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MVNO (Low cost SIM) review

投稿日:2015-09-27 更新日:


I talked with a foreigner about MVNO, which I have used since May 2015, and he said I should publish this information in English because there is few information about Japan mobile phone in English.

I recommend MVNO to anyone, so I would be glad if you changed your mobile carrier and save your money.

Also, I’m sorry it’s in Japanese, I wrote a review of IIJmio which is the MVNO carrier I’m using.

What is MVNO?

MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator.
On the other hand, major carriers, docomo, au and SoftBank, are MNO (Mobile Network Operator).

MVNO don’t have their own circuits unlike MNO.
Instead they lend circuits from MNO, and offer them to customers.
However, MVNO has their own line and devices between MNO’s circuits and customers.

Pros and cons of MVNO

The pros and cons of MVNO are below.
These are general features. (Each vendor offers a unique service.)


Reasonable cost

MVNO is generally cheaper than MNO.

Actually I will save over 100,000 yen in 2 years compared with keeping au.
I recommend MVNO to those who think the major carriers are exploiting.


MVNO offers simple plans.

Your initial cost should be just for the new device and initial contract fee.
As regular cost, monthly plans exist only some kinds by the limit of data.

You could avoid high expense without knowing unlike the major carriers.

No contract deadline

MVNO don’t have contract deadline like 2 years of major carriers.
You can buy new devices whenever you want.


Slow speed

The data speed is slower than MNO which has their own circuits.
Actual speed is limited by bandwidth and the amount of active users.

This means spread MVNO causes speed down, but venders keep on investing for their infrastructure and recover the bandwidth.

So far, the speed seems to get as slow as the users who started using MVNO early feel unconfortable.
However, venders keep investment, and the situation are changing always.

Few support

MVNO don’t offer a lot of support because they don’t have their own shops.
Users mainly have to do the procedure on the web sites.
This requires users to understand the plan and contract by themselves.

However, most plans are simple and easy to understand.

No carrier email (docomo.ne.jp, ezweb.ne.jp, etc.)

MVNO don’t give users carrier email.
Although many people still use carrier email, MVNO must be a good opportunity to consider stop using it.

No Osaifu-Ketai (No SIM free mobile phone with it)

There are few SIM free mobile phones which have the Felica Osaifu-Ketai function. (This is a weak point of SIM free device rather than MVNO.)
This is caused by the Japanese unique situation like Osaifu-Ketai is only used in Japan and Japanese makers hardly make SIM free devices.

Credit card required

Credit card is required to pay monthly charge.
Although some venders might offer other ways, this point tends to be over looked, so I wrote.

How to install MVNO?

Buy a device

You can buy a device from electric shops, Amazon, vender’s web site or another shop.
If you want a new iPhone, you can buy it from Apple Store or electric shops.

The device should be on of the following.

  • SIM free device
  • Carrier device matching the type of MVNO. (e.g. You have to buy docomo’s one to use IIJmio which is the type of docomo.)

If you choose a carrier device and it has Osaifu-Ketai, you should be able to use it. (I don’t know actually.)

Personally I use Zenfone2 (4GB/32GB model) of ASUS which came out on May 2015.
I would write review about this if I had time enough…

Buy a SIM card

Also you can buy a SIM card of MVNO from electric shops, Amazon or another shop.
These should be about 3,000 yen including its initial contract fee.

There are three kind of size of SIM card.
You might need to be carefully. (Latest devices don’t always have nano SIM card which is the smallest.)

Apply to MVNO vendor

There should be an explanation in the SIM card package.
In my case, IIJmio, I had to sign up its web site and input my name, credit card number, etc.

Set up APN in the device

At last, APN (Access Point Name) need to be set up in the device.
You can just choose it from a preset list depending on the device.

There should be the explanation from the vendor, you can just obey it.

Finally, you can start using the new device with MVNO!!

How to choose MVNO vendor?

I guess you are troubled how to choose MVNO vendor from a lot of ones.
As I mentioned, even if the speed were slow, the problem would be fixed before long.

Therefore, in my opinion, any venders are fine.
The today’s best choice might not be the best tomorrow because the situation is changing very quickly.

For example, you can consider your home circuit. (e.g. Biglobe and Nifty offer discount.)

If you don’t have any reasons to decide, I recommend IIJmio which started MVNO early and has kept implvement their service.
I wrote the review of IIJmio (sorry it’s in Japanese)。


Many people still hesitate moving to MVNO because it is not popular and there are little information yet.
However, you can take a lot of benefit just by spending some hours.

I would be glad if this article help you move to MVNO.

If you choose IIJmio, I would like you to kindly access via this URL which gives you and me privileges!!



  1. Brian Neale より:

    I wish I had seen your link earlier today, before I applied for my sim card, sorry about that!

    I do have a quick question – when I set up Line application on my new phone in the next week or two, how do I verify my age without having mysoftbank etc which I had to use in the past?

    • Author より:

      Hello Brian,

      It sounds pity but it doesn’t matter! I’m glad just to help you.

      Unfortunately I don’t think you can regularly verify your age for the Line app with MVNO.
      According to some articles on the internet, there appear to be some irregular way to verify below.
      These seem worthy for you to try.

      1. Borrow Docomo’s sim card from your friend while you are verifying.
      2. Verify on the Line application on PC. (Apparently this has been unavailable since last month…)

      Hope this helps!!

      • Brian Neale より:

        I think I can still add people by phone number and the QR code, so hopefully it won’t be a big problem! I’m just looking forward to cancelling my contract with Softbank!

  2. Author より:

    Yes, you can add people by other ways.
    I actually haven’t felt inconvenience without ID function.

    Good luck for running away from Softbank!


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