Choosing the right WiFi router for Japan

My father was having WiFi problems in his apartment, too many dead spots for a decent FaceTime conversation unless he stayed tethered around the Comcast Xfinity WiFi box. Like most people my father likes to walk around and talk at the same time which often results in broken connections and conversations.

I picked up a Linksys Velop mesh WiFi router set for him while in the USA this summer, turned bridge mode on his Xfinity box and plugged in the Velop router. It could not have worked out better. All the WiFi dead spots are gone, my father can FaceTime wherever he wanders. Velop truly ‘just works’ out of the box.

Linksys has been absent from Japan for some time but seems to be using Velop to dip a toe back into the Japanese market. Velop is a good product but I do not recommend it for WiFi use in Japan: it’s a poor match for the IPv6 migration protocols used by Japanese internet providers and NTT backbone.

Goodbye PPPoE (IPv4) Hello IPoE (IPv6)
The problem with Velop is the same one I had with Apple AirPort Extreme (part 1, part 2): no support for DS-Lite and Map-E protocols. IPv4 in Japan is like an old studio backlot, a bunch of false fronts with nothing but IPv6 behind them. Unless EVERYTHING IPv4 is encapsulated inside IPv6 it doesn’t get priority routing at crucial exchange points between local area lines, the internet provider and the backbone.

If a WiFi router does not support DS-Lite and Map-E, don’t bother with it. The major Japanese WiFi router manufacturers all support those protocols and maintain IPv6/IPoE lists of internet providers and IPv6 services qualified with their WiFi equipment:

If you are not a DIY networking guru you can save time by renting pre-configured WiFi routers from Japanese internet service providers. Rental prices vary, So-Net for example charges ¥400 a month. If you are in Japan for the long-term and futzing with internet configurations is not a problem, a good WiFi router investment can save you money.

Advertisements

Why iPhone X disappeared from Apple’s Using Suica in Japan page

Apple Using Suica in Japan page
The September 21 update to Apple’s Using Suica on iPhone or Apple Watch in Japan omits any mention of iPhone X.

After careful examination of Apple’s recently updated Using Suica in Japan page I find the new device profile wording very strange: iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus and later. Why no iPhone X or later? It was there before. Why Apple, why? Could it be that the iPhone X NFC hardware problem is a profound embarrassment? And that iPhone X Suica problems seem endless?

Bingo, we have a winner.

Update: a longtime reader reached out saying I had gone a little too far: dropping iPhone X from the lineup is just simplifying things, nothing more. He has a point. Whatever the reason for iPhone X being dropped from the Suica lineup, I was angry from reading too many Japanese tweets about the new iOS 12 iPhone X Suica issues and anger is never a productive mood to write from. There are many hard working people at Apple who do their best to help customers. There are many iPhone X customers in Japan who need Apple’s help. I hope all the iPhone X NFC problems can all be resolved successfully for everyone.

iOS 12 update woes: one step back after one step forward for iPhone X Suica users

Poor iPhone X Suica users. No sooner did they finally fix iPhone X Suica hardware problems by getting a Revision B iPhone exchange when the iOS 12 update set them back. Here we go again.

This time it really is software with iPhone X Apple Pay Suica Express Card sometimes unresponsive and Apple Pay demanding a Passcode/Face ID unlock at transit gates, or just good old error flicker. Users with Rev-B iPhone X devices say they didn’t have these problems with iOS 11.4.1.

This kind of thing has happened before: the Apple Pay Japan debut iOS 10.1 release for iPhone 7 had transit gate teething problems and the iOS 11.2 Apple Pay Cash debut release made life miserable for all Apple Pay Suica users regardless of iPhone model.

After dealing with Suica hardware problems for so long iPhone X users are very sensitive and, understandably, easily upset given that Apple knows about the iPhone X Suica problem but refuses to acknowledge it publicly, putting users through the Apple Support runaround game. I suspect iPhone 8 users are experiencing the same iOS 12 Suica issues but are less vocal about it.

This kind of Suica, “iOS loves me, iOS loves me not” version by version game is a consequence of Apple requiring iOS to operate Suica on pre-A12 Bionic devices. As my iPhone XS review makes clear, essential Suica operations run on A12 Bionic without iOS. This makes iPhone XS and iPhone XR Apple Pay Suica ‘bulletproof’ to any given iOS version. It just works, even when the battery runs down.

As one Japanese user complained on Twitter last night, “Is this (iOS 12 Suica) problem just an Apple ploy to get us to upgrade to iPhone XS?”

That’s not exactly the sound of a satisfied Apple customer eager to upgrade to a new iPhone. This years iPhone launch day was very quiet in Japan. Apple had better get cracking on fixing problems here if they value Japanese customers and want to keep them. These days Apple seems to take Japan completely for granted.

iPhone XS Japan Exclusives: Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve, 4×4 MIMO LAA

Docomo 4x4 MIMO
Docomo 4×4 MIMO Premium 4G advertises top download speeds approaching 1GB

This is a quick review of 2 iPhone XS features that Apple lists for Japan: Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve and 4×4 MIMO LAA enhanced Gigabit Class LTE. iPhone XR has A12 Bionic powered Express Cards with power reserve but lacks 4×4 MIMO LAA. LLA (License Assisted Access) is new carrier aggregation LTE Advanced Pro technology. The ‘big three’ Japanese carriers: NTT Docomo, KDDI au and SoftBank all offer fast premium LTE service with 4×4 MIMO (multiple in-multiple out) but according to cellular super otaku site Gadget and Radio, LAA isn’t deployed in Japan yet.  Carrier advertised 4×4 MIMO top download speeds for iPhone range from 612Mbps (SoftBank), 818Mbps (KDDI) to 844Mbps (Docomo). iPhone network speeds have always been rated a little slower than Japanese carrier Android smartphone speeds. Let’s find out what has changed with iPhone XS.

For comparison iPhone 8/X were originally rated for download speeds of up to 500Mpbs on Docomo Premium 4G with 3CC Carrier Aggregation (CA). An interesting side note is that the Apple Japan specs page originally published the iPhone 8/X top download speed as 800Mpbs then changed it to 500Mpbs.

The current Docomo network speed map shows Android download speeds topping out at 988Mbps and iPhone topping out at 844Mbps. Docomo only started rolling out these 4×4 MIMO enhanced top speeds from May 2018.

For this quick review I test compared Docomo iPhone X and Docomo iPhone XS performance in the Asagaya area of Tokyo. Test points 1 and 2 are in the yellow area (700Mbps~250Mbps), test point 3 is in the red area (844Mbps~738Mbps)

Test Point 1 Home (average of 3 test speeds)
iPhone X: 73Mbps
iPhone XS: 106Mbps

Test Point 2 JR Asagaya Station 2F gate area (average of 3 test speeds)
iPhone X: 51Mbps
iPhone XS: 51Mbps

Test Point 3 Suginami City Hall  (average of 3 test speeds)
iPhone X: 134Mbps
iPhone XS: 173Mbps

Additional spot testing in other 4×4 MIMO 4G areas in Ikebukuro, Takdanobaba and Shinjuku had similar results and speeds but were inconclusive.

As you can see iPhone XS 4×4 MIMO 4G network speeds blows iPhone X away…not. In the top speed areas iPhone XS definitely feels zippy and it should get much faster over time as Docomo and the other carriers build out 4×4 MIMO 4G LTE enhanced network coverage and start to deploy LAA. As with all things connected with network speed there are just too many variables: technology deployment, cell tower placement, local conditions and crowds of people with smartphones. 4×4 MIMO LAA is great to have going forward but at this point it’s not a sales point that interests me.

Express Card Power Reserve Mode
Express Card power reserve mode on iPhone XS and iPhone XR lasts up to 5 hours. You can use it for transit, recharge and purchase.

Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with reserve power
A12 Bionic in iPhone XS and XR powers new Express Cards with power reserve NFC feature. This kind of feature has long been on Japanese Osaifu-Keitai Android smartphones which have dedicated Sony FeliCa chips. Apple has a ‘virtual FeliCa’ implemented on their A-Series but the down side was that iOS had to be up and running and could not match Osaifu-Keitai. A12 Bionic has a new low power state that now allows virtual FeliCa to work without iOS up and running, finally matching FeliCa on Android. There are some conditions:

  • Express Cards with power reserve only work when the iPhone XS/XR battery runs down and iPhone puts itself into ‘battery reserve mode’. Express Cards with power reserve doesn’t work if you turn off iPhone manually or if Face ID has been deactivated
  • Express Cards with power reserve in battery reserve mode only work up to 5 hours

There are some surprises too: in addition to transit, you can recharge Suica with cash and you can purchase things. iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica with power reserve Express Transit behaves just like a plastic Suica card for up to 5 hours. Here is quick video of iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica Express Transit with reserve power performance in the field.

Suica purchase and recharge in addition to transit are very handy when you are in a power pinch and need to pick up something on the way home from the station. Students with the new Student ID Cards may be able to do more than just go through door locks with power reserve, at least within the 5 hour reserve battery mode.

iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica performance
This is subjective as I have to go by gut feeling in lieu of actual measurements. FeliCa is very fast: NFC-F response speed is about 50 milliseconds (ms), JR East transit gate transaction speed is stated as “within 200ms” but actual speed is closer to 100ms.

Apple Pay Suica works great but never seems to match the magic bulletproof performance of a plastic Suica card. Maybe it is the iOS overhead. Maybe it is the occasional iPhone screen lag showing the Suica card and ‘Done’ check mark that fools the brain into thinking iPhone transaction speed is slow when it’s not. But there are definitely times when the ‘good to go’ blue transit gate light is a little slow with iPhone 7 and iPhone X. In my experience PASMO transit gates exhibit this very occasionally but not JR East transit gates.

I compared Apple Pay performance on iPhone XS and iPhone X both running iOS 12 (16A366) with plastic Suica. Bear in mind this is subjective and based on limited testing, your experience may be different:

JR East Transit Gates (Asagaya, Koenji, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro)
Plastic Suica: A+
iPhone XS: A
iPhone X (Rev-B): A-

PASMO Transit Gates (Ogikubo, Asagaya Minami, Higashi Koenji, Shinjuku)
Plastic Suica: A+
iPhone XS: A
iPhone X (Rev-B): B+

iPhone X (Rev-B) is usually snappy but occasionally feels a little slow on PASMO transit gates. A12 Bionic powered NFC definitely gives iPhone XS an edge over Apple Pay Suica on other devices. It’s very close to a plastic Suica and performed like a champ with all the different transit configurations I threw at it. Suica essentials run on A12 Bionic without iOS. This removes iOS overhead from Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XS and makes all the difference. Apple Pay Suica on iPhone XS A12 Bionic powered NFC is finally ‘bulletproof’, and the Express Card power reserve feature knocks iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica performance out of the park.

Summary
iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve and 4×4 MIMO enhanced Gigabit Class LTE are only small parts of a much bigger picture and only have meaning for iPhone users in Japan. 4×4 MIMO network coverage, like all network technology, is a work in progress. It’s nice to have with great potential as Japanese carriers roll out extensive 4×4 MIMO network coverage, which is happening quickly, but it’s not an upgrade must have item at this point in time. 4×4 MIMO LAA is an investment in the future.

Express Cards with power reserve is a very nice feature for the here and now and a ‘must have’ for some users. It’s a big stress relief for Suica road warriors and surprisingly flexible. iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica performance is bulletproof and the best I have experienced on iPhone to date, with absolutely none of the iPhone X NFC problem nonsense. Taken together, iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica performance with power reserve Express Cards is worth the upgrade if Apple Pay Suica is important to you.

This is a dilemma for iPhone X users in Japan who have yet to obtain a Revision B iPhone X exchange for problem iPhone X devices: to upgrade or not to upgrade. There might be some incentive to upgrade if your carrier offers a good trade-in price for your iPhone X, the iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica performance is a huge step up from a problem iPhone X device.

If you don’t choose the upgrade option and have a problem iPhone X, be sure to exchange it for a Rev-B iPhone X as it is easier to do in Japan than anywhere else. You can certainly live with a Rev-B iPhone X for a while. I feel sorry for university kids with FeliCa powered Student ID Cards on iPhone X in America when they start noticing how wonky iPhone X NFC performance really is: under the current Apple support internal guideline they are not eligible to exchange for a problem free Rev-B iPhone device.

By the way, does anybody want a slightly used Revision B iPhone X?

Update: Confirmed that LAA is not deployed in Japan yet.

Global FeliCa iPhone XS, iPhone XR, Apple Watch Series 4

Update Apple Pay Suica specs
Updated Apple Pay Suica specs are for iPhone 8 and later, Apple Watch Series 3 and later

Apple updated Apple Pay eligible device information and Suica information with the release of iPhone XS today. It’s really boring to know that iPhone XS, iPhone XR and Apple Watch Series 4 are Global FeliCa just like previous generation devices, boring in a nice predictable way. They have to be in order to work with those FeliCa powered Student ID Cards for iOS 12 and watchOS 5. It’s really just Apple Pay. It just works, that’s all customers need to know.

I suspect A12 Bionic powered Express Cards with power reserve will work better on FeliCa Suica than the forever beta China Transit cards. We’ll find out soon enough.

Update: a review of iPhone XS Apple Pay Suica Express Cards with power reserve

A12 Bionic Powered NFC
A12 Bionic is powering some very interesting new NFC features on iPhone XS and iPhone XR