In addition to the post I made earlier, in regards to the latest Cingular USA and T-Mobile USA 3G phones that are being launched/have been launched in 2006/2007 -- THE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE MODELS AS OF 3/2007 WILL NOT WORK IN JAPAN because the 3G frequencies/standards they use is not the same as that used in Japan!
(Yes, all Cingular 3G phones out as of 3/2007, including the Blackjack and Sync will not work in Japan.)
(Yep, the other USA 3G phones that use a 2100Mhz frequency will also not work because the communicatons standard used isn't the same as that used in Japan, and the entire phone wasn't designed to work in Japan anyways.)
(yep, the Cingular BlackJack 3G is not the same as the Samsung i600 3G frequency. If you have the imported i600 PDA, you can roam in Japan with it.)
Everyone is currently WAITING to see if there will be a dual-band/tri-band/etc. version of a 3G phone that will let you run over the Cingular 3G network, the T-Mobile 3G network and Japan's 3G network (all of which are different and run on different frequencies!!).
Maddening, but true! (USA is a MESS when it comes to cellular standards!)
1) To roam in Japan using any phone bought outside Japan, you will need to roam using a 3G phone (specifically UMTS/WCDMA 2100Mhz).
If it's only GSM, it won't work. If it's CDMA, it won't work. etc.
It must be 3G/UMTS/WCDMA 2100 (not all need to be there, but you must see either 3G, UMTS or WCDMA + 2100Mhz) - you'll see this noted on the specifications. It isn't the same as the USA 2100Mhz used either! Read wikipedia for the specifications for UMTS/WCDMA.
You MUST have a 3G phone! (Currently, that means an imported European/Asian 3G WCDMA 2100Mhz phone, not a Cingular USA or T-Mobile USA 3G phone as of 3/2007, which won't work.)
2) If you're phone only does regular, slow GSM frequencies (single, dual, tri, quad band), it won't work if it's not 3G as well.
3) Most of the new 3G phones you search for using the Phone Finder feature at www.gsmarena.com will work in Japan.
eg. All of the 3G Nokias, 3G Samsungs, etc.
Thus, Nokia 6233, 6280, N73, E61, Samsung Z510, Z400, Z540, Z560, Z720, Sony K618i, K800i, W850i, etc will all work in Japan....
I've roamed using a 6233 Nokia into Tokyo and WAP, SMS, Voice all worked fine on my T-Mobile USA plan.
4) ... BUT!!! you must have the following:
a) Your provider must have an active roaming agreement with partners in Japan. You can look this up on your providers website under International Roaming.
If it doesn't list Japan, forget about roaming!
b) You must have your plan enabled with International Roaming turned ON! eg. T-Mobile USA will not roam unless you add their free WorldClass feature to your plan before landing in Japan.
If this is not active, even if you have active roaming partners, you can't roam!
5) If you buy/rent/borrow/use any Japanese provider SIM in your phone, you must:
a) Have a Japanese SIM that is compatible with the standard 3G/GSM phone
b) The Japanese provider allows this (ie. doesn't block the SIM).
c) Your phone is fully UNLOCKED! (If it can't take any and all SIM cards, it's not unlocked.)
eg. you can now rent $1-3/day Vodafone SIM cards to use in your 3G phone when you bring it to their sales counter in Narita, etc. You save $$$$ by using a local phone number and provider plan (instead of roaming on your own plan above).
6) Roaming on your own plan (not #5 above) = very expensive charges.
You can easily get a $200-400 USD bill in a week or two of calls roaming in Japan.
Think $1.99 per minute!
#5 above greatly reduces the costs, as does SMS texting on your own plan.
That said, a cheap Nokia 6151 for $150, or Nokia 6233 for $250 are reliable, solid phones that'll roam and work w/o a problem in Japan and Europe.
Unlocked, they give you access to all of the necessary network settings to use it all over, and are good for use in Japan's noisy cities!
(trust me, you think the 6233 filling an entire huge room with music over the loudspeakers is loud? Once you land in Tokyo, you'll realize how much noisier Japan really is, and you'll thank yourself that the phone has such a loud loudspeaker and regular speaker!)
Phones with loud speakers are highly recommended -- it'll be impossible, literally, to hear quiter phones in Tokyo's city streets.
So besides looking at the Phone Finder in GSM Arena, then reading their user and full reviews, also read the full reviews at www.mobile-review.com. Then, pop on over to howardforums.com for the in-depth chat.
These three sites WILL get you what you need to know about these phones, and help you get them up and running fast (and unlocked if possible).
Unlocking? If it's generally not listed in HowardForums or IUnlock.com (or even seen on ebay.com), forget it.
Oh, and generally, most Japanese phones, even if unlocked, are poor choices -- usually:
a) no T9 or other rapid word entry system. So you must slowly enter each character.
b) no MMS/WAP unlock. So no surfing the web or sending photo messages
c) limited MP3 playback. Japan loves to limit phones to AAC playback
d) very expensive vs. models found outside Japan
e) some features don't work outside Japan.
eg. double-byte Japanase Kanji/hiragana/katakana characters are all filtered out at the provider server level in the USA for the most part from SMS/MMS messages.
(If you have a Japanese-character phone, and it has a full POP/IMAP email system, then you can probably get away with sending characters okay....)
f) button locks.
eg. some buttons for the web are programmed to go only to that provider's site in Japan. Can't change it and it won't work outside Japan.
Some EU/Asia models that are imported by providers and sold there under different model #s maybe similar.
eg. most Nokias are similar to their EU counterparts, with the exception that they include Japanese character support and some customization of the menus, WAP, etc.
But, Samsungs are typically mostly feature locked. You can get the phone unlocked to use voice/sms, but forget about WAP,MMS,etc.
That said, at the very minimum, the unlocked Nokia 6233 works fine in Japan and USA, will roam in EU, and has been tested to roam just fine by me for voice, wap, sms.
Calls are made as normal:
999-999-9999 for calls to USA numbers
+CountrycodeCitycodePhonenumber for calls to Japanese numbers, typically starting with +81....
Cingular and T-Mobile USA have international calling webpages that will explain current procedures.