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Linemo, Ahamo, Povo or Rakuten Un-Limit: Which New Phone Plan is Right for You?

SoftBank, Docomo, Au and Rakuten offer reduced pricing plans.

By 6 min read

Mobile phone contract prices have been a bone of contention in Japan for a number of years now. When he entered office last autumn, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to lower mobile contract fees as one of his flagship policies.

Revisions to the Telecommunications Business Act were made that would, among other things, ban carriers from locking in customers with archaic contracts. Lawmakers also hoped the move would encourage price competition amongst passive phone carriers.

Since the big three phone carriers were forced to offer these prices, they don’t make it easy for you.

Earlier this year, Japan’s big three mobile companies—SoftBank, Docomo and Au—announced plans to launch new, cheaper price plans called Linemo, Ahamo and Povo respectively.

The prices are largely the same (so much for competition), but there are a few minor differences that could sway you to one carrier over another. Big shout out to CorruptPhoenix and other users for compiling much of this info on the r/japanlife subreddit.

Use the links below to jump to a section:

Overview

Not the competitive prices we were expecting.

Since the big three phone carriers were forced to offer these prices, they don’t make it easy for you. They won’t even provide in-store assistance because the plans are offered at such a low cost.

Thus, you must sign up for the plans online, and previous mobile apps you may have been using, such as My Au, will not support these plans. You have to download a completely different app. After signing up, the service is activated by entering your eSIM details (excluding Docomo’s Ahamo) or having a SIM card sent to you by mail.

Switching from your current plan to a cheaper plan under the same carrier is free. If you want to switch carriers, laws capped the maximum mobile cancellation fee at ¥1,000, but this might only apply to contracts made after the newly imposed rules.

For anyone that feels that 20 GB is overkill, consider a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO).

If you want to keep your same phone number and transfer your data, you will most likely have to pay a transfer fee up to ¥10,000, and data speed is capped at one megabit per second (Mbps).

These plans are great for anyone that needs that sweet spot of about 20 gigabytes (GB) of data per month.

For anyone that feels that 20 GB is overkill, consider a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) such as Iijmio, which offers a phone number and 4 GB of data per month for under ¥1,000.

The last caveat is that you must provide your own smartphone. Normally, carriers can offer you a monthly contract that includes handset payments so you can buy a new phone without paying the full price all at once, but that isn’t available with these plans.

All three plans:

  • Supports 4G and 5G (when available) networks
  • 20 GB of data per month
  • Cost ¥550 per gigabyte after the first 20 GB
  • Include tethering
  • Include free incoming calls
  • Cost ¥22 per 30 seconds of call time
  • Cost ¥3.3 per text message (SMS)
  • No carrier email address (MMS) included
  • No voicemail included

*Prices include tax

Docomo Ahamo

It’s hard enough to navigate Tokyo let alone mobile plans.

The Ahamo plan is the most expensive but includes five minutes of domestic calls. Softbank and Au require an additional ¥500 fee for the same option. Thus, if you make a lot of domestic calls, this is the cheapest plan. The Ahamo plan also includes free data roaming in 82 countries.

Docomo’s Ahamo is also the only plan of the three that can be included in a family plan. Members on the Ahamo plan won’t receive a discount, but family members on contractual plans such as Giga-ho can receive a discount.

The Ahamo plan also does not support embedded SIM (eSIM) cards at this time.

Ahamo overview:

  • Official website
  • App available on iOS and Android
  • Costs ¥2,970 per month
  • Extra  ¥1,100 per month for unlimited calling
  • First five minutes of calls are free
  • Free data roaming in 82 countries (up to 15 days)
  • Up to 20 GB of data overseas at no extra cost. (supported countries)

*Prices include tax

Au Povo

A cheaper data plan would make anyone happy.

There isn’t much to Au’s Povo plan. If you transfer from another Au plan or UQ mobile, there are no incurred fees. The amount of data is 20GB and utilizes the entirety of au’s 4G/5G network.

The main perk of Povo is the monthly options, which Au calls “toppings,” that you can freely opt in and out of. Options include unlimited data usage for 24 hours for ¥200, a monthly flat-rate, all-you-can-call option for up to five minutes for ¥500 and a 24-hour all-you-can-call option for ¥1,500.

Povo overview:

  • Official website
  • App available on iOS and Android
  • Costs ¥2,728 per month base
  • Extra ¥220 per month for unlimited data
  • Extra ¥550 per month for first five minutes of each call free
  • Extra ¥1,650 per month for unlimited calls

*Prices include tax

Softbank Linemo

Softbank’s Linemo essentially is a continuation of SoftBank’s MVNO, Line Mobile. SoftBank and Y Mobile users can move to Linemo at no charge.

The Linemo plan is almost the same as Au’s Povo plan, but one feature that may interest you is that any data used within the Line app is not counted towards your spent data, making Linemo a good choice for anyone that uses LINE for calling, messaging and file sharing. Moreover, Linemo support is done through the Line app.

Linemo overview:

  • Official website
  • No dedicated app
  • Costs ¥2,728 per month
  • Data used within Line application not counted towards the monthly 20GB
  • Extra ¥550 for first five minutes of each call free (first year is free)
  • Extra ¥1,650 per month for unlimited calls (first year is ¥1,100)

*Prices include tax

Rakuten Un-Limit VI

Photo:
Rakuten is shaking up the mobile industry.

Rakuten’s new Un-Limit VI plan may have caused competitors to rethink their prices more than the government did. The company has been claiming to “democratize the mobile industry” for a few years.

Under the Rakuten Un-Limit VI plan, prices adjust automatically depending on how much data you use. If your total monthly data usage is between 1GB and 3GB, the fee will only be ¥980 (before taxes), ¥1,980 for data usage between 3GB and 20GB and 2,980 for data that exceeds 20GB can per month.

Rakuten’s total 4G and 5G networks are available, and domestic calls are free through the Rakuten Link communication app.

Un-Limit VI overview:

  • Official website
  • Between 1GB and 3GB for ¥980
  • Between 3GB and 20GB for ¥1,980
  • Unlimited data for ¥2,980
  • Domestic free through the Rakuten Link app
  • Unlimited international calls available for ¥980
  • In-store support available

*Prices do not include tax

Are any of these plans enticing enough to make you switch? Any kind of catch we are missing? Let us know in the comments!

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