Are you heading to Japan this summer? Wondering what you're going to do about internet? Needless to say, trying to sort through all the internet information can be, for many of us, a bit daunting, confusing, and to put it bluntly, a headache. I've attempted to cover the basics of broadband internet in Japan today, with some help from Chris Green of Asahi Net. Asahi Net is a leading internet service provider (ISP) in Japan and the June sponsor of Surviving in Japan. And, as usual, I would love to hear your thoughts, stories and experiences regarding internet in Japan in the comments!
Two Types of ProvidersFirst things first, as this might not be the case in your home country: Internet services in Japan are typically unbundled services (cable internet is usually not), meaning that one company usually provides the line and the other establishes the internet connection (in other words, the internet service provider, or ISP is typically separate from the company who sets up the line and rents you the modem, although this isn't always the case). As for companies that provide the line and hardware, NTT East and NTT West are the main ones, though KDDI and some other companies also provide these services, often because they lease the line from NTT East or NTT West.
ISPs, called プロバイダ (purobaida) in Japanese, are the ones that get you an internet connection. There are many, many of these around the country -- some of the big ones include Asahi Net, Yahoo BB, OCN, So-net, @nifty, Biglobe, etc. Most only offer Japanese support, so if you're looking for English, you might find some helpful information here, or check out Surviving in Japan's June sponsor, Asahi Net.
You can sign up with NTT East or NTT West on your own and then sign up for an ISP separately, if you prefer, or, you can sign up with an ISP and they will pass your application to NTT East or NTT West directly. You may either end up paying two bills each month, or a combined bill, depending on which option you go with and the ISP you choose.
And this is another possible service that can help get you hooked up (all in English).
Main Types of Broadband (High-speed) Internet in Japan
Fiber-optics / FTTH (Fiber to the home) 光ファイバーFiber optics, or FTTH, as it's also called, is the fastest and most popular option for internet in Japan, with a max speed of 100 or 200 Mbps (or 1 Gbps for the au Hikari service), depending on your location, and thus service and line/wiring. There are two types of FTTH: family/home type and "mansion" type. The former is usually for standalone houses (and is more expensive) and the latter for apartment buildings with several units. The mansion type is cheaper than the family type and ADSL.
One downside to FTTH though is that it's not available everywhere yet, so depending on where you live, you might not even have the option for FTTH. Also, if it's not already installed in the building (if you live in an apartment building, etc.), you will have to request permission (via a special form) from the owner to have a line put in.
Connection time, from the time of application, can take anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks, or possibly longer during peak season (March/April and August/September, sometimes around the New Year holidays as well). If you're hooking up the mansion-type service, then it will probably be closer to two weeks, and if the family/home type, four weeks. These are just in general though; there are always exceptions.
We've been using FTTH for the past three years and it's worked out really well. We had to have the line installed in the beginning, but I started the process a month before moving so we had internet when we moved in.
ADSLWhile ADSL is not as fast as FTTH, it's still a speedy option, and it's also typically cheaper than the Family/Home-type FTTH. However, ADSL speeds vary depending on your distance from the server, so though up to 50 Mbps might be advertised, that doesn't mean it will necessarily be that fast (it could be anywhere between 3 and 50 Mbps), especially if your home is farther away from the server.
Connection time depends on whether there is phone line in your home and if it works. If there is a functioning line, then two weeks is average, but if a line needs to be prepared, then lean towards four weeks. During peak season (mentioned above in FTTH) it might take even longer. There are exceptions, of course. I used DSL during my first year in Japan (fiber optics were not available where I lived), and had no complaints (and I do a lot online, obviously :) so I need the speed). It took about a month to get set up though (I came in late July and didn't get internet until the end of August).
Cable / CATVFast connection, though not as fast as FTTH and potentially not as a fast as ADSL. Speeds vary depending on service, location and package. 30 Mbps seems to be the max speed in most cases, and the faster the connection the more you'll pay. I have noticed too that some companies have "hybrid" services, which is a combination of fiber optics and cable (usually the fiber optics are wired to somewhere outside the building, like the neighborhood, and then cable is wired from that point to the home. The hybrid version is faster than regular cable - comparable to FTTH. Most of the major internet service providers in Japan don't offer CATV, though, if that's something that bothers you.
Mobile/WimaxSince I came to Japan this one has become more popular, with people preferring the option to have wifi with them (almost) everywhere they go -- on the train, or out of the office at lunch, etc. -- either as their only source of internet or to supplement what they have at home. It's important to note that the Wimax network isn't yet available all over Japan, but does have at least 95% coverage in major cities. Some areas will not have as good reception as other areas, so the speed will, of course, vary. The max speed, under best conditions, is typically around 40 Mbps, though some are higher and many lower. The max speed varies depending on the type of mobile device you get (which depends on what provider you get it from), the service you get and the location you're in when using it.
Many ISPs now offer Wimax or similar mobile solutions, as do mobile companies like Softbank and Docomo. These aren't related to NTT or anything as you aren't setting up a physical line anywhere, so you're only dealing with the ISP or mobile provider. A huge plus is that there is no long, complicated setup and you can usually be up and running with your router within a week.
What should you choose?Here are a few things to consider when deciding what type of internet to set up:
Location - What services are available in your location? If you live in the city, almost any type of internet should work, but if you're out in the countryside, your options might be more limited. ISPs will do an availability check for you to see what you can do, if you don't already know what's available.
Language - Can you speak/read Japanese? If not, you might want to stick with an ISP that provides English support. Otherwise, there are a lot of ISPs out there with competitive services and rates (including those that provide English support, but most are Japanese-only). Also consider how technically-minded you are and how much support you might potentially need if you run into any problems.
Cost - Costs are generally comparable between all the services listed above, costing on average anywhere from 4000 to 6000 yen a month (often including modem rental). If you add on services such as an IP phone or fixed IP address, etc., it may be more, unless you were able to get some kind of deal or promotion. Depending on when you sign up you might be able to take advantage of various campaigns for a month or more of free internet, low cost or free installation, among other specials.
If you don't do much online, you can usually sign up for a plan (for anywhere of the services above) that costs much less, but your bandwidth each month is limited, which is probably fine if all you do is send a few emails and do a few other things (more on that below).
Speed and Capacity - How do you use the internet? If you mostly send a few emails, browse the net and upload some photos from time to time then you probably don't need FTTH (but hey, if it's a better deal money-wise than anything else, why not). If you watch movies, download music, play games, etc., then you'll probably want a faster connection.
Contract - How long will you be in Japan? Contracts often are signed for one or two years, but it differs among ISPs and the type of service. One ISP's fiber optic service might require a two year contract, while another might offer a choice of one or two year plans. Some may have no minimum use contract for certain services. NTT East and West, the companies that typically handle the hardware and physical connection lines, however, usually have a one or two year contract minimum for the fiber optic lines. If you need to break a contract, you will likely have to pay a fee of some kind, though this, again, varies by ISP and can also depend on the sign-up deal you may have gotten. You'll want to clarify any breaking-of-contract fees (if any) beforehand.
Reliability - How is the ISP ranked overall? Have their services and support received good feedback from satisfied customers? This may not be important to you, and it doesn't mean that small ISPs are not good options, but it might tell you something about what you're signing up for.
Ease of Setup - Are you a techie? Do you build computers in your spare time? Or is email, internet browsing and word processing your limit? While most internet services are fairly similar in how they're set up, some perhaps easier than others, you'll want to make sure you aren't too in over your head, or sign up with an ISP that provides English support if you need it, unless you have some very generous techie friends who can help you out if necessary.
If you can read and speak Japanese, you can also use this site to compare services, costs and availability of ISPs in your area, excluding cable.
Those of you who live in Japan, what experiences have you had with internet? Have any recommendations or suggestions for the newcomers?
This post was generously brought to you today by Asahi Net, a leading ISP in Japan with a variety of broadband (and other) connection services, including FTTH, ADSL, and Wimax. You can research options with them in English on their website, apply in English, and receive their support in English as well. So if you're moving to Japan and looking for potential internet options, you might want to check them out!
Many thanks to Chris Green for sharing his knowledge for this post.