So you’re coming to Japan and you want to be sure that you’ll always have internet access when you need it. Free WiFi can be surprisingly difficult to find in Japan, even in big cities like Tokyo. So before your trip, it’s a good idea to make arrangements so you’ll be able to stay connected wherever you go. The two main options for short-term visitors are renting a prepaid SIM card or pocket WiFi in Japan, but which one is right for you? If you’re confused about the differences between the two, we’ve broken down the advantages and disadvantages of each one. A pocket WiFi router is essentially a mobile WiFi hotspot that you can connect multiple devices to. It’s similar to a WiFi router that you would have at home, but it’s lightweight and battery powered so you can easily take it with you. A SIM card is a tiny card that plugs directly into your smartphone or tablet. It identifies your device to cellular data carriers so that you can connect to their network. When you insert a new SIM card into your phone, the phone number and data plan are automatically updated with your new information. This is extremely useful when traveling to other countries, as you can buy a prepaid SIM card to get service from a local carrier and avoid expensive international roaming fees.
Pros & Cons of SIM Cards and Pocket WiFi in Japan
Pros & Cons of Pocket WiFi
One of the biggest benefits of a pocket WiFi in Japan is that it’s simple and easy to use. You simply turn the router on and your device can connect to it. Mobile WiFi routers are shipped ready to use straight out of the box and are guaranteed to work with all devices that are WiFi-capable. Mobile routers in Japan are also very fast. They connect to Japan’s LTE network and can access speeds up to 150MBPS, and they have a wide coverage area so you can be sure that you’ll have internet access all across Japan. However, you’ll need to watch the battery life and keep your pocket WiFi well charged, so that it doesn’t shut off unexpectedly. You may want to carry a portable power supply so you can recharge your pocket WiFi while on the go.
Pros & Cons of SIM cards
The most important thing you need to know about prepaid SIM cards in Japan is that they only work with compatible devices. First, your phone must be SIM-free or unlocked: many phone carriers SIM-lock their smartphones so that they only work with that particular carrier, and they won’t unlock them for you unless you finish your contract and/or pay an extra fee. In addition, to use a pre-paid SIM in Japan, your phone must be compatible with local network specifications either a 3G or 4G device. Older Blackberry phones, as well as certain smartphones, may not be compatible so you’ll need to verify that your device will work.
If after checking your device’s SIM card capatability you find that renting a card is a viable option for your trip to Japan, you’ll be able use your smartphone or tablet just like you would back home without any roaming charges. Like a pocket WiFi, a pre-paid SIM card provides fast LTE data access and a wide coverage area. And unlike renting a Japanese phone, you don’t need to worry about contracts or activation fees.
Prepaid SIM vs. pocket WiFi: Japan rental options
So now that you know the pros and cons of each, is a pre-paid SIM card or a pocket WiFi rental the right choice for you? A pre-paid SIM card can be more convenient than a pocket WiFi because you won’t need to turn it on and off each time you use it to save battery life. You also don’t need to worry about juggling multiple devices smartphone, router, and a portable battery while you travel as a SIM card plugs directly into your device. However, you do need to make sure that your phone is compatible and isn’t SIM-locked. You will also need to adjust the Access Point Name (APN) settings on your phone before you can access a network. If your APN settings aren’t correct, you risk losing phone functionality or receiving additional charges. By comparison, pocket WiFi routers don’t require any extra setup. You can simply connect to your pocket WiFi right out of the box.
Something else to consider is where you will be traveling to while in Japan. If you’re going to be visiting many rural locales and have multiple devices, WiFi can sometimes offer a stronger signal. This includes visiting temples in the mountains, staying in a remote ski cottage, visiting onsen ryokan in mountain areas, or traveling to rural villages for NPO activities. However, if you’re going to be sticking to mostly populated areas and standard transportation routes, a SIM card will have just as wide and strong of a coverage area.
You should also think about how many devices you want to connect. If you’re traveling with a laptop or in a group, with a pocket WiFi everyone will be able to tether to the same device and enjoy fast internet speeds; the caveat to multiple users or devices on one portable WiFi is that if you rent a small data plan (3–5GB) you will most likely have to top up multiple times, which means you might save more by renting a larger data plan than you might normally consider. This can make pocket WiFi more cost-effective than purchasing multiple pre-paid SIM cards for everyone in your group. And you don’t need to worry about device settings or hardware compatibility like you do with SIM cards.
Whether you decide to get a prepaid SIM card or rent a pocket WiFi in Japan, you should make sure to reserve it in advance because supply can be limited during peak-tourist season when many people visit Japan from overseas. You can arrange to pick up your SIM card or pocket WiFi at the airport or have it sent to the address you’ll be staying at. And don’t worry you can always update the delivery address later if you need to.
Do you know which device fits your needs? If so, head over to our short-term plans to see why Sakura Mobile is?the best when it comes to data plan rentals in Japan!