Mt. Vernon Register-News


July 11, 2014

Phone carriers must stop corralling customers with SIM cards

If cell phone subscribers can receive services from other mobile phone carriers without changing their actual phones, the convenience of using mobile phones will be greatly improved.

In using mobile phones, including smartphones, customers insert a subscriber identity module (SIM) card containing their subscription information into the phone before using it.

Each mobile phone company puts “SIM locks” on the handsets so that subscribers cannot use their cell phones with other firms’ SIM cards, with the aim of preventing customers from switching to other companies. If customers transfer to other companies, they have to buy new phones from the companies to which they want to switch.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry intends to oblige mobile phone carriers to remove SIM locks for handsets from fiscal 2015 as corralling customers with the locks narrows the range of customers’ choices for phones and service providers.

Each time customers change to other mobile phone companies, they have to also stop using phones which they had long used, a situation with which many mobile phone users may not be satisfied. It is natural that mobile phone carriers are being ordered to remove the SIM locks.

The three major mobile phone carriers — NTT Docomo, KDDI and SoftBank — have monopolized the market with an almost uniform set of services and rates.

In other countries, such as the United States and European nations, mobile phone carriers, in many cases, are obliged to remove SIM locks after a certain period of time after a subscription begins.

Voluntary action lacking

In 2010, the communications ministry asked mobile phone firms on a voluntary basis to remove their SIM locks, but there has been limited success. It can be said that the mobile phone industry has not changed its negative approach to the ministry’s request, resulting in the ministry resorting to ordering them to do so.

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