If anybody has the juice to push wireless carriers toward accepting embedded or “e-SIM” cards it’s Apple. And news today says Apple and rival Samsung are indeed working with the GSMA wireless standards body to make the cards a reality in smartphones.
An e-SIM card is built into the phone and is not tied to any specific carrier. This would make it far easier and far faster for subscribers to switch carriers.
The GSMA says the work is progressing but that it will take at least another year to iron the details worked out. It may take some work to get the carriers and handset makers involved to agree on the specifications.
The SIM card has been a profoundly effective instrument of control used by wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon to lock subscribers into their accounts, and reduce “churn.” It’s the same mindset that once allowed the carriers to restrict users from unlocking their phones even after they were out of contract.
Apple has long been a proponent of embedded SIM cards. And the company even built one into its iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 tablets. But shortly after the product’s release, AT&T devised a way to sidestep the e-SIM in the devices.
I will remain skeptical of the whole standards body process until I see a solution that is true to the original consumer-friendly idea of the e-SIM, and not some hamstrung sellout to the carriers.
The GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association) is an association of mobile operators and related companies that work to create technical standards for the deployment and promotion of GSM wireless technology.
The GSMA organizes the largest annual event in the mobile industry, Mobile World Congress.