennially popular messaging application Line, it was a no-brainer to enter the low-cost mobile provider industry.

Starting at just 600 JPY per month, the Line Mobile SIM card is extremely popular with younger users who primarily use Wi-Fi, but need a little extra data, as SNS usage comes at no extra cost. But if you require voice calling and data, their 2200 JPY plan that includes 6GB of data is a pretty good deal.

Website: mobile.line.me

Y! Mobile

The mobile arm of the Yahoo! search engine, Y! Mobile piggybacks on the Softbank network and stands out from many of the low-cost providers by having English language assistance.

The Smartphone Basic Plan M has 13GB of data for 3680 JPY, though the first six months are discounted to 2980 JPY. Should you choose to also sign up to their fixed-line provider, this can be cut even further to 2480 JPY. Family discounts are also available.

Website: ymobile.jp


At some of the providers above you may find it difficult to retain your phone number. They also may insist that you have a Japan-issued credit card. Have a look at our article here to uncover any potential problems, and how to get around them.


Image: via https://www.uqwimax.jp/#x2cM6nkWPeU

About the author

Mark Guthrie editor

Novelist, copywriter and graduate from the most prestigious university in Sunderland, Mark whiles away his precious time on this Earth by writing about popular culture, travel, food and pretty much anything else that is likely to win him the Pulitzer he desperately craves. Find some more of his musings at www.markguthriewrites.com and on instagram @markguthriewrites