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Apple's 'Soft-SIM': Not Too Useful in US

Dan Jones
10/28/2010

12:35 PM -- Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) is rumored to be working on a "software SIM" with French smartcard maker Gemalto that will allow users to buy the iPhone without a plan, choose their operator as they boot up the device and easily switch and roam between carriers.

This will be great if you live in London and want to effortlessly switch to the best data plan and roam to another carrier when in Rome. Sadly, it won't be so useful if you live in Los Angeles and want to switch carriers on a trip to Raleigh, N.C.

GigaOm is citing sources that suggest that Gemalto has created a SIM card with upgradeable flash memory that can be updated over the air with carrier information, possibly via iTunes, rather than forcing the user to visit the operator's store for activation.

The concept being that users could easily switch between operators at will via an over-the-air update. Apple hasn't said anything official about such a move, which operators are likely to take a very dim view of, but Gemalto has certainly been active in building the micro-SIM used by Apple's iPad in the last year. The soft-SIM might not be too much of an issue in the US anyway. Users wouldn't be able to roam between AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless anyway, since Ma Bell uses GSM-based 3G (with a SIM) and Big Red uses a different air interface, CDMA, which doesn't ID users on the network via a SIM in the first place.

Meanwhile, Apple hasn't yet built in radio support for the Advanced Wireless Spectrum (AWS) frequencies that the smaller GSM carrier T-Mobile US Inc. uses. So, updated hardware in a new version of the iPhone or iPad would be required before users could choose to roam between even GSM carriers in the US.

Ironically, in the future, a soft-SIM might make it easier for users to roam between the US and Europe. Indeed, this might even be something that carriers would welcome since they could get additional revenue from business travelers and tourists.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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