Friday, April 13, 2012

Japanese Internet Guide Part 6: Optional services

Japanese internet providers offer a wide variety of extra services including phone and television-over-internet. Read all about it.

Phone Service
Most high speed internet providers will give you the option of a land line phone when you subscribe. This service cuts out the middle man and sends your voice communications over a high speed network: cable, fiber optics, and sometimes DSL.

In the case of NTT fiber optics, there are two rival services available at sign up. The first is known as hikarai denwa (ひかり電話 you can find NTT East's English page here) and the other is known as 050 bango (050番号) or IP Phone (IPフォン). Hikari denwa is provided by the carrier company (usually NTT) while the 050 bango/IP Phone is provided by your provider (see our companies guide for clarification). This only applies to NTT and au based fiber optic connections as most local fiber optic companies (i.e. one's owned by electric companies and municipalities) don't use independent providers.

Here is where things get tricky.. both the provider and the carrier will try to sell you their phone service. However, due to a quirk in the telecommunication laws, only carriers can provide you with a local telephone number. If you want a land line number with your local Tokyo dialing prefix (starting in "03") then you need to use hikari denwa service. Including the equipment fee and a small one-time set-up fee, this service generally starts at 500 yen a month with no minutes of talk time. A variety of extra minutes are available as well as optional local and international plans.

Using the provider's phone option will result in numbers starting with the dialing prefix of 050 regardless of geographic location. This is the same prefix used by internet phone services like Skype. Costs differ by provider, but Yahoo's BB Phone service is around 1500 yen a month including equipment fees.

Make sure that you don't end up signing up for both services when you order your internet connection.
  • Both hikari denwa and 050 bango/IP phone offer local and international rates far superior to traditional landlines.
  • While carrier-based hikari denwa is much cheaper per month and you get a local number to boot, many provider-based phone service allows for free calls to other 050 numbers thanks to a business alliance amongst providers.
  • Some 0120 (toll-free prefix) numbers cannot be dialed using 050 numbers.
  • 050 numbers can also be used with DSL service while hikarai denwa is limited to fiber optics.
Cable providers and other local net companies almost always have a service similar to hikari denwa so make sure to check with your carrier of choice for details. If you find yourself calling landlines a lot, both offer very cheap local calls that won't eat into your mobile phone minutes if you have any at all.

Television Service
One of the cool technologies catching on in Japan is the ability to get HD TV stations via your fiber optic connection. This service goes by a lot of different names depending on your carrier and provider, but it is ofter referred to as hikari terebi (ひかりテレビ) or hikari TV.

There are two ways of going about getting a TV signal from a fiber optic network. The first is to have specialized tuner that uses a LAN cable to plug into your modem. The second is to actually turn the modem into a cable service complete with its own coaxial jack right on the unit itself. NTT actually offers both of these services under two different brand names with differing areas of availability and differing price structures for maximum confusion. Various local carriers all have their own methods of doing things. NTT East offers a basic English translation of this service on their website although most of the details are in Japanese.

In the case of NTT, this service is offered in cooperation with your provider. So in order to sign-up, you will have to talk to your provider. au, on the other hand, keeps everything in house so you will have to go through the carrier.

There is generally a basic fee, a rental fee (varies depending on the features of your tuner), and extra fees depending on the channel package you select. Depending on the type of connection you have and the terms set by your provider and carrier, a one-time set up fee may be involved. If you opt for the modem-as-a-cable box type connection, NTT usually charges a one-time set-up fee to physically install the coaxial jack into your modem. If your service uses a LAN cable equipped-tuner, then you can generally do most of the set-up yourself as the equipment will be mailed directly to you.

Internet TV services offer a wide variety of channels including all your favorite local ones. For the most part, you can pick and choose the package that is right for you and prices are competitive with most local cable companies.

Other Services
When you sign up for a new net connection, providers love to throw in extra add-ons like spam guard, extra e-mail space, fixed IP addresses and so on. Unless you really need something like a fixed IP address for business purposes, then its a good idea to ignore these since the monthly fees can add up quickly.

If you still have internet related questions, come back next time for our feature on how to avoid getting in hot water for torrenting.

Other Posts in this Series
#2 Carriers and Providers 
#3 Shopping for Service 
#4 Signing up
#5 Set-up
#6 Optional Services

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