Embedded SIMs: What's all the fuss about?

Posted on by Mike Evans

So European carriers are huffing and puffing at Apple's rumoured introduction of an embedded universal SIM in the next iPhone update, expected in June 2011. I can see the advantages of a universal SIM, although I do have some reservations in relation to foreign travel. At the moment I have a little stock of SIM cards for various European countries and I swap them around as I travel. Provided Apple's new idea keeps the changeover of carrier simple, I can see every advantage in not having to carry the SIMS and bother with changing them in mid-flight.

But the carriers think that the embedded SIM idea is going to harm their marketing model where, in many European counties, they issue locked iPhones at low price in return for a long contract. They are threatening not cease subsidising the phones if Apple goes ahead and, it has been estimated, this could shave 12% off iPhone sales in Europe.

I don't understand the reasoning here and, it has to be said, it smacks of protectionism on the part of the carriers. For starters, I have never liked locking of phones and cannot fathom the reason for it. Surely, a contract is a contract. If I take a hefty discount on an iPhone and sign up for an 18-month or two-year contract I am committed whether or not the phone is locked. I see no reason why discounted phones cannot be sold unlocked because the carriers have a cast-iron contract even if the subscriber doesn't use the service. 

A number of European countries, including Greece which I know well, ban the locking of phones. Discounts are lower there, but that's probably a quirk of the traditional Greek market rather than a reflection on the different income profile. I took an iPhone 3GS on an 18-month contract from a Greek carrier and received a 25% discount on the cost. I'm still running the contract, even though I upgraded to an iPhone 4 some months ago. I might have been tempted to change, but the original carrier still has my business. So I have more than paid for my original phone discount. 

As far as I can see, Apple's new plan would simplify matters and would not harm the carriers' income. As I said, though, my only concern is that an Apple-controlled authorisation process would make it more difficult to swap carriers at the border. If changing the settings means a connection to iTunes then the whole process would be cumbersome and costly. In that case, I'd prefer to stay with the removable SIM. 

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