back to article T-Mobile lays ground for embedded SIMs

T-Mobile USA has announced plans to use embedded SIM chips in devices making use of its GSM network, preventing punters from using them on other networks by switching the SIM. Network locking isn't the motivation behind the move - apparently it's all about getting the SIM smaller and more robust, and to remove the complexity …


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  1. pctechxp
    Thumb Down

    Not for mobiles Bill

    As if you get a contract or even buy prepay you pay a significant proportion of the handset's retail price so why would you want to be stuck with a network?

    One way to enforce rip off roaming charges I suppose.

  2. Jamie

    Embedded SIM, tied to a network.

    If the operators are going to start giving big discounts on phones then I don't see a problem with this. Other than the fact that they are not going to start giving big discounts on phones, and no need to say that they do.

    I paid 200£ for my current phone with an 18 month 35£ contract. Then to state that after the contract is over I cannot move networks with this phone will only cause more garbage to a landfill.

  3. Robert Ramsay
    Thumb Down

    previous attempts...

    include one mobile phone network gluing SIMs into the phones, leaving them with a whole load of phones that no-one wanted to buy and were now completely useless.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Loan phone?

    Embedding the sim into phones is fine I suppose for most purposes, but what happens when a phone breaks under warranty?

    Currently, with O2 anyway, the retailer with give you a simple phone of sufficient use to keep you from going bamy but insufficient value for you to knick as a loan phone so you can still use your phone number.

    If they go for embedded sims won't this take this option away? From what I know of number porting I get the impression the networks wouldn't be too keen to move your number to a loan phone and then back again within 28days (or I'm I off my head again?) and I'm certainly not paying my contract if I can't use it - especially as it's how I earn my living as a contractor.

    Added to this why the bl**dy hell shouldn't I be able to use my device how I like if I've f*cking paid for it! I'd still be paying out the contract for the phone no matter what sim I use. Orange tried sending me a locked phone when I was going to renew my contract with them and I just cancelled the contract, sent the phone back and ported to O2 as even my O2 branded XDA isn't sim locked.

  5. Conrad Longmore

    It's going the other way

    It's going the other way in Europe, at least a little. Operators are very keen to push SIM-only deals that you link up with an unlocked SIM-free phone (or perhaps a prepay one from the operator). It might take a little while for that model to catch on, but it does mean that customers can use any phone they like and operators don't have to worry about expensive phones being unlocked.

    Of course this is about embedded devices rather than phones, but the article does mention the whole issue of SIM-swapping.

  6. Fluffykins

    You can have a Ford car, sir, of course.

    But you can only use it on the A505, the A5 and the short bit of road that goes through Wigan, just before the bakery by the pie shop.

    Yeah, as if.

  7. Phil the Geek

    Potted SIM

    I've seen an old 3 mobile with the SIM comprehensively epoxied in - it looked like it was potted, rather than just a "drop of glue". The phone was dusty and languishing on a shelf, the user having migrated to a proper network long ago.

  8. Chris
    IT Angle

    NO WAY!

    I enjoy much flexibility being able to take my work sim and pop it into any phone (unlocked) that takes my fancy off ebay, selling it on a few months down the line when I am bored. Or even having a work phone (a huge blackberry) then a personal phone (tiny wee thing) swapping the SIMs as I see fit. Embedded SIMs is nothing but the operators start of locking down mobiles so the 'customer' cant switch. The SIM isnt really that hard to design around its not much bigger then the microSD memory cards is it!

  9. Al Jones

    Let them embed the SIM

    But require them to have a slot onboard for a user supplied SIM too.

  10. Alan W. Rateliff, II
    Paris Hilton

    More convenient?

    Because the convenience of swapping a SIM to use a different phone or device is oh-so bloody complicated.

    Paris, yet another device.

  11. Brendan Sullivan
    Black Helicopters

    Good for Operators=bad for Customers

    As an American who has to put up with the Carrier lock-in resulting from the lack of device/network openness and portability I have to say, any move to allow non-removable SIMs in mobile handsets, even "smart phones" and the like is a bad idea for consumers.

    Here is the U.S. wireless carriers have little to no incentive to be competitive once a customer has signed up with them. Since most of the carriers are CDMA (even the carriers that do use GSM rarely have customer removable SIMs) devices cannot be moved between providers, even if they use the same standard, primarily because of this lack of customer removable SIMs (or SIM equivalents). Once devices are no-longer portable between different carriers, carriers stop trying to compete on prices or quality of service and start competing on flashy phones with features that are ever more proprietary.

  12. David Eddleman

    Glad I ditched

    Shitty service and now this backstabbing plan? Glad I ditched T-Mobile for Verizon months ago. Good riddance.

  13. Gordon

    its a step backwards!

    i have a phone here in the uk thats an old one, it never had a sim it was locked on the network, i think its a motorola locked to vodafone uk. no slot or anything for sim only battery, its a green screen on it and, it still works and fits in your pocket. this came out before the sim card's they could not be unlocked or switched to other network.

    if they go ahead with this its a step backwards.

  14. MacRat


    "Since most of the carriers are CDMA "

    Huh? T-Mobile, ATT and Sprint are GSM.

    Verizion is CDMA.

  15. Phil

    many countries

    I travel a fair bit... I have one phone and a SIM for each country that I visit regularly. All of them are pay-as-you-go. My British and French SIMs are easy to handle; I just have to put a little money in once a year; the Canadian and Spanish ones are slightly more complicated because the credit on them has a use-by limit.

    I would never, ever buy a phone that couldn't be unlocked(ie embedded SIM); it would essentially force me to buy a phone for each country, or pay massive roaming charges.

  16. Wortel


    For creating larger landfills and inflated sales figures, yes. And when mobiles stop being useful, we can go back to using two tin cans and a piece of string again.

  17. multipharious
    Thumb Down

    @Good for Operators = bad for Customers

    No doubt.

    Every time I go home, I just marvel at how bass ackwards the very model of cellular usage is in the States. I have tried a couple of times to get a SIM only package in the States, and while not giving it too much effort, the general response was "Huh? What is a SIM?" Mind you the last time I bothered was two years ago. Why do I want a SIM? So I can use my real phone as opposed to the shitty pre-paid junk they push in the shops, or a loaner from family or colleague. Why do I need a local phone? Because in the States you actually have to call your provider for a package that unlocks your phone so you can dial numbers outside the USA. Then you pay for that package monthly. Then you get screwed on the rates. Dialling Europe via Skype is simple and easy. US networks hang onto their model like a locked up couple of wolves that cannot separate. It is simply laughable, and will be their doom.

  18. Dave Harris Silver badge
    Thumb Down


    Isn't that called a cartel? Don't you have fairly strong laws about that sort of thing?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Welcome to the stone age

    It never ceases to amaze me how backwards the USA are when it comes to mobile telephony. No competition betwen networks (meaning that users get royally shafted at avery corner) and you even have to pay to receive calls!

    This non-removable SIM deal would not be allowed to happen here in the EU (I'm in the UK). One of the reasons for this being the mobile phone manufacturers who do sell reasonable numbers of SIM-free phones that are not tied to any network in particular. Not to mention the operators themselves that offer more and more SIM-only contracts, thus avoiding having to subsidise a new phone.

    I know I certainly would be unhappy if my operator tried to pull something like that off because I *NEVER* source my phones from the networks. Firstly, there's the SIMlock issue that others have mentioned. Then there's also the branding issue, which means that you can't update your phone's firmware until the operator that branded it decides to pull its finger out and approve the update. For example, I have, among other phones, a Nokia N73 that was originally a phone supplied by 3UK. The latest, operator-approved firmware version is the FIRST one ever that the phone was released with. In other words, 3UK have approved ZERO updates since the phone was first launched on the market in 2006(?). Thankfully, the phone has since been debranded and is now running up-to-date generic Nokia software.

    Since then I've had an N95 (from T-Mobile but since debranded), a completely generic and unbranded N96 sent to me directly from the Nokia flagship store in Helsinki, and an equally unbranded and generic 5800 XpressMusic that I got from Nokia Retail in Manchester.

    There's no way I'd go back to operator-provided phones now and I'm sure I'm not the only person like that.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Contract = operator subsidises up-front price

    "they are not going to start giving big discounts on phones, and no need to say that they do."


    Have you actually checked the price of any mobile kit without a contract vs the same kit with a contract? On any decent phone there'll be a very significant "discount", IF you are willing to be locked in to an operator contract. The more expensive the contract, the bigger the "discount". Obviously they claw the discount back over the life of the contract. But if you don't like being tied in, buy the phone SIM-free, and pay more for it. Often a lot more.

    As a random example, pop over to and look up the HTC Touch Diamond2. WIthout a contract, nearly £400. With an 18 month £35/month contract, you only pay £45 up front. Plenty of similar examples at expansys and elsewhere. Pay now, or pay later, your choice. Surely even Paris could work this out.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Sprint is actually CDMA as well as Verizon. There are also some Mom & Pop networks which are CDMA and haven't quite been gobbled up yet.

    TMO/ATT and another handful of Mom & Pop networks are GSM migrating to UMTS/HSPA.

    The split is pretty much well 50/50 GSM/CDMA with American customers beginning to enjoy the flexibility and convenience of "true" roaming (not just in the country but around the world!) and handset choice. CMDA still has better coverage but that's only because the bits that are not yet covered with CDMA technology fall back to ye olde analogue. It works... believe it or not!

    The idea of embedded SIMs is excellent for embedded devices providing that the identity is clearly marked, there's a "network independent IMSI" and there's no device locking, thus rendering network portability possible.

    Paris... been embedded a few times I'd imagine?

  22. This post has been deleted by its author

  23. C. B. Legier

    Can't have your cake and eat it too...

    I find it funny how people conclude that carriers will be to an end if they do this or that. Right now, it doesn't matter what they do because you will take it in the arse screaming and crying all the way.

    Cell phones will never go away because it has become a necessity in business and life. Everyone wants to be "connected". If you leave your phone in the house, take off down the street, realise you left it, what do you do? You turn the fuck around and go get your phone.

    Get over it, we as consumers have empowered these companies and will take what ever shit they shovel us.

  24. Chris iverson

    @ Brendan

    Since most of the carriers are CDMA "

    Huh? T-Mobile, ATT and Sprint are GSM.

    Verizion is CDMA.

    Correction, sprint is CDMA

  25. Nathanael Bastone

    "...even if it means handing more power to the operators."

    You want to give the BOFH MORE power? Madness, madness I tell you. That guy has been haunting my life for far too long. I just hope and pray that he doesn't see me writi-

    [BOFH-DOS: This luser has performed an illegal operation and has been terminated.]

  26. Dave Bell
    Black Helicopters

    Limited use

    I can see this making sense for some not-a-phones.

    But the network operators are going to have to treat their cusomers differently if they use this tech for anything. That weather-station example--if the phone network is going to carry weather data so as to enable better forecasting, the Met Office is going to want reliability.

    To be honest, the only people I can think of who really need something too small to take a SIM card are the spies.

  27. T Wright

    Oh dear

    Here's one time I feel sorry for the US consumer. Let's hope the European consumer can resist this sort of bullying. I imagine the lawyers are already on the case for the big mobile companies. Pressuring MEP's and building up a list of carrot & stick incentives to try and force the European person on the street to accept this technology. Hopefully the fact that roving between countries is more important over here will knock the head on it before it even starts.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Just to add to the confusion

    At least one (largish international) operator uses the term "embedded SIM" to refer to a laptop with a built in cellular modem sold as a ready to go package. However, the SIM itself in the ones I have seen is still a separate GSM SIM that can be unplugged and replaced with a local one when travelling, albeit potentially with the need to use a screwdriver to get at it. Not to any scary degree, usually just take a small cover off the back and the SIM will be visible under it.

    This is quite important if you roam internationally, since the charges are excessive, you end up paying for the use of a private link back to your home operator when all you really needed was a local connection to the Internet.

  29. Max Miller

    Missed the point - all of you!!!

    This is not about normal mobile phone models they will remain the same. Embedded SIMs is a different business altogether. This is about machines such as lifts, cars, billboards, vending machines, photocopiers, gas and electricity meters etc (the list is endless) having the ability through the mobile networks to be deployed anywhere and relay information back to a server somewhere.

    This means that the lift or photocopier company don't need to waste resources inefficiently sending engineers to service things that don't need servicing but can respond immediately when something does go wrong providing better customer support - for example.

    Or cars being able to make an emergency call relaying location information the second it has a crash.

    This idea has been around for a while but the difference is that these are not standard plastic SIM cards.

    The beauty of these SIMs is that they are far more robust (can withstand extremes of temperature, vibration and weather) required for devices outside the entire time and can't be abused by being taken out and stuck in a mobile phone which is far more attractive to the companies buying them than the standard plastic SIMs.

    They are also more expensive so they will never find their way into your mobile.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    backward idea

    The argument that the more feature rich your mobile phone is the more it makes sense to have a locked hardware solution is nonsense. The author has completely missed out the technological development. First of all there is a world outside of mobile phones which is developing fast and competing with mobile phones. The idea that mobile phones are getting more and more feature rich and thus move into new technological areas should not be treated in insulation. Other technologies are moving into mobile phone territory. It is technologically backward to lock customers into a service which means that they could not use the service as required. The stupidity of the idea becomes clear if you compare with internet connections. Suppose that internet providers would give you a locked computer that you could only use with their network. Then suppose that you could only use their network with the computer they provide. See now how the provider just created a technological backwater for themselves? Development stagnation as a result of totalitarian technolcogical monopoly. We have seen this behaviour many times through out history. Think east german car development...

    This strategy is nothing short of a technological self goal...

  31. David Beck
    Thumb Up

    Seems okay for non-mobile devices

    Assuming this is only for non-mobile devices, a gas meter for example, then why not? If it is intended for anything mobile, a car for example for maintenance, then it's a bad idea since the device could moved to a location not serviced by the carrier, say France.

    Bet then even T-Mobile would not be that stupid, would they?

  32. Charles Silver badge

    @Max Miller

    I see both sides of the argument here

    But now the question I ask: why T-Mobile USA? The USA is, frankly, a few steps back in general cell phone usage (part of it's coverage issues and attitude), though you can find ways if you know where to look (I have a vanilla N95 8GB--through Amazon, no less, and it was on sale). And I don't recall GSM operators having a lot of truck with virtual network operations (the Kindle's Whispernet is a virtual network run through Sprint's EVDO, for example; Virgin Mobile USA is another popular virtual network). Does T-Mobile intend to go into the virtual network arena to provide firms with virtual networks (like Whispernet) for these kinds of operations?

  33. Henry Wertz Gold badge

    Like a lead balloon

    This should go over like a lead balloon -- T-Mobile is like 4th in coverage, after Verizon and AT&T, and a bit behind Sprint as well I think. People choose T-Mobile here in the US specifically because of the freedom of moving the SIM from one device to another, and having flexible data plans (where they aren't like "Oh, no, that's a PDA not a phone, that needs a different plan".) IT would not be good for T-Mo to try to take that away.

    I don't think the US is too far behind in general cell phone usage,etc. as much as you might think.. for instance, data uptake here is quite high, a lot of people here have 3G phones, etc. It's really not too bad.

    As for MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operators), there's tons of 'em on both GSM and CDMA here -- it depends on where you look, though.. if you're in an area with poor GSM coverage (lots of the west for instance) the store wouldn't bother to stock GSM prepaid cards, phones, etc., because they won't work well enough (or at all).

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