updated 05:04 pm EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
Government could oblige carriers to remove locks, allow citizens device freedom
The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry of Japan is considering a plan to remove all SIM locks from handsets in the country. Carriers would be obliged to remove the locks, ending a hold on customers that they currently have through current phone discounts. Sources from Jiji Press indicate that the plan was being addressed at a panel of experts earlier this week, with the intent of "drastically" reviewing the guidelines.
Much like the United States, Japan uses a model that utilizes heavily-discounted phones with carriers. The difference is that Japanese carriers tie the subsided cost into the billing, and lock the phone's SIM to keep customers on the service. Typically, carriers put the locks on the phones with the highest demand, trying to use the lower prices to draw in more customers.
The ministry initially started plans for removing SIM locks in 2010, but little progress was made toward a full removal. Instead, carriers were under no obligation to remove them.
If a policy is created that removes the locks on SIMs, it's likely it wouldn't take effect until the next fiscal year. The requirement could drive down the costs of telecommunications in general, as the high monthly rates would come down if phones aren't under kept under the same subsidization model. It also opens doors for other carriers that could lease networks, rather than focusing business on larger carriers, like NTT Docomo.
Having unlocked devices could allow for Japanese citizens who are traveling to have easier access to foreign network use. If devices are unlocked, travelers could pick up SIM cards from a local carrier in the area visited to avoid costly roaming fees.
Some device manufacturers may be moving toward the unlocked devices market under the non-obligatory ruling from 2010 before a SIM lock change is made. Apple recently released a line of iPads that are not tied to a provider. The cost for an iPad Air 16 GB unlocked model comes in at around $655 US, while an iPad mini with Retina display is $549.