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.