Internet Service Providers – Help! Which One Shall I Choose?
If you managed to acquire a Japanese phone number following our previous guide, finding an internet service provider will be almost like a walk in the park. Obviously, there are things you should be mindful of when choosing your internet service provider (ISP for short), especially since there are many-many different kinds of possible companies you can choose from depending on your budget, place of living, needs, et cetera.
Before you decide on an ISP, here is a checklist of things you should think over before being persuaded by a company representative into signing a contract:
- How long are you planning to stay in Japan?
As in: for how long would you like your contract to last? Generally speaking contract periods are no shorter than 1 year, so if you plan to stay for less than 12 months in the country of the rising sun, it might be better for you to look for different alternatives for internet in order to avoid cancellation fees – which can be surprisingly expensive, mostly around 10,000¥. In that case, a pocket Wi-Fi with a short contract period might be more suitable for you.
- Where do you live?
Each area has a selection range of different kind of companies if we overlook the bigger ones that serve people all over the country (like SoftBank), and if you are lucky, some of these smaller local service providers might even have unique offers with more wallet-friendly prices than usual. Try to look for local ISPs by searching インターネットプロバイダー and the name of the city or town you live in. It’s also important to note that different residences (apartments アパート or mansions マンション) may also have different kinds of options for internet connection that could be set-up for cheap – try asking at your real estate agency or landlord about them. If you live in a family house, service may be a bit pricier.
In case you are residing in Tokyo, we would recommend reading Tokyo Cheapo’s detailed guide about ISPs in the area.
- What are your habits of internet usage like?
We are getting more personal as we proceed with the questions, but these are truly important things to take into matter if you would like to find the most suitable ISP for your needs. Do you watch videos and movies online often? If you don’t use online streaming services like Netflix, don’t watch YouTube too often, or you are not the online gamer kind of person using an immense amount of data, you might want to consider investing into a pocket Wi-Fi already mentioned before or a bigger mobile data service pack you can share on your devices. These have a set data plan and may not be as fast but are suitable for general internet usage like looking at e-mails, using SNS or reading articles, for a cheaper price.
- How much do you know about routers?
If someone were to send you a Wi-Fi router by mail, would you be able to set it up completely by yourself or maybe with the help of a manual – just like IKEA furniture? If the answer is yes, you are one of the lucky ones – you might have perfectly working Wi-Fi in the comfort of your home in approximately 3 days if you decide on an ISP that has rental Wi-Fi- services – like SoftBank’s SoftBank Air, which is one of our personal recommendations. It costs about 4,700¥/month for unlimited data usage with a reasonable speed rate. Once the rental router arrives to you, all you have to do is plug it in according to the instructions, wait a few minutes, snatch the network password on the device, and et voila, everything is set.
If you are not a technical savage or have no courage trying the aforementioned method, you may want to look for an ISP where they will send a savior to you who sets the router up for you, though it might take 2-3 weeks. If you were to ask “why,” the answer is most likely that the handymen have a lot of appointments scheduled, especially during moving seasons of the year (around March and August-September).
- Do you need a home phone, a fax machine or television in addition to the internet?
Most of our foreign friends and acquaintances living in Japan don’t have any of these in their home. We wouldn’t really say you need a home phone if you already managed to get a mobile phone number (even though some service providers might want to convince you about the opposite of that), and unless you own a business, we highly doubt any need will arise for a fax machine. If you would like to have Japanese cable TV, you may want to look for an ISP (like J:COM) where you can have a package for both cable and internet.
- What is your budget?
“You get what you pay for” is a correct statement for services in general – and for Japanese internet, too. As we mentioned before, it’s important to consider the speed and the data limits of your own personal needs – low speed and limited data options (like pocket Wi-Fi) will cost less while a high speed and unlimited option will most likely cost more.
Note: Some of the contracts might contain additional things you may not actually use, such as life support hotline services. These also mean additional costs that may increase the monthly fee you pay, and a lot of people accidentally overlook them when doing the paperwork, so be mindful of the services you want to pay for.
- What kind of payment methods are suitable for you?
If you have just arrived in Japan and don’t own a Japanese bank account yet, or you do but it still has no money on it, you may want to consider choosing an ISP where one of the following two payment methods are possible:
- Convenience store invoice payment by cash – By this particular payment type, you are going to get a bill every month by mail that you can pay at basically any convenience store, such as Lawson.
- Monthly withdrawal payment by (foreign) credit card
This could be important in the beginning in order to make a contract in case you are having trouble creating a bank account. Later, you can feel free to change your payment method to whatever you like and whatever is possible. Most companies have this option on their official website – you just have to log in with the ID and password that was assigned to you personally, request a payment method change, and they will most likely send you a postcard by mail where you have to give the details of your new credit card or bank account, then send it back (which is free of charge). If you need help with filling the papers out and there is a representative office (支店) nearby you can visit, they will most likely kindly be at your service.
If you went over each element of our checklist and have a clearer image of what type of service you need for yourself, here is an easy to understand table with our recommendations:
|Name||Type||Website||Contract period||Speed||Price (avg.)|
|SoftBank Air||Rental Wi-Fi||SoftBank Air||24 months||Depends on area
|SoftBank Hikari||Optical Fiber||SoftBank 光||12 months or more||1GB/s||~4,536¥/month|
|UQ WiMax||Pocket Wifi||UQ WiMax||24 months||10GB/3 days||~4,604¥/month|
If none of the former offers match your needs, try using the following comparative website: 価格.COM
Good luck on your quest to find an ISP suitable for your needs!