Will new, high-volume mobile phone plans really benefit consumers?

The three major mobile phone companies have launched new plans with drastically reduced rates. They must arrange things so that a wide range of users can feel the benefits.

NTT Docomo Inc.’s plan for 20 gigabytes, which is a relatively large amount of data, costs ¥2,970 per month, including tax, and includes a service that allows users to make free phone calls of up to five minutes each.

KDDI Corp., which offers the “au” mobile phone service, and SoftBank Corp. charge ¥2,728 per month for their new plans, which do not include free phone calls.

Twenty GB of data a month is enough to watch about one hour of high-definition video per day. People with that level of usage previously had to sign up for a high-capacity plan of 60 GB or more. The price is now less than half what would be charged for such a plan, bringing it down to the level of the fees in London.

Even though the new plans were devised after a government request, they can be seen as progress in the reform of mobile phone rates, which have been considered expensive compared to the rest of the world.

However, the new plans have various restrictions and conditions that require care.

All the companies’ new plans can only be contracted online, not at mobile phone shops. This lacks consideration for elderly people who are not familiar with the internet, among others.

Student discounts do not apply. Family discounts also may not be available in some cases, so people who sign up with many family members, including children, or those who make long calls between family members, should check if the plans actually offer low rates. Each company should strive to provide clear explanations, for example, by giving examples.

The appeal of the new plans is the data volume of 20 GB. But, according to a survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, only about 10% of subscribers actually use more than 20 GB of data, and half use 2 GB or less.

A measured rate system, in which the fee is determined by the amount of data used, is more suitable for those who use a small volume of data. But that kind of system is currently more expensive than the new plans in some cases.

Pricing plans should be reviewed to include ones offering limited data volume, so that subscribers won’t feel they are being treated unfairly.

In the field of small volume plans, low-cost carriers have offered plans with monthly rates of around ¥1,000 to rival major mobile companies, and such plans are viable options. However, the reality is that many people find it troublesome to switch to a different service.

The ministry has demanded mobile phone companies eliminate fees and simplify procedures when switching companies. The ministry has also created a website where users can search for a plan that fits their needs, which should be effectively utilized.

In addition to the new plans, the major companies are using a variety of other measures to hoard customers, such as package discounts with fiber-optic services, and offering smartphones at half price on the condition that the customer replaces the phone after two years. However, the content of these plans and offerings is complicated.

Shouldn’t mobile phone companies put more effort into realizing the kind of easy-to-understand pricing systems that users are looking for?

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 28, 2021.