Monday, May 02, 2011

NTT Flets Hikari Internet (Part I)

A major headache for me when I got my own apartment here was setting up the Internet connection. I'd lived in a Leopalace before, which, despite other complaints I've heard about Leopalaces, really has a simplistic Internet setup.

If you haven't already, check out our guides to LEO-NET and Leopalace apartments in general. But for info about getting a connection in a usual apartment setup (with NTT, as an example of a major provider), read on!

One of the most common companies to hook up with in Japan (especially if you want fast Internet) is NTT Flets. There's a Western and an Eastern version of the company, but the service they offer is nearly identical.

A first and very important distinction to make is between the infrastructure and the ISP. Though NTT provides the physical line to your apartment, more likely than not you're contracting with someone else to provide you your IP and connection to the web.

Under the actual physical line, a variety of ISPs sell their services, such as Yahoo! Broadband, OCN, BIGLOBE, @nifty, MEGA EGG, So-Net, and the list goes on.

As NTT Flets does not offer its "own" ISP (even though OCN, run by NTT Communications, falls under the same umbrella), to get a fiber-optics line with them you'll have to sign up as a customer of both NTT Flets and a provider of your choice. Probably the most cost-conscious way to sign up is online (ironically).

Among the best deals I found were the official homepages of NTT West Flets and NTT East Flets. They often run campaigns for 2 months' service + installation for free. (The trick is that your contract ties you into the service for the next two years... but so does every other Flets contract!) If there is an ongoing campaign, you'll see it clearly on their homepage.

You may be interested in the offers at big chain stores (Bic Camera, Yamada, Edion, DeoDeo, etc.) for cheap/free televisions, PCs, game consoles, or appliances as a gift when you sign up for an Internet connection at their service counters. However, I don't think they're worth it: When I was hunting for bargains and calculated costs over a year or two years' of use, it seemed pretty clear that the big chains had just bumped up the initial or monthly fee enough to "pay" for the free gift over the span of your contract. I'd rather pay as little for the connection as possible and have the rest of that money left over to save or buy my own PC rather than the outdated crap model they're trying to hawk.

After you sign up, someone will call you to explain the details of the contract and installation. A big bit of fine print about the contract that was repeated more than once when I was on the phone was the amount of money I'd be required to pay if I broke contract early... for Flets, the amount was on the order of a 10,000 yen penalty, plus the 20,000 yen installation fee that would be "waived" when I signed up as a new customer. After that, the person on the phone will schedule an installation date with you. This can be a big wait--and it seems like Japan isn't alone on this. I've heard sob stories from people in multiple countries about the four to six week lead time and then four hour window of time on a weekday that you're expected to be home to meet the installer. Anyway, once you deal with that ordeal, you'll have a connection.

Some setup will be required once the line is in your house. Your ISP will likely provide a "simple setup solution" on a CD or something, but if you look through the included paperwork carefully, you can find your PPP settings, etc. and type them in to your OS' network connection config window or into the relevant fields on a router that you buy yourself. On the plus side, since Felts has a major market share, most big router brands like Netgear, Buffalo, or NEC will include simple solutions for using the router with a Flets fiber-optic, ADSL, or other connection out-of-the-box. Look for Flets symbols and logos on the router's packaging to determine whether this is the case.

If the box displays something like this, you can bet that it's a pretty easy setup. A manual and a CD will be included with the hardware to get you going if you're lost. Usually it's just a matter of figuring out where under the router's settings you need to enter your ISP's username and password. Once you do that, the rest of the default settings should "just work."

I bought the Aterm WR8370N model wireless-N router, manufactured by NEC. It came with a CD, but I just punched in the router's IP address and had the thing up and running very easily. (Network-related stuff is usually the bane of computing for me.) Japanese ISPs offer a lot of options that seemed really weird to me, and the software on Japanese routers appear to be designed to handle those really weird options. For example, I understand that some ISPs, if you add optional services to your account, end up giving you multiple PPPoE usernames and passwords, and you're supposed to log into all of them at the same time to get access to all the services you're paying for. Maybe this is more common at home than I thought, but I'd never heard of anything like it before I came to Japan. Anyway, to compensate, even low-end routers in the Japanese market offer features like "PPPoE Multi-session" so you can do those convoluted things the ISP asks of you.

While you're in the settings window, though, it's pertinent to also change the router from its default login/password combination, and perhaps to rename your access point. Access points with the default names are prime targets for wireless hackers, who find nothing more amusing than connecting to a new network and finding out that its owner has left the router password combo set as "admin/admin."

Depending on your wireless security preferences, you may want to change your encryption type and its key as well. I've noticed that a lot of the entry-level Japanese routers broadcast two networks by default, one using WEP and the other using WPA2. This is presumably for households in which non-WPA-capable devices are present, such as old laptops and some portable gaming devices. If you don't have a need for WEP, it's probably a good idea to turn that network off, as WEP is easier for a snooping techie neighbor to break into.

After you get a router working, you'll only need to configure the devices in your house to connect to the router and enter it's standard WPA/WEP encryption key, eliminating the need for confusing PPP connections and the username/password provided to you by your ISP. Your router is taking care of all that behind the scenes.

An alternate route to Flets, by the way, is au's parent company KDDI. Recently they have been pushing for more space in the broadband Internet market, and many apartment buildings have KDDI lines already installed. If not, the company is probably willing and ready to install one in your building if any tenants show interest in their service. In fact, in my case, just calling for a price quote was enough incentive for them to go to my landlord and ask for permission to install a main--even though I told them over the phone that because of the time required for installation of a main I probably wouldn't end up signing with them.

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