Why I don’t have an iPad: Son-san, are you out there somewhere?

I want one, and I’m willing to pay for a data plan. But Softbank will not give it to me.

I have used a Softbank iPhone for a while now — since July 2009, to be precise. Softbank has generally been pretty good to me. When the iPhone 4S came out, they essentially upgraded my iPhone 3GS for free in exchange for a two-year contract extension, and I was happy to take that offer. And their “packet-hodai” deals have been a very cost-effective way to stay in touch while traveling, often coming out cheaper than using hotel wi-fi.

When the new iPad was released last month, and Softbank offered a sweet deal for the 4G model (no money down, and less than 3,000 yen per month for up to 100 MB of data), it seemed like a good time to break down and buy one. I switched job functions a few months ago and now have to do quite a bit of traveling and client presentations, so having a nice big portable Retina display would be more useful than ever.

So I started my online application on the evening of March 18. The application is quite long. I had to input all my information (which Softbank already had) and agree to a few different lengthy form contracts.

Finally they asked for my credit card information, which I duly entered.

“ERROR: The name on your credit card must match the name on your application.”

I knew that my middle name was on my Softbank account, so I had entered my middle name on the first screen of the application. But my credit cards don’t have my middle name. Figuring that was the problem, I canceled the application and re-entered everything without my middle name. This time my credit card was accepted.

Two days later, I received a link to upload a scan of my identification. I started by trying my driver’s license. The upload had to be a JPG, and the scanner at work only produces PDFs, so I scanned a PDF, took a snapshot in Acrobat, and pasted it into Windows Paint.

A few minutes later I got another email. “Your ID has been rejected because it does not match the name on your application.”

Doh! Must be because it has my middle name on it.

Next try. My health insurance card does not have my middle name. Neither does my credit card. And health insurance card plus credit card is listed as an acceptable combination. So I scanned, copied, pasted, saved, and uploaded again.

A few minutes later I got another email. “Your ID has been rejected because it does not match the name on your application.”

I growled, picked up my phone and called customer service. After 15 minutes on hold I finally got to an agent and explained what had happened.

“OK,” she said. “I have your phone number. Can you confirm the name on your account?”

I gave her my name.

“Um,” she said, “that’s not the name on the account.”

I explained that my original account had a middle name on it but that I couldn’t use it while applying through the website. She put me on hold for a few minutes.

“Can you upload ID without your middle name on it?”

“Like I said, I already tried that.”

She put me on hold for a few more minutes.

“So… you tried using ID with your middle name, and then without your middle name?”

“YES,” I said.

She put me on hold for a few more minutes.

“OK, what you need to do is go to a Softbank store and request a change of name…”

I hung up on her and fumed on Facebook. One friend suggested that I complain to Masayoshi Son on Twitter. And I did, which sort of made me feel better. He never replied, though.

At that point I was willing to give up on my iPad dreams, but the deal still seemed too good to pass up. So on Friday, March 24, I walked up the street to the nearest Softbank store and told them I wanted an iPad. The guy at the counter checked my ID, asked for my mobile number, and produced a one-page printed application for me to sign.

“Is everything in this application correct?”

That’s when I noticed that my name was screwed up: the space between my first and middle names was in the wrong place.

“Well… that’s how it was entered in our system. I guess it was probably an error when they set up your account.”

I sighed. “I would have noticed it then. But OK. Can you still process the application?”

“Sure we can.”

“OK. And how long will it take to actually get an iPad?”

“Something like a week, probably. We will call you when it’s ready.”

The next week passed without a call. Yesterday (Monday), I tweeted Softbank customer service asking if there was any way to check the status of the request. They promptly responded that they had no way of checking and that I needed to take it up with the Softbank store.

So I went back to the Softbank store today, gave them my name and asked for a status update. The lady at the counter went into the back for a few minutes and then returned.

“We don’t know what the status is.”

“You have no idea how long it will take?”

“There is a huge backlog. It could easily take a month,” she said. “We request the iPad from Softbank, Softbank requests it from Apple, and there are probably some other steps involved as well.”

Seriously? Is it so hard to take my money and give me a product?

I am tempted to cancel the application and buy a Wi-Fi model at the store, but I know that I will want access to mobile data from time to time. Not enough to warrant a full-blown e-Mobile subscription, though. That’s the most frustrating part of this experience. Why can’t Softbank get its act together?

18 thoughts on “Why I don’t have an iPad: Son-san, are you out there somewhere?”

  1. Two things – 1) I NEVER use my middle name for anything in Japan for precisely this reason. Too much drama and hassle.

    2) Only 6% of iPad use is off Wi-Fi. Most people use it on WiFi, and if you need a data contract, you are signing up for $1200 extra dollars of promised payments (2 year fixed data plan) on top of the cost of the device – plus a bigger heavier device with less battery life.

    Solution – Get the WiFi model, and if you need data, get a portable Wi-Fi. Docomo and Wilcom offer LTE portable WiFis for rates equivalent or less than your 3G data plan for the iPad on Softbank’s crappy network, that will let you connect your iPhone, PC AND iPad at LTE speed at the same time for one fixed rate.

    I don’t have a MiFi myself, but I got the WiFi iPad thinking that is the best way to go if I ever need to see data on my iPad outdoors.

    And yes, mobile phones and foreigners are always a hassle in Japan. Faito!

  2. I would just get the WiFi model and the WiMax from Yodobashi or whoever. No contract. 300 yen a month if you don’t use it and it goes up to 4,000 yen if you do. Access to some locked WiFi spots like McDonald’s is included. Not a bad deal IMHO.

  3. If I were going to use it in my living room and on airplanes, I would just get the wi-fi version. The thing is that I know I will need a bit of data in the office (which has no wi-fi) and at client sites (which usually have no wi-fi). Softbank’s deal for existing iPhone users comes out to 65,000 yen over two years, which includes the cost of the iPad itself plus 100 MB of data a month, which is around exactly what I need. Add about 2,000 yen a month for using more than 100 MB.

    The WiMax “step” plan maxes out at 5,000 yen a month if you use just 14 MB. I figure that I would use that much in an average month quite easily. So the flat plan would be more cost effective for me, but that comes out to over 90,000 yen for two years. Add the cost of a new iPad and I would be paying twice as much as I would going through Softbank.

  4. I’d have to agree with Hiko. Get the Wifi version and work out a solution for a data connection. Personally, I use a data plan that allows tethering and just turn my phone into a wifi hot spot to get my tablet online.

    But I’m using an android developer phone and a Docomo Xi (LTE) SIM card, so that isn’t an option for you unless you 1) void warranties and 2) break Terms of Service.

  5. Ditto-ditto on the non-SoftBank encumbered iPad. If the iPad’s LTE worked in Japan, it’d be worth considering.

    Perhaps a bit less moral than SBS, I have no compunction when it comes to jailbreaking and enabling native tethering (TetherMe works a charm) for use on SoftBank’s (Sucky) network.

  6. So I took a walk to Akihabara after lunch today and decided to poke around the Softmap de-facto Apple Store there, where I found a perky young lady wearing a sandwich-board sign that said they had one of the six types of 4G iPad in stock. She told me that she could cancel out my existing iPad request. I raced back to my office, grabbed the reservation confirmation from my desk, raced back to Akihabara (two stops away) and had an iPad in hand 15 minutes later. I paid nothing up front and got the same uber-cheap data plan. It was really that simple. The store in question was no more than a ten-minute walk from the Softbank store where I was told that I would have to wait for a month.

    I jailbroke my 3GS once a couple of years ago, and regretted it. It wouldn’t consistently get along with SIM card swapping and the jailbreak also introduced a bunch of problems in the syncing process. Not to mention that using a prepaid SIM in the US (my main motivation for jailbreaking) was not significantly cheaper than paying for Softbank’s overseas data plan. So that ended that experiment.

    Anyway, I would still like to see a data plan that comes out cheaper than what Softbank is offering, considering that Softbank subsidizes the cost of the iPad.

  7. Joe, I agree totally with Hiko (hi Hiko!) on the middle-name business: *never* use your middle name for anything. In Japanese society, people have surnames and given names, and nothing else. Even if your middle name has special meaning to you — mine is my father’s name, but he has no special desire to see me use it — dump it. It’s not worth trying to explain to people that the middle name is something of an “optional” name that you might or might not use. Go with the Japanese way and just have a family name and a given name.

    I settled on one katakana rendering of my name, surname first, given name second, got my national health card to have that printed on it, and then went on to use that for all official business. The deed to my condo is in that name, so when I signed up with Softbank two years ago, I used my property tax payment receipt and the health card as ID, and everything was butter-smooth. Got the best possible payback plan for the iPhone, too.

    I’d really like to see Japan proactively get immigrants to “Japan-ize” their names (two names, in kana/kanji) from the day they arrive. It would save an amazing amount of hassle.

  8. I used a jailbroken iPhone 3G and then 3Gs for about three years total, and while I never had issues on the level you did it was certainly a bit glitchier. On the other hand, it was enough more functional that I didn’t mind. But since I wanted to get a phone that was factory unlocked and didn’t restrict what I could stall, I got a grey market European import Galaxy Nexus in December, which is unlocked, and not controlled by any carrier so all the tethering options work whether they say so or not. I like it better in most ways, with the exception of iPod type features (mainly podcasts), which I still use my old 3Gs for, as an extra thick iPod Touch.

  9. As for middle names – I believe that my official IDs like the Foreigner Registration Card, national health card, and university ID all have my full legal name, middle name included, in Roman characters, but any time I was asked to write in katakana I left out the middle name. Even in English I tend to drop my middle name, except for government forms that require it. My bank and credit cards are all sans-middle name, including my Shinsei Bank card, as well as the katakana registered as my name for Shinsei and Postal Bank accounts.

  10. I would drop my middle name if I could, but it appears on several key forms of ID and I don’t know of any way to get rid of it. In the case of my Softbank account, I simply handed my DL to a guy who copied the data into his system, including the mis-entered middle name. It would not have been an issue either way were it not for the fact that Softbank’s website absolutely sucks.

  11. Well, here’s an alternative which is almost as cheap as Softbank’s offer, though incredibly slow: http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/aeon/service_data.html

    980 yen/month for an unlimited data SIM with speed capped at 100 kbps, using the Docomo FOMA network. This would be much slower than Softbank 3G but ok for email and web browsing. Throw in the cost of an iPad and mobile wi-fi router spread over two years and it’s a total of maybe 3,000 yen a month, which I guess is competitive with paying a few hundred yen less for up to 100 MB at full speed.

  12. Couldn’t you just buy a 3G equipped iPad full price with no service contract and pop the b-mobile SIM in that instead of using an external router? 100kbps might not be amazing speed, but it also doesn’t seem to have any hard data limits.

  13. That’s a possibility, but as far as I know they don’t sell the 3G iPad off-contract in Japan, and it wouldn’t hugely change the price since a separate router costs about the same as the difference between the two iPads.

  14. B-Mobile SIMs won’t work because the only 440 SIMs * it accepts are SBM. A 3G or 4G iPad purchased in Japan is effectively SIM locked while in Japan. And it should also be noted that there are no Aeon micro SIMs.

    If you’ve never used any of the b-mobile proxied SIMs (including the Aeon variants), the biggest issue with them is latency. While they do provided the advertised symmetrical connection speed of 100 kbps (300 for the U300), latency is often high enough that they feel significantly slower.

    If I were in the market for a mobile router, I’d get the new LTE one from b-mobile with the “chameleon” SIM that can be freely changed between three different plans. (The least expensive is the U300 data-only.) The LTE infrastructure apparently decreases the latency such that a chameleon LTE SIM with a U300 service plan with serve up the web noticeably faster than a standard FOMA U300.

    The router is about the size of an aluminum business card holder.

    *Japan’s Mobile Country Code is 440.

  15. This is precisely why I bought a 4G iPad in Singapore last weekend. Factory unlocked so I can use it with any SIM I please.

    Now, if only Japan would get its act together and start selling cheap, prepaid data SIMs like the rest of Asia…

  16. Japan barely even sells prepaid voice SIMs. Enjoy the wait for them to offer prepaid data SIMs… On the plus side, data plans in Japan are at least more generous than many countries, and they way they often just bill you for usage and then convert to unlimited past a certain point is FAR preferable to the US style of having to decide in advance how much of a data allowance you want to contract for, and unlimited no longer even being an option.

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