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Apple and Samsung are understood to be close to an agreement with the GSM Association (GSMA) to end the use of traditional SIM cards in their devices and replace them with an embedded, electronic SIM card, the e-SIM.
According to a report in the Financial Times, the GSMA is now in talks with the world’s biggest mobile device suppliers after a number of mobile network operators lined up behind the idea, including AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Hutchison Whampoa, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone.
The technical architecture to support the development of an end-to-end e-SIM for consumer devices is close to being finalised, and it is expected that e-SIMs will hit the market some time in 2016.
Outgoing GSMA chief executive Anne Bouverot has made the establishment of the standard e-SIM a key part of her legacy.
“We have got everyone back on one point, with Apple and Samsung agreeing to be part of that specification,” she told the FT. “We have been working with them and others to create an industry solution for machines and will agree a solution for consumer electronics.”
Removable SIMs a barrier to development
The GSMA believes the type of SIM card currently in use in a mobile handset is harmful to consumer choice because it locks users into one contract with one operator.
Read more about the GSMA
- A third of the global population will be covered by 4G networks by the end of 2015, according to a GSMA report.
- At a GSMA-hosted 3D printing event in London's FabLab, female IT industry speakers advised girls how to pursue a tech career.
- Mobile World Congress 2015 reflected less the handset innovation of recent years, and more the evolution of mobility.
Traditional SIMs also cause significant challenges for insertion and replacement, raise costs and create barriers to sales and adoption.
The GSMA has already developed a solution – the embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card (eUICC) SIM specification – which lowers these barriers by enabling remote provisioning with the subscription profile of the operator providing the connectivity, ending the need to replace SIM cards during a product’s lifetime.
However, up to now eUICC has been pitched at machine-to-machine (M2M) and internet of things (IoT) devices because the ability to provision devices such as connected cars or smart meters remotely and over-the-air made the whole process more reliable and secure.
For consumer users of Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxies, e-SIMs will bring more flexibility over the lifetime of the device, making it easier to switch plans and removing carrier lock-in.
Essentially, instead of going to the trouble of unlocking a mobile phone, a user would be able to switch network operator through the device’s settings.
Apple has already developed its own embedded SIM, currently in use in the iPad Air 2, which is supported in the UK only by EE. Apple has already developed its own embedded SIM, currently in use in the iPad Air 2, which is supported in the UK only by EE.