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When my brother and his family moved back to America, leaving my wife and I as the last Baseels in Japan, he graciously offered me his practically new iPhone. Sadly, despite the tempting opportunity of upgrading from my old-school flip phone, I had to turn down his generous offer.

Being happily married, this wasn’t because I needed the boost in attractiveness that comes from an outdated cell, but simply because my brother and I had different providers, and his iPhone was SIM locked, like all mobile phones in Japan have always been.

However, that might be changing soon.

The Nikkei reports that Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is considering bringing pressure to bear against telecommunications providers to allow their handsets to be unlocked for use on other company’s networks. The topic was brought up in a ministry meeting on May 20.

While unlocking mobile phones is a simple procedure in the U.S., Europe, and Korea, until now this hasn’t been an option for consumers in Japan. As a result, many people feel compelled to stick with the same provider more or less permanently, since changing carriers also means buying a new phone. With the popularity of high-performing, expensive smartphones still rising, having to replace the unit becomes an even higher barrier.

For example, although all three of Japan’s major mobile phone providers, NTT DoCoMo, KDDI au, and Softbank, provide service for Apple’s iPhone,even if you already have a perfectly functioning iPhone 5S, should you want to switch from Softbank to au, your only choice is to buy yet another phone of the exact same model, just so you can use it on au’s network.

▼ Nope, no way one of these could substitute for the other.

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Among the ideas that have been suggested are obligating carriers to remove SIM locks upon request after a set amount of time has passed since the phone’s purchase. The ministry asserts that removing such restrictions will allow newcomers easier entrance to the telecommunications market, with the resulting increased competition leading to lower service fees for consumers.

The ministry’s new stance comes after repeated requests for change by business experts and savvy consumers, which were in stark contrast to previous claims by Softbank executives that “there is no actual demand” for the removal of SIM locks.

▼ Because if people stopped buying new smartphones, what would they use as coasters?

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Experts predict regulatory changes could be coming as early as 2015, so if you’ve got technologically well-equipped friends or relatives scheduled to leave the country around that time, you might want to hold off on upgrading your phone for just a while longer.

Source: Nikkei
Top image: FC2
Insert images: iPhone Meister, Revision App