Apple SIM card in new iPads challenges mobile networks

“Apple plans to embed its own Sim cards in the latest line of iPads will move the company nearer to a long-held ambition to kill off the hard square of plastic that has tied mobile users to their network operators,” Daniel Thomas reports for The Financial Times.

“The US technology group has been trying to get rid of the traditional Sim for several years, according to analysts who follow the company, although it has backed off in the past in the face of opposition from mobile operators loath to give up the control they have over the customer through the card,” Thomas reports. “The re-programmable data-only Sim will mean that an iPad user will no longer have to sign up to a lengthy contract with a mobile operator, but could pick and choose which network to use depending on location.”

“For example, EE could be used in the UK and AT&T in the US, which would avoid roaming charges. This could make it easier for customers to switch network to find a cheaper price or better reception,” Thomas reports. “Ben Wood, analyst at CCS Insight, said that it was still too early to cause too big a worry for mobile operators given Apple’s plans were for data-only Sims rather than voice. He said that Apple might have greater difficulties in bringing in such Sims to its phones, however, given ‘a completely different challenge on a voice and data Sim – the complexity of managing phone numbers is significant.'”

Read more in the full article here.


  1. “Apple might have greater difficulties in bringing in such Sims to its phones, however, given ‘a completely different challenge on a voice and data Sim – the complexity of managing phone numbers is significant.'”

    right, because Apple can’t handle complexity…. /S

    1. The real reason that Apple would experience “difficulty” with applying the embedded sim card technology to iPhone/voice plans is that the powerful and wealthy mobile operators will do anything and everything that they can to prevent this from happening. Eventually, however, Apple will be successful and one more link in the chain will be broken.

  2. Actually, I think this could be the beginning of a long play that culminates with the launching of the rumored Apple Mobile Network. Imagine Apple becoming a virtual mobile network, buying access from various carriers both here and overseas. The phone links to the best one available. It sounds far fetched but as part of the bandwidth agreements I believe the big mobile companies are required to lease access to their networks which is why all these small virtual companies exist.

  3. Why do people still buy these cellular iPads? My first two have had the cellular option but now that all iPhones support tethering whats the motivation to pay $130 more?

    1. 1 There are GPS chips included in the cellular capable iPads that are not in the WiFi-only models.

      2 In the case of Verizon, you can’t do data and voice at the same time, so if you get a phone call in the middle of a download, your data session is interrupted.

      3 It’s also possible to have an iPad data connection, even if you carry a dumb phone.

      It’s all about flexibility. I was on a road trip, using my (now hopelessly dated) iPad for navigation. Used “Apple Maps” until the cell signal was lost (costal mountains of Oregon). Switched to “You Need A Map”, which has all maps onboard and was able to navigate just fine, since there was a GPS sensor in the iPad. Worth the $130 to me in less than half a day of use.

  4. Can anyone here explain exactly HOW do the carriers exert control via the SIM that they don’t have on the non-SIM phones? In America, there is a fairly even split between the CDMA-based non-SIM operators (such as Verizon and Sprint) and GSM-based SIM operators (AT&T, T-Mobile). With GSM operators, you can take the SIM card out of your phone and put another card from a different operator. T-Mobile sells prepaid SIM cards for less than $10 (and you can sometimes get them for $0.99). If you have a GSM phone, you can switch operators as easily as removing one SIM and inserting another.

    If you have a CDMA-based phone, you are at the mercy of your operator. In order to get your phone to work on a CDMA operator, you must contact your operator and provide them with the necessary information about your phone (IMEI number, etc), and they will then assign you a phone number (if they want). If you need to move that phone to a different operator, you now must again contact both operators and make that request; the switch is almost never instantaneous and you will be without mobile service for some time until the carrier assigns you a number.

    With a SIM card, it takes all of 15 seconds to take a T-Mobile SIM card out of your phone and insert an AT&T card. Power up the phone, it auto-configures to the new carrier and you’re good to go.

    SIM cards have been so much more convenient than the CDMA-based, operator-controlled devices. Outside America, most countries are almost exclusively GSM. Many women tend to have multiple phones (to match their outfits), and effortlessly move their SIM card from one to the other. Doing this on Verizon would be practically impossible.

    So, again, can anyone explain exactly WHY do we want to get rid of the SIM card concept when it has been so much better for consumers?

    1. The new SIM enables switching with only a tap, so no need to remove case, find a handy ejecting tool, swap SIMs and safely storing them in a safe place…

      Physical SIM managment and swapping can be aain in the ass.

      1. Yes, this is new, and it only applies to data devices (such as the iPad), since they don’t actually use (or need) a phone number. And for an iPad, this is clearly the most convenient of all cases, and it sill get more and more convenient as carriers around the globe join in. The ultimate in flexibility would be the ability to go from T-Mobile USA to Telekom-Serbia to Vodafone UK to Cosmote-Greece with simple taps and nothing else.

        However, with phones, this still has some ways to go, as it requires assigning phone numbers. Right now, the concept of SIM card is infinitely easier for carrier-swapping than the SIM-free CDMA operational model.

        Ultimately, Apple’s universal SIM (which apparently allows the iPad to connect to both GSM carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile, as well as CDMA, which is Sprint) holds great promise, as long as all carriers realise how much business they may be missing by holding out on Apple.

    2. Interesting question about carrier control w SIM cards versus phone-embedded SIMs.

      Requiring a physical SIM card basically means people must go into carriers’ retail stores. It is anti-competitive to the extent it limits the number of people who will actually get around to it. (Time is money, right? And besides, life is busy enough as it is, and who needs another hassle?) Moreover, in a store, the carrier can incentivize sales people to do their best to talk switchers out of their minds. In the tech era, having to go into a store for something that is readily available online is a huge anachronism; it would be akin to requiring people to go stores to buy new software. Totally unnecessary.

      Carriers also put a “software lock” on phones under contract, which only they can remove. Can this sort of carrier lock be avoided with the embedded SIM concept?

      1. There is really no need to ever step foot into a carrier store. In order to activate an unlocked GSM phone with a pre-paid SIM, one just has to buy that SIM card. You can get prepaid SIMs Wal-mart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, Best Buy… You never have to talk to anyone, and it takes just a second to make it work.

        On a CDMA SIM-less phone, there really doesn’t even exist a concept of an “unlocked” phone. For a CDMA phone to be activated, you must call the carrier that is supported by that phone, and the carrier must activate it for you. There is no way to activate a CDMA phone without actually contacting a mobile operator (who will then try some hard-sell on extra services or accessories).

        Now, the “embedded SIM” concept seems to be a completely new, third way of dealing with mobile service and carriers. In iOS 8.1 for iPad, Apple has developed an additional configuration panel (in collaboration with mobile carriers), which allows the user to pick a “virtual” SIM card of the carrier of their choice by simply taping on an icon. How this will work when it comes to the “carrier subsidy lock”, we don’t quite know yet, but I’m sure more information will soon emerge.

        The main point is, Apple is again blazing new trails, and some carriers are apparently along for the ride. Let’s watch.

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