Apple and Samsung are in advanced talks to join the rest of the telecoms industry to launch electronic Sim cards, in a move could fundamentally change how consumers sign up to mobile operators.
The GSMA, the industry association which represents mobile operators worldwide, is close to announcing an agreement to produce a standardised embedded Sim for consumer devices that would include the smartphone makers.
The traditional Sim card locks in the user to a network but an embedded Sim would enable a smartphone, tablet or wearable user to avoid locking themselves into a plan with a single operator or sign up to switch instantly.
Networks expected to support the plans include AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Whampoa, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone.
Anne Bouverot, chief executive of the GSMA, said all parties were heading towards an agreement for the “common architecture”.
However, with any deal still contingent on finalising the technical specifications it will be at least a year before any devices supporting the electronic Sim reach the market.
The GSMA said: “With the majority of operators on board, the plan is to finalise the technical architecture that will be used in the development of an end-to-end remote SIM solution for consumer devices, with delivery anticipated by 2016.”
Last year, Apple revealed its own Sim card for its latest iPads. However, it was supported by only a handful of operators such as T-Mobile and AT&T in the US, and just EE in the UK. Those familiar with its UK rollout said that it had not been widely adopted.
The electronic Sim is not expected to replace the Apple Sim, a piece of plastic that fits into a device and could be included in the next generation of iPhones.
The GSMA said it was “continuing to work with Apple to secure their support for the initiative. While we are optimistic, a formal agreement with them is still in progress.”
Apple declined to comment.
The GSMA has already come up with an embedded Sim standard for the management of connections in the machine to machine market, where physical SIMs might not easily be changed in devices such as utility meters, traffic lights or assisted living systems.
“We have got everyone back on one point, with Apple and Samsung agreeing to be part of that specification,” said Ms Bouverot. “We have been working with them and others to create an industry solution for machines and will agree a solution for consumer electronics.”
Ms Bouverot, who will step down as chief executive this year, said an industry-wide electronic Sim was one of several objectives established during her time in office.
She added that about 3.7bn people had a mobile phone — about half the world’s population — but that connecting the remainder would be a huge challenge for the industry.
Ms Bouverot also pointed to the service that allowed the phone to act as a single point of identity for multiple online services, but added that more work was needed on developing next-generation 5G mobile networks.
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