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Telecommunications Confusion

Author: Author unknown, Issue: October 1999, Topic: Telephone

NTT Telephone Lines

Recent rumor has it that the system of buying telephone line rights in order to get a telephone line installed is soon to be scrapped, leaving millions of people who "invested" in NTT in the lurch. The present system involves buying line rights either from NTT at a cost of 72,000 yen or from an individual who wants to sell his or her rights. Until the advent of cellular phones, which do not require the purchase of line rights, if you wanted a phone, your only choice was to "invest" in NTT to this considerable sum and hope to get your money back when you leave Japan.

This persistent rumor, together with the law of supply and demand, has steadily eaten away at the market value of "used" line rights, so that one can now easily find a seller for 40,000 yen or sometimes even lower. Thus, there are two aspects to this story that beg for clarification. First of all, is this rumor true? And secondly, in the rapidly changing world of communications, what are one's options now? The following is a report by the Alien Times that addresses these two questions.

Is It True?

When NTT is directly asked about this, they deny that they are even contemplating abolishing the system. They say they could not possibly pay everybody back for the value of their "investment". (At least they wouldn't have to worry about paying much interest even if they did return the purchase price, as interest rates are essentially zero anyway!)

While it may be true that NTT won't formally abolish the system, the reality of the new situation may force a de facto abolishment, at least in the sense that no one will be buying new lines from NTT. Certainly, for people in the expatriate community, most of who are in Japan for only relatively short periods of time, the numerous options for telephones that do not involve this big "investment" would usually seem to be the best way to go.

INS-net 64

While NTT still requires all customers to have rights to a line (whether purchased from NTT or from a previous owner) in order to have a regular analog telephone number, they now offer a new service that allows one to bypass the line rights system for an ISDN line. The catch, however, is that the monthly basic rate is considerably higher. Most expatriates in Tsukuba now have access to the internet through their phone lines, but if one is frequently on the net with a regular line, that ties up one's regular phone so that calls can't get through.

Converting your phone to an ISDN line allows you to use your phone as a regular phone or fax while you are connected to the net. This is possible because the Internet connection is digital while the regular phone is analog, and both signals can travel along the same line without getting mixed up with each other. The monthly costs are, naturally, somewhat higher, but certainly much less than have two separate lines.

As a concession to reality, NTT now also allows you to set up an ISDN line without buying a line rights. The only drawback is that you have to pay an additional 640 yen per month in higher basic charges, which if you plan to maintain that status for more than just a year or two, adds up to quite a bit. About 5 years of those extra charges adds up to the amount of the purchase of a line in today's market, and you have nothing to show for it. On the other hand, if the value of NTT line rights continues to decline, then perhaps you are better off avoiding them in the first place, which you now have the option of doing.

If you are considering switching a regular analog line over to the INS net 64 system, the only costs involved are a one-time 800 yen contract fee, a 2000 yen switching fee (at the NTT exchange) and the purchase of a "DSU Naizo TA" ("Naizo" means "internal", and "TA" stands for "Terminal Adapter") apparatus which currently runs 18,800 yen plus 5% tax when purchased from NTT. This apparatus can be purchased from any computer store with a range of features and a corresponding range of prices. The basic TA from NTT actually has four different jacks in the back. Two are phone jacks that can be used with any telecommunications device. One is a Serial port, to be connected directly to your computer. The fourth jack is an ISDN line continuation for other ISDN-line capable equipment (i.e. other TAs or ISDN PC cards for laptops). When you leave Japan, then, this apparatus can be sold at whatever price is agreeable between the parties and connected up at any other phone when that is switched over to ISDN.

Compared to a regular analog phone, the basic charge is 1230 yen higher per month (2830 yen vs. 1600 yen). If you line is registered at a business rate, the charges are as follows: 2350 yen for the plain analog and 3630 yen for the ISDN. In the unlikely event you need a short-term business phone, you can get that for 4270 yen per month without the line rights.

The beauty of an ISDN line is that the TA is also your modem (connected directly to your serial port), allowing communication speeds of up to 128k (more than twice the speed of a 56k modem). The actual connection speed is determined by your Internet service provider (ISP), but most support up to 64k for free. The ISPs that have faster connections than 64k usually charge a special fee for a high-speed connection.

One other point to consider when changing a regular analog phone over to an ISDN, is the issue of multiple phone jacks. The "DSU Naizo TA" apparatus must be connected into the system before any division of the line into separate jacks. Thus, you can't simply connect it to a jack in the room where your computer and one phone is located while continuing to use a regular phone connected to another jack in a different location. In order to maintain the use of your present phone system, the system has to be rewired so that everything goes through the signal splitting apparatus. NTT will be happy to charge you an addition 10 to 20 thousand or more yen to do that rewiring.

Another available telecommunications option for computer junkies is avoiding NTT altogether. It is possible to purchase a PHS TA. PHS has high-speed communications capabilities and is, of course, wireless. The cost of a PHS TA is the same as a high-end hard-line TA. There is a basic service charge for the PHS connection, but is cheaper than NTT. The price-per-minute, however, may not be. Other options include standard PC modem cards for PHS phones, and PC modem cards for Cellular phones (much slower than their PHS counterparts).

Finally, if talking while moving at high-speed isn't a concern for you, PHS offers clear sound quality, low prices, small phones and portability. Combined with the aforementioned PC card modem, you have truly mobile, NTT-free, communications.

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