Using Your Own Mobile Phone in Japan and Europe

By Jonathan Spira on 27 January 2012
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4G Data and Wi-Fi Hotspot Keep Costs Minimal

While planning my most recent trip to Japan, I stopped to think about the fact that my GSM mobile phone wouldn’t work there.  On past trips, I used an inexpensive Panasonic mobile phone purchased in Japan that worked with Japanese PDC (Personal Digital Cellular) technology.  (Japan uses three incompatible mobile phone technologies and GSM isn’t one of them.)

This time I had a plan to allow me to use my GSM phone, thanks to its UMA functionality.  UMA is unlicensed mobile access. T-Mobile calls it Wi-Fi Calling, but regardless of the name, it allows users to attach a mobile phone to the mobile network via Wi-Fi and place and receive phone calls. An added benefit is that calls placed to the U.S. made from anywhere in the world using UMA are charged as local calls, as are incoming calls from the U.S.

All I had to do to use my phone in Japan was to set it to Wi-Fi Calling and carry a portable hotspot with me.   But my Clear hotspot that works in the U.S. won’t work in Japan so I once again contacted Xcom Global and rented a MiFi Hotspot that would work in Japan, along with an extra battery.

I’m accustomed to having Wi-Fi everywhere I go in the U.S., primarily because I either carry around a portable hotspot or, more recently, use a 4G mobile phone that also acts as a hotspot.

Using your own portable hotspot is also far more secure than an open Wi-Fi signal at a hotel or conference facility and this is something of increasing importance to business travelers.

Once I got the MiFi device to see the network, with the help of a tech support representative from Xcom Global’s parent company in Japan, my plan worked flawlessly.

In the course of my eight-day trip, during which I was in Tokyo, Karuizawa, Okayama, and Kurashiki, I had reception everywhere, including on the Shinkansen (bullet train) and the Tokyo Monorail.  Speeds were generally more than sufficient to support simultaneous voice and data, although I noticed significantly slower speeds, sometimes as slow as 0.25 Mbps, in smaller towns such as Karuizawa and Kurashiki.

Even with lower bandwidth, I was still able to make and receive phone calls (there were occasional gaps where I missed a word or two) but Web surfing was painfully slow and, in Karuizawa, I relied on the hotel’s wired Internet connection (fortunately it came with a very long cable).

By comparison, I had used Xcom Global’s European MiFi hotspot on several trips covering Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands and speeds were typically 1 Mbps or higher, even in small villages, and consistent speeds of 5 Mbps were not uncommon.

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