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[September 2015]

Repair of a smartphone with a discount SIM card

The following shows a case of defects of a smartphone. The user of the smartphone cancelled its communication service contract with a mobile-phone company, and after using a discount SIM card made by another company, defects occurred. He is at a loss where to order the repair service.

Details of the inquiry

I made a contract for a smartphone with a branch shop of a mobile-phone company in one payment. I also signed for a two-year communication contract there. Several months after, however, I cancelled the communication contract and paid the cancellation fee. Then, I signed a new communication contract with another communication company for a modest fee. I inserted a SIM card of the communication company into the smartphone which I cancelled the communication contract with the former company. Three months after, defects occurred several times (e.g. no reaction to tapping on the screen when sending or receiving an e-mail, not able to answer the phone, etc.). I thought these were defects of the smartphone itself, so I went to the branch shop of the mobile-phone company to seek a solution, but I was told "We cannot respond to the problem because the communication contract with our company was cancelled". Then I contacted the manufacturer of the smartphone, who replied "Your smartphone can be repaired only through the mobile-phone company". I cannot find a service counter which accepts my repair order. What should I do?

(man in his 70s, unemployed)

Summarized outcome

After receiving this inquiry, the local consumer center (hereinafter called "the center") asked him details of contract/background and found out the following as a result of examining the circumstances.

The website of the manufacturer of his smartphone has provided an updating file for the smartphone concerned. Since the period of defects and the time of the update were close, the center supposed that the defects could be due to the lack of updating. When the center contacted the manufacturer to ask if the update is possible, they replied "We cannot download the file to the smartphone, because the updating file is delivered through the server of the mobile-phone company. In addition, the smartphone concerned is not an unlocked smartphone", so it was hard to get a solution from the manufacturer. Next, the center communicated the situation of the inquirer to the mobile-phone company which had provided communication service, who said "After cancelling the communication contract with us, we cannot accept repair orders nor update software even for the smartphone sold by our company. While the smartphone concerned is not an unlocked smartphone, the new contractor is a communication company of our MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator)*, which might be the reason for accidental availability". Since no solution for the defective smartphone concerned and no cause for the defects were found out, the center also informed the mobile-phone company of the response from the manufacturer to ask for reconsideration.

At a later date, the mobile-phone company replied: "We will refer the matter to the manufacturer even the communication contract with our company was cancelled. The repair charge will be billed at cost. If the user brings the smartphone to a branch shop of our company, a repair estimate will be provided. We would like him to determine whether or not to order the repair based on the estimate".

In light of the above information received from the center, NCAC thought that similar troubles could occur with an expectation of increase in consumers who use discount services by MVNO. Therefore, NCAC contacted the mobile-phone company to ask about a repair service counter as well as arrangements for updating software. NCAC has received the following response.

  1. Concerning the smartphone sold by the company concerned, a branch shop of the company serves as a repair service counter, even if there is no communication contract with the company at the time of defects. The same goes for cases of smartphones bought at used mobile-phone shops and the like. However, the repair charge could be expensive in the latter case because there will be no support for repair services by a mobile-phone company.
  2. In case of recent smartphones, a notice for updating software including OS will be sent to each smartphone as necessary if connected to Wi-Fi even if there is no communication contract with the mobile-phone company (it depends on models). This notice is sent from the server of the smartphone manufacturer, not via the transmission of the mobile-phone company.

NCAC informed the center of the above response. A few days after, the inquirer called the center and reported: "I connected Wi-Fi and updated my smartphone, then, the defects disappeared". Accordingly, the center requested the mobile-phone company to correctly notify consumers of the way of updating software, etc. as well as information on repair service counters also for smartphones which the mobile-phone company had sold but the communication contract was cancelled.

  1. * Operator which provides and operates mobile communication service with use of lines provided by MNO (mobile network operator) which establishes or operates a wireless station related to mobile communication service by itself.


In this case, the trouble was not solved for a while because both the mobile-phone company and the smartphone manufacturer replied that they cannot accept the repair order of the inquirer.

Currently, neither MVNO nor mobile-phone companies sufficiently inform where consumers should contact for help in case of troubles (e.g. Defects of a smartphone using a MVNO discount service, no updating service provided by MVNO for software including OS, etc.).

Moreover, some MVNOs specialize in sales of SIM cards and other MVNOs also sell mobile-phones including smartphones. Services of MVNOs vary. In addition, various failure causes can be assumed such as smartphone itself, version of OS, application used, and so on. These factors have to be sorted out one by one.