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SoftBank, Docomo, or WiMAX: A breakdown of Pocket WiFi Providers in Japan

The age old question, which provider is the best? No matter what country you're from there are usually a couple of big network providers that control most of the market. These internet service providers inundate us users with ad after ad trying to convince us that their network has the widest coverage.

But it is an important question. There is nothing worse than being caught out in the middle of nowhere with no coverage, especially on vacation in a foreign country. Without internet, it may be difficult to navigate or even do something simple, like finding the nearest convenience store. Better coverage almost always translates to more reliability.

Coverage is not the only factor in determining a reliable network. Network speed as well as how much data each network allows are also very important factors. You can have excellent coverage but without speed or data your internet use could become riddled with problems.

Here at eConnect, as a leading Pocket WiFi rental service provider in Japan, we are going to break down the pros and cons of each of the major networks providing service to mobile WiFi router in Japan. Hopefully this information can help you become informed about the overall quality of each network.

Also it's important to note that you should ask! No matter what company you choose to go with for your Pocket WiFi rental, they are most likely using one of the following networks. So if it is not clearly stated, like it is on our website, don't be afraid to ask!

My ranking credentials are simple; coverage, download speeds, and data allowance.

Okay let's jump right in!

SoftBank

Coverage: Great
Speed: Great
Data allowance: Great

Comment:
One of the thee titans of mobile service providers in Japan (SoftBank, Docomo, and KDDI), SoftBank is ubiquitous throughout the country. If you are renting a pocket WiFi unit, there is a high probability that its provider is SoftBank. SoftBank is a well rounded choice to anyone interested in having the best experience using their device. They harbor almost no downside at all. According to the their website, their coverage has been more than 99% of Japan (population-based) since 2015 August. The data allowance restrictions are also relatively lenient compared to other providers.

Docomo

Coverage: Excellent
Speed: Great
Data allowance: Okay

Comment:
Docomo, another of the three network titans, nudges SoftBank out as being having the best coverage, but they are very similar, both covering more than 99% of the nation.

It is important to note here that in terms of portable WiFi share, Docomo lags behind its two other competitors (SoftBank, KDDI-WiMAX).

Docomo is often touted as the best network in Japan in terms of coverage. However, the Achilles heel of Docomo is their rather strict data allowance. After you hit a certain limit, they will start to bottleneck your data. You should take this into consideration if you are thinking about using a portable WiFi router offered by Docomo. Their speed is very good, comparable to SoftBank, they offer 4G LTE with excellent speed. Again, the data cap here is the main issue.

WiMAX

Coverage: Okay
Speed: Excellent
Data allowance: Great

Comment:
WiMAX is a subsidiary of the third of the network titans, KDDI (au). WiMAX along with SoftBank currently have the most development in terms of portable WiFi offerings.

One drawback of WiMAX is that there are many reports of loss of reception in buildings, underground, etc. due to the nature of the frequencies that the company is using. One upside the network is ensuring in order to offset this drawback is very fast internet speed. This means when you are in a coverage zone, you wouldn't feel much of a difference in actual use between wireless routers run by all three companies.

For a while, as another attempt to close the large gap between its larger competitors, WiMAX used to offer true unlimited data as an integral part of their plans. But since the company has gone through some major restructuring, changing its name from WiMAX to WiMAX2+, the true unlimited data offer has become a thing of the past (as far as we know). Now, like all of the other major network providers, they have a certain data limit for high speed internet (although the data allowance is still excellent).

Because of its fantastic speed and data allowance, WiMAX, when it comes to portable WiFi is a close contender with SoftBank.


SoftBank Coverage Area

As can be found written clearly on our website, eConnect's Pocket WiFi uses SoftBank network, so let's take a more in depth look at their coverage area.

Hokkaido

For an island with so much open country and situated in such a precarious location, most of the major cities within the island are covered very well. (Sapporo, Asahikawa, Kushiro, Obihiro, Nemuro, Niseko, all surrounded in the dark pink, are well covered.)

Tohoku

Kanto & Chubu

As expected for the highly populated Kanto/Chubu and Tohoko regions. There is virtually no issues with coverage in these areas.

Kansai, Chugoku & Shikoku

For the Kansai region as well as the areas to the south and west. Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Hiroshima, Shikoku and all the other major cities and towns encompassed by this area are covered as well.

Kyushu

Kyushu, one of the other large islands, is also experiences very extensive coverage.

Okinawa area

The mainland of Okinawa, as well as its smaller sister islands of Amami, Miyakojima are surprisingly also covered extremely well. So even on a beautiful remote island vacation you will be sure you are connected.

For more detailed area map, visit their official website (although it's in Japanese).


Conclusion

Even though here at eConnect our Pocket WiFi devices use the SoftBank network, we want to be clear here that we rated each of the aforementioned providers with as much objectivity as possible. Clearly any of the large providers will most likely give you relatively the same experience. We thought it would be valuable to break down each with a little more detail in order to familiarize people new to Japan which options they have.

The results lean toward the conclusion that SoftBank is the most well rounded of the choices in terms of its balance between all three criteria (Coverage, Speed, and Data Allowance). That being said, WiMAX is not a bad choice either. It bolsters fantastic speed with a great data allowance as well. Docomo here comes in last in this ranking. Only if you are traveling to very remote area in Japan, would you we suggest using it.

Again bear in mind that if you need any information about all things Pocket WiFi check out what eConnect Japan offers.

Stay safe and enjoy your travels!