Apple iPhoneX .. no more SIMs?

As a follow on to my previous blog on Apple NFC.. another driver of Apple’s platform design, security and secure storage is the impending virtualization of the SIM.

As described in this patentlyApple

On November 3, 2011, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals that they’re working on a possible future iPhone that will operate using a Virtual SIM Card. Apple states that it would be desirable to be able to provide improved ways in which to provide users with the ability to purchase and use wireless network services without the need of a SIM Card. According to Apple, a secondary benefit of switching to a Virtual SIM Card is that’ll improve security while allowing Jony Ive and his team to do what they do best: Design an ever thinner, astoundingly beautiful, next generation iPhone


Another interesting apple patent application: 20110306318

Apparatus and methods for provisioning wireless devices for operation in one or more networks. In one embodiment, a provisioning service may provide access client (e.g., Subscriber Identity Module) data to a secure element in the wireless user device. The device may be preloaded with a provisioning SIM profile. The device may use the provisioning profile to roam onto a carrier, and communicate with a provisioning service, which may present the user with a list of available wireless carriers, such as carriers that service the user’s current geographic location. In response to a user selection, the provisioning service may load a SIM profile associated with the selected carrier onto the secure element

You can thus see why it would make little sense for Apple to build an NFC controller that would be owned and operated by a carrier. Apple may allow for consumers to finally break free from post-paid long term contracts. Can you imagine a world where you phone provisioned service at the lowest cost.. for that particular market.. paid for out of your iTunes account? Talk about dumb pipes..

Just as you don’t care which backbone your home internet was routed through…. why would you care about the “Brand” of network? Same should hold true for payments.  This is why I recommend carriers get very serious about an authentication service. The future “battle field” for profits will be centered around owning the consumer relationship and authenticating the customer for access to “cloud” services. Carriers physical distribution would serve well here.

6 thoughts on “Apple iPhoneX .. no more SIMs?

  1. It’s a “valid” can of worms, Tom. Apple could have implemented eSIM long time ago, but they were “bullied” by the operators. Is Apple strong enough now to face the music? That depends on how much of iPhone sales rely on the operator subsidies. And how much damage Apple would sustain if the operators drop iPhone as a “supported” platform and heavily promote Samsung, HTC, etc instead.

    Great point re authentication (and KYC) – we are pitching an interesting and compelling proposition in that respect to the UK operators, linked to mass transit. Let’s see if they see the future the way you and I do…

  2. Regarding a virtual SIM card in a future iPhone, my hunch is that a prerequisite for this is that the carriers have the software systems in place that allow virtual SIMs to be issued OTA to mobile phones (similar to how TSMs are needed in NFC ecosystems). Alternatively, Apple could do the OTA issuance, but this would nevertheless require integration with the IT sytems of the 250+ carriers Apple works with. I just don’t think it is worth the hassle.

    • Remote eSIM provisioning (OTA or OTI) has been available for years… It’s not about technology, it’s about politics. Apples could have been (and still can) be the world’s largest operator (e.g. via MVNO model) as well as the payment company (including a bank)… But that’s not what they want to be, I guess…

      • Yes, eSIM has been available for years. I agree on politics, and probably also a lack of incentives for MNOs to adopt eSIM provisioning is why this isn’t being used much.

        I was thinking of this from perspective: will Apple force eSIM provisioning on the operators? I do think the technology adoption is one barrier here – even if eSIM provisioning has been available for years i think quite few operators have these systems in place. The tech stuff alone would therefore be a huge hassle… and the benefits would have to be big enough to make it worth it.

        I don’t see the case for why Apple would want to make MNOs even dumber pipes then they are now by moving to eSIM. They can achieve most of their goals through iMessage, FaceTime etc… what would the benefit of implementing eSIM be to Apple? I don’t think the tiny space saving is enough of a reason.

      • eSIM could be a “neutral” TSM platform – it’s hard (if not impossible) to handle the operator swap logistics when one party paid for and owns a SIM. With eSIM, the initial cost would be born by Apple; the rest is TSM (the cost which MNOs incur anyway).

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