I was talking to my Japanese teacher this morning about the idea that eventually cell phones will go flat rate. The idea being that a modern cell phone is basically a computer connected wirelessly to the net. There is no reason you shouldn't be able to browse the net, use skype for unlimited phone calls, download music, tv movies, etc, all for a flat fee. The only thing preventing this from happening currently is the cell phone companies themselves.
While it is in their individual interest to keep fees high, all it will take is one competitor to start the flat fee service and users will start switching in droves forcing the other companies to follow suit.
I don't know when this will happen but, after bringing that up with my teacher she mentioned that Softbank just bought Vodafone Japan. Vodafone is one of the 3 largest cell phone service providers here along with AU−KDDI and NTT Docomo.
I don't know if Softbank plans to go flat rate but I have my hopes up because...Softbank is the company arguably soley responsible for the Japanese broadband revolution. Softbank runs Yahoo BB (BB = Broadband) which is the most successful ISP in Japan. Before Yahoo BB, broadband was like it is in the states. More expensive than dialup. A typical broadband connection was 1˜2megabits per second and cost $50 a month where as dialup was $20 a month. Except for computer geeks like me, very few people felt the need to switch to broadband.
Yahoo BB changed all that, they started selling broadband connections for $20 a month which made it the same price as dialup. Nearly overnight the entire country was switching to broadband. Even more, in Japan, unlike in the USA, there is no flat rate for local calls so a $20 dialup connection plus the fees to the phone company for each minute connected made Yahoo BB's offering CHEAPER THAN DIALUP. There was no reason not to switch.
Of course within 3˜6 months the other ISPs finally started offering broadband at more reasonable prices although none of them matched Yahoo BB. I assumed they all thought that because they were "brand names" and Yahoo BB was the upstart they could charge a premium price.
Even so, Yahoo BB countered by constantly upgrading their services. 8megabit connections, then 20 megabit connections and now 50 megabit connections. Yahoo BB even offers 1000megabit connections to your building now.
Japan owes a huge debt of gratitude to Yahoo BB / Softbank because without their initiative Japan would not be one of the most broadband countries in the world ready to take on the 21st century.
So, now that Softbank has bought Vodafone. I can only hope they plan to push the cell phone services in the same forward thinking way and revolutionize the cell phone industry as well.