back to article Apple's new iPADS have begun the WAR that will OVERTURN the NETWORK WORLD

Well, Tim Cook has cried "havoc" and let slip the SIM dogs of war. For several years Apple has sought to replace the hardware SIM card, and hand itself ultimate control over which mobile network the consumer can choose. With the latest iPads, it has finally implemented the strategy. Coming soon to a device near you It’s a …

  1. Mage Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Very worrying!

    1) Security of a "soft SIM"

    2) Device Seller control

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Very worrying!

      Exactly, I buy my hardware, then I buy a SIM card and I put the two together and they just work.

      The other problem I have, is I do a lot of trouble shooting, which means swapping SIMs in and out - and I have multiple SIMs with data, so if one gets full, I can nab one from another account, or swap in a PAYG SIM. Often that is 3 or 4 SIMs on one provider, so the soft SIM is going to be working overtime.

      1. Lallabalalla

        Re: Very worrying!

        Very hard to tell at this stage whether the soft sim is the answer to your prayers or your worst nightmare.

        I suppose worst case is you'll have to carry around 5 handsets - rather good news for *somebodys business model - but surely this is precisely the scenario the soft sim was intended to prevent?

      2. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Very worrying!

        As I understand it, the slab ships with an Apple SIM, and you can swap it for a different one. In the UK, only EE are signed up to the Apple SIM, so if you want to use a different network, you still have to get a SIM from your network in the traditional manner.

        1. SuccessCase

          Re: Very worrying!

          It's not an "Apple" SIM, it's a soft SIM. There's a standard for a software based SIMs and Apple will be using it. The networks are resisting switching over to using them and Apple doesn't want to alienate the networks. Their tactic is clever however. If they introduced software SIMs with the iPhone, the networks that don't cater for them are likely to be pissed off enough, they will marginalise the presentation of the iPhone within their stores. The iPad however is not used directly for telephony services. By introducing a soft sim in the iPad the networks will get used to the fact they exist and any that don't supply soft SIMs they will end up losing out to the networks who do. Obviously users are more likely to select a network where the service can be provided out the box and without requiring a trip to the store. Once the networks have got used to providing service via soft SIM to the iPad, they are more likely to accept the same on iPhone.

          People really aren't thinking sufficiently about what this means. One thing it can mean (dependent on negotiation with the networks) is that Apple will be in a position to synchronise SIM's across a single user's devices. Which means if you don't have your telephone with you, they will be able to ensure you can place a call using effectively the same SIM card, but from the device you do have on you. It's crazy you can't do this already and the only reason is because the networks have been dragging their feet so they can gouge money from consumers by ensuring they have to have two different accounts for their phone and tablet. With this capability, for many trips I would take only my iPad. If you have a case to carry it in and are going to have it with you, and use headphones with a mic (or bluetooth headset), there's little point in taking a phone as well.

    2. Oh Matron!

      Re: Very worrying!

      Read up on WiMAX forum standards, as this was a core component. You buy a device from anywhere then select a plan ON THE DEVICE

    3. JeevesMkII

      Re: Very worrying!

      Mobile operators desperately need the Picard speech at this point. "I will not sacrifice our SIM cards. We've made too many compromises already, too many retreats. They took our app revenue, and we fall back. They cannibalise entire network services and we fall back. The line must be drawn here. THIS FAR, NO FURTHER."

    4. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Very worrying!

      Very worrying. Bye bye consumer choice. You can choose a network so long as it's one Apple will let you use. You cannot "change SIM" unless Apple let you do it. Rubbish idea.

    5. SuccessCase

      Re: Very worrying!

      Soft sims are, IMO, the most consumer friendly consumer beneficial development to arise in telecoms in the last 15 years. Commenters read one misguided and ambiguous article, alight on the "Apple in control" angle and lose all powers of reason.

      The thing that makes your handset a money syphon when roaming overseas is the sim card. If before departure, you can simply purchase a PAYG soft sim over the web from a provider local to your arrival destination, you, the consumer, get what you should always have been offered.

      If Apple or anyone else, doesn't offer a soft sim, they won't get promoted through the network's stores. Their competitors will be though. That's still 50% of Apple's business. They aren't going to turn their back on ensuring the customer has a variety of network channels.

      When Apple had their greatest leverage over the networks - shortly after the launch of the iPhone - the networks had little choice in new style touch based smartphone manufacturer. Steve Jobs insisted AT&T provide unlimited data. That was good for consumers and data options have gone downhill since Apple lost their leverage. Where the competition with Android was great for smartphone hardware choice, it was bad for the cost of networking a device. The networks re-asserted their oligopoly tendencies and all at the same time re-introduced metered pricing (what are the chances, but no, I'm sure there wasn't any illegal collusion going on there !).

      The point is, when it comes to network access, the concerns of the hardware manufacturers and the consumer will be more closely aligned with soft sims in the mix. Look at the evidence; in this hard-sim world, loyal customers are treated worse than new customers. When shopping around is less convenient and fulfilment takes 40 mins in a phone shop, the result is bad for consumer.

      But yes, one point on which I do agree with Andrew, is when Google are in competition with the networks they might be tempted to restrict supply in a way that benefits them at the expense of both the consumer and the network.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Alan Edwards

        Re: Very worrying!

        > you can simply purchase a PAYG soft sim over the web from a provider local to your

        > arrival destination

        No, you can't. That's the whole point - the 'soft SIM' is built in to the hardware and operating system of the tablet, you have no control over what providers are available. Apple (or whoever made the tablet) are the ones that decide what you get to choose from.

        The current iPads have a removable (hardware) SIM. My speculation is that the next generation won't - it'll be Apple SIM or nothing, either through software or by gluing in a nano SIM. You will get to choose from a pre-approved list of carriers and plans.

        1. SuccessCase

          Re: Very worrying!

          Yes, you can but just not now. And it's the network operators, not Apple that request those restrictions on the use of soft SIMs, so you complaint is the right one directed at exactly the wrong party. Apple has to, to some extent, please the network operators as partners and though they are slowly getting the upper hand, they have to move the operators slowly towards the inevitable. This is just the same as how when they introduced tethering the network operators were upset unless they had control over the feature. They resisted, some charged if it was switched on, but the writing was on the wall and now, in the UK at least, nearly all of the networks allow tethering for no charge (though primarily because they now have either metered pricing or packaged pricing). It was the same pattern with music too, where the labels (their partners) wanted DRM but Apple (and most specifically Steve Jobs) didn't and slowly over-time they got their way.

          There is simply no value in Apple restricting their customer's choice of network. All you have to do is look at the incentives to understand who is doing what. Incumbent telco's fear young upstarts getting in on the act. The networks have probably already started to wake-up and realise this is all a play for who controls the user's preferred addressable ID and that may end up being WhatsApp. They will cling on with every means at their disposal though, fearing being forced into what they are, little more than utility service providers like heating, lighting and refuse collection. Nobody want's their WiFi login screens. They just want a device that one way or another allows them to talk to their contacts and allows them access to the Internet.

          1. Mark 65

            Re: Very worrying!

            I disagree with the author's sentiments.

            "The key difference in a soft-SIM world is that you select, via a “ballot screen” which network operator you'll use. Who gets to choose who goes in this list? Apple does, from a pre-approved list chosen by Apple. "

            The EU would not allow a device manufacturer to restrict the network on which the device can be used. It simply will not happen without massive fines.

            Second, Google and Apple will not be the gatekeepers as if they try to restrict choice for the consumer the consumer will not purchase said device and someone else will step in to fill the void. The void being a tablet you can use on your network of choice. Hell, the someone else could even be disgruntled networks funding an incredibly similar tablet produced on the same Chinese production lines using the same OS (Android). With this much money at stake industry will route around the problem.

  2. Peter Simpson 1
    Thumb Down

    What Apple doesn't say

    No SIM, no possibility of switching phones...more sales for Apple.

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: What Apple doesn't say

      Not really, what is important is the contract that you have with the operator not with Apple, your Telco can they can provide you with a new sim card ( probably at cost).

      The fact that SIM cards are not being issued will probably be a gift in the end for the operators as it is one less thing to go wrong, is a reduction in production costs and finally doesn't change the fact that the client will stay have to pay his monthly bills.

    2. Chad H.

      Re: What Apple doesn't say

      Yes, because its not as if we live in a world where SIMs can be changed, once you get a SIM you're stuck with it for life.

      Oh, wait.

      1. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: What Apple doesn't say

        You're certainly stuck with it for between 12 and 24 months, during which codec quality, available bandwidth, and available connectivity can all be varied at the cellcos whim, and you have no legal come-back against ever-degrading service because contract.

        Instead of touting the usual cellco 'I'm an important opinion former, me' propaganda, Orlowski might try taking the consumer POV and asking what effect open and free carrier hopping could have on service quality.

        If I'm with [cellco 1] and can switch to [cellco 2] with a preferences tweak, there's at least a slim chance [cellcos 1..n] are going to have to start offering me the call quality, bandwidth and other service elements I actually want, instead of the ones they might condescend to give me on an extended contract, which sets the bar for PAYG users too.

        Will Apple and Google abuse this? Possibly. But the cellcos have already been abusing their oligopoly for years, and no one is going to argue that service in the UK is anywhere near good enough. (You don't know what fury is until you try making a 999 call and the operator has to keep saying 'I'm sorry you're breaking up'.)

        The real problem is abusive monopolistic business culture that basically sells crap if it can. Having a rant at Apple and Google about something that's a much bigger problem doesn't exactly demonstrate world-class analytical skills.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What Apple doesn't say

          Isn't this a spooks wet dream?

          A device with a built in SIM where you can't take the battery out. No thanks.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: What Apple doesn't say

            It'd be OK if the 'phone and SIM were open source. Then you could take Apple IOS source code and cut out any bits that looked iffy, or add an ad blocker at the OS level, or use any network operator --- or use software to make network operator free calls - if you're near a phone that's near a phone... that's near the person you want to call, you could connect through that network with no need for a carrier...

            or, more simply, you could have your call, as has been said, connect to whichever carrier/technology is giving the best service/cost ratio for you - wi-fi, 3G, 4G, anything else.

        2. Vic

          Re: What Apple doesn't say

          You're certainly stuck with it for between 12 and 24 months

          No you're not. You can change the SIM at pretty much any time, as long as the phone accepts the new one.

          What you're stuck with is the *contract* - and moving to a soft-SIM doesn't change that one bit.


  3. Paul

    I think when Google or Apple will become an MVNO in various countries in such a way that they can use multiple carriers or switch carrier easily and thus truly render the carriers into being just pipes.

    VoLTE will play a part of that because then everything is just data, and you won't even need the PSTN interconnects that the mobile/cellular operators provide and make money on, since G or A can do that themselves.

    1. John Robson Silver badge


      Can you set up an MVNO on each network, and then effectively merge them?

      Would that take too much smarts on the devices themselves?

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Query

        Here in Germany there are MVNOs that allow you to select which master network you want to run on...

      2. Chad H.

        Re: Query

        AAISP have a solution where their sims are "Home" on the O2 network, but can change their "home" to an European network to allow them to roam onto other UK networks.

        So yes, such a thing is possible, at billing time.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Apple always control networks anyway, approved carriers download a file to the phone to enable features like tethering, visual voice, logos etc. Apple phones will work on any network but some features are crippled if the carrier is not approved and can't send you this file.

      Giffgaff went for years, only recently became an iPhone retailer to enable this.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    I, for one, welcome our new confectionary-based overlord....

    Actually, no, I don't.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This was doing so well until I got halfway down page 2 and hit "Apple good, Google bad". Weird view, I thought. Must be Orlowski writing this.


    Truth is, whoever does this, it's a Bad Idea. Whether or not you trust their current business model is 10000% irrelevant.

    1. Arctic fox

      Re: "This was doing so well until............"

      Indeed. The reaction of the competition authorities will be very interesting. Not because the situation in the US market with telcos in control has been exactly edifying but because we would be looking at a degree of stranglehold over a communications/computing market that means something very different in terms of the future (scale-wise and qualitatively) than when Redmond ended up in control of the pc-market. Just think about the implications of this - this is not remotely amusing.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Oh how our memories fail us, Apple playing off one network against another to see who would cut them the sweetest deal. In the UK, O2 hastily rolled out an upgrade to EDGE and they were late to 3G, but they got it as they paid Apple the most.

      So will this mean the networks you can choose from change every two or three years as the networks prostitute themselves to get into the dialog box?

      I imagine Google would actually be slightly less evil as they do everything OTT and make their money with ads anyway - anything that is a cost is a barrier to that. They might even not follow Apple down that road... we can but hope.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I fear Apple more than Google.

    Apple have shown they take large payments in exchange for exclusivity. AT&T, U2 Album for example. They also use technology like this to give them a competitive advantage (iPhone browser for example, where everything has to be the enforced "slow Safari", no 3rd party rendering or JS engines, but their browser has the works)

    Google tend to be far more open and level playing field. The fact that Apple are first to market with this, is very worrying for anyone that likes fruity things. I would personally be surprised if 3 years from now, it's not still Apple being the only people playing this anti-consumer game.

  7. Stuart 22

    Almost a good idea

    Software SIMs would be great. I currently have an issue with my Tesco micro-SIM in a Moto G. The G keeps losing it - but not other SIMs. And the Tesco SIM works OK is my Nexus 4. And who hasn't had to indulge in an orgy of gold contact cleaning - if only to please the call centre droid?

    This is a bit of unreliable hardware we don't need. The problems when we lose a phone and want to use another - the problem, cost and time of carriers despatching a new SIM.

    So be able to configure WITH YOUR FAVOURED CARRIER what IMEI to attach to your number (with a personal PIN in case anyone clones your IMEI) would be great. Online and independent of the device.

    So yes software SIMs please. But they belong to either the carrier or me. Not the device. And certainly not Apple or Google.

    1. Tom 35

      And who hasn't had to indulge in an orgy of gold contact cleaning

      Me, never. Not once.

      Do you spit on your SIM before you install it?

      1. Random Handle

        Re: And who hasn't had to indulge in an orgy of gold contact cleaning

        >Do you spit on your SIM before you install it?

        Are you implying he is remiss for not doing so? ...or that this could be the underlying cause?

    2. Mookster

      Re: Almost a good idea

      was it a cheap Chinese SIM? (you can tell by the pattern on the chip)

  8. cs94njw

    "Super-profits generate super investment"

    *snigger* Poor naive fool.

    1. Gordon 10

      Not naive more accurate to say super size profits will generate some investment. Losses dont generate any investment.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Losses dont generate any investment.

        Tell that to Silicon Valley!

    2. ratfox

      Only half of the conditions

      In order to have investments, you need profits, but also competition. Take TWC and Comcast: they make profits, but are not competing against each other. They are even proclaiming it: one of the arguments they are advancing for their merger is that anyway, they are already not competing against each other, so nothing would change. No competition means no need to fight for customers means no investments. QED.

      On the other hand, I don't think there is anybody who would claim that Apple and Google are not competing against each other. The fight for market share is real, constant, and there is even Microsoft trying to make a viable third horse. For them, banning a network means losing users. They are unlikely to play that game.

      Oh, and about Google Fiber: considering it exists in about half a percent of the US, I doubt Google can leverage anything on that front.

  9. JHC_97
    Big Brother

    No More Burners

    Unless someone works out how to hack the phone, thats the end of anonymous sims.

    1. dogged

      Re: No More Burners

      I'd go with "until" rather than unless, but your point is well made.

      And I'm sure the Powers That Be will wholeheartedly support such an arrangement.

  10. El_Fev

    The simple way to avoid this..

    If Google or apple try to restrict which networks their mobiles can connect to , they are immediately banned from selling them in that country. Why? They would immediately fall afoul of competition law.

    1. Nigel 11

      Re: The simple way to avoid this..

      So you forsee GiffGaff being in the list of software SIMs that you can connect your new iPad to? Along with several dozen others? On day one?

    2. Beau

      Re: The simple way to avoid this..

      "They would immediately fall afoul of competition law."

      Well, in Belgium it is all ready illegal to sell a locked phone!

      That doesn't mean Apple & Google wouldn't get a special dispensation though.

      1. Fihart

        Re: The simple way to avoid this.. @Beau

        "Well, in Belgium it is all ready illegal to sell a locked phone!............."

        I thought that. My bro lives there. But was corrected when I asserted it on this forum some months ago.

        Be interesting to know whether Belgium still stands up to the telco bullies -- I gather its other consumer protection laws are pretty feeble.

        1. Nick Pettefar

          Re: The simple way to avoid this.. @Beau

          Definitely! I used to live in Brussels until recently.

          In a way they lose out both ways, the mobiles are expensive and the contracts aren't as cheap as they should be.

    3. Zog_but_not_the_first
      Big Brother

      Re: The simple way to avoid this..

      Sleep easy. TTIP is taking care of this kind of liberal nonsense.

    4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: The simple way to avoid this..

      IMHO, it will be the Carriers/Networks that would be against this. If Apple and whoever is next to implement this asks the Carriers to let them use this in country X and the carriers say no then how much bad publicity would that be for that Carrier.

      I see this as making the gouging from roaming largely a thing of the past except in places like India where you have to hand over the soul of your firstborn to ger a SIM.

      I am just surprised that it has taken until now for it to happen.

    5. midcapwarrior

      Re: The simple way to avoid this..

      "Why? They would immediately fall afoul of competition law."

      Thankfully you will have Almunia to enforce that law.

      In fact I'm sure they are texting his replacement as I type.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The simple way to avoid this..

      Yes and no, both have shown to be adroit at bypassing data and competition law by through strong political support in the USA and fragmentation in the Europe.

  11. b166er

    I guess modded ROMs will become a lot more popular then?

    Besides, there is already regulation for unlocking a phone tied to a particular network, so presumably that legislation would be extended to this method.

    1. Vociferous

      > "modded ROMs will become a lot more popular"

      Can you even use modded ROMs with Apple gear?

  12. tangerine Sedge

    Race to the bottom...

    Interesting analysis, and one that I broadly agree with.

    It's an interesting choice for networks to make. Do they jump in with Apple and see their profits eroded, or do they resist and see their customers go elsewhere?

    Considering how expensive it is to roll out a network, and reduced roaming/sms/data charges, I can't see how a network can justify investing in next generation networks. Apple are intent in doing as little as possible whilst taking as big a cut as possible, whlist the people doing the investment are getting less and less.

    It's a difficult choice and probably depends upon each network chairmans bonus schedule and plans for retirement more than any technical or commercial decision.

    I'd like to think that the networks will unilaterally tell Apple to Foxtrot Oscar, but fully expect them to bend over and take the rogering for the short term market gains. So the question is - who will be investing in the next gen networks?

  13. Rustident Spaceniak

    The question is, do you *have* to use the software SIM card?

    -- or can you just swap it like an ordinary one, for whatever other SIM you like? In that case this would be at best a nice feature, at worst a sneak peak of the future you describe.

    In any case, if great income fosters great investment - something that does not seem to be borne out by the financial industry, at least not investment into innovation - then it won't matter much, on a global scale, who makes that profit, as they will all have an incentive to make you spend as much as possible for the possibility to send your data around.

    1. Sentinel59

      Re: The question is, do you *have* to use the software SIM card?

      The way I understand it, all you have to do is swipe one of three icons representing carriers to switch. No swapping sims.

      1. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: The question is, do you *have* to use the software SIM card?

        Apple Store UK says that the supplied Apple SIM gives you the option of an EE connection only, and if you want one of the other networks, you have to use a network SIM in the traditional manner.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re: The question is, do you *have* to use the software SIM card?

      Surely the point is there is NO physical SIM at all?

  14. TechicallyConfused

    Not so simple to take control

    If this is the way things do eventually move then it just requires the governments to enforce regulation on communication devices (and manufacturers) to ensure the playing field remains open to all.


    If you want to be allowed to sell your devices in this country and use the frequencies required for your devices to operate then you must allow all operators within this country to provide services to your devices.

    1. VinceH

      Re: Not so simple to take control

      "If you want to be allowed to sell your devices in this country and use the frequencies required for your devices to operate then you must allow all operators within this country to provide services to your devices."

      Exactly this - and it could, if done right, be good for the consumer.

      You have your device. It tells you your signal strengths on the various networks it can pick up. You can choose one of them and sign up live, over the air - with varying length contracts (and longer contracts carrying greater overall discounts as you might expect).

      But at that stage, you opt for a short one - just so you can use your device in the meantime, while you go about your regular travels and check the signal strengths of the various networks in other locations you visit regularly.

      From that, when your initial (very short) contract ends, you choose the network that you felt gave the overall best coverage for your requirements - and, again, if you wish, you don't sign up for something onerously long.

      The networks would be motivated to improve their services and coverage if punters can pick and choose so easily. (As it stands, it's not difficult - provided you're not locked in to pay for your device - but this concept has the potential to make things so much easier.)

      Of course, I'm just dreaming. Reality will favour the network providers and help their efforts to screw the punter.

      And there will probably be security issues.

  15. Badvok

    I'm a little confused, since when did Google mention a push towards the Soft SIM? I thought this was always just an Apple thing. Maybe internally Google might be interested in doing it but I don't think I've ever seen them openly advocate it as an option.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      I think the author is confused, concluding because Google own a fibre network operator (who is exploring wireless local loop connections) that Google are also actively seeking to become a global MVNO - whilst they might be the author presents no evidence to support his viewpoint.

      I think the author only introduces Google so that the piece doesn't come across as being anti-Apple, because as you point out the only major player actively wanting to get rid of the physical SIM is Apple, which is a stance that totally contracts the author's statement "Apple just wants to sell you more stuff.".

    2. zen1

      monkey see, monkey do

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Only unlicked devices should ever be allowed....

    The mistake was to allow for locked devices since the beginning. No devices should have ever been tied to a service providers. Nobody ever thought about radios ot TVs being able to receive only selected channels (althought it was left happen with satellite decoders), music player able to play music only from one suppliers, washing machine that could use only one brand of detergent, and so on. It was left to happen with phones. It took an high court ruling in the USA to assert you can unlock your phone after the contract expires. The market doesn't need much regulation - just needs to forbid any kind of proprietary regulations coming from the interested companies. Devices should be free and unllocked, and interoperable among networks through standards. And nothing more.

    1. dkjd

      Re: Only unlicked devices should ever be allowed....

      I was going to make a comment about how TVs only used to work in small parts of the world, allegedly to protect various manufacturers. Then I saw the spelling mistake in the title and started having visions of wiping spittle off of my new electronic goods....

    2. Badvok

      Re: Only unlicked devices should ever be allowed....

      "Devices should be free and unllocked [sic]"

      Yep, if they were all free then there'd be no point locking them, it is only while the device is subsidised by or is still partly owned by the network that locking makes business and common sense.

    3. frank ly

      Re: Only unlicked devices should ever be allowed....

      Any device running Android Lollipop wouldn't remain unlicked for long.

      1. ItsNotMe

        "Any device running Android Lollipop wouldn't remain unlicked for long."

        Which is precisely why I can't wait for my upgrade.

        I have found it a bit difficult to chew on my Android KitKat device. Pieces keep getting stuck between my teeth.

    4. Oh Matron!

      Re: Only unlicked devices should ever be allowed....

      All iPads ARE unlocked, even when bought on contract

    5. Anakin

      Re: Only unlicked devices should ever be allowed....

      To bad for me.

      My kid allways lick on my phone and drool when he get the grips around it

  17. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. ACZ

      Re: Can you change it? And does it really matter?

      Looking at the somewhat limited specification (, it talks about short-term contracts when travelling, and lists UK and US networks.

      As per earlier comments, it would seem ludicrous (and potentially anti-competitive) to block use of other networks at a software level.

      So I suspect that the actual iPad Air 2 will still have a slot for a physical SIM, and that the Apple SIM is (at least for the moment) an additional software option offering pre-configured SIM services, useful when you are e.g. travelling, or want cellular services on a device when you don't have a physical SIM.

      So when you're visiting the US and want cellular access on your iPad Air 2 which has got a UK SIM card in it, you just go to the config page, get presented with the Apple SIM options, make a selection (e.g. based on signal strength where you are located), make payment via the iTunes store, and that's it - job done.

      Apple have made the sale, take their cut from the network operator, and you have the network access you need.

      When you get back home, your device reverts to using the network which its physical SIM card is configured for.

      No competition problems since this is just a convenient additional service for users and doesn't impose any additional limitations upon them, and in fact can be argued to provide them with a significant benefit.

      Obviously, this is just the beginning and clearly long-term things will develop. However, so long as a physical SIM slot still exists in the device then there's no issue.

      I would be bothered about the contracts between the network operators and Apple - the network operators will want to be able to provide lower cost services when accessed through a physical SIM, but if Apple have put a "most favoured nation" type clause in the contract for provision of services via the Apple SIM then, effectively, the network operators who sign up will be signing their own death warrants. Then again, maybe if the contracts through Apple are truly short-term or require the presence of a physical SIM in the device with a "home country" type feature locked to that physical SIM (the short-term Apple SIM contracts only being available for other countries) then that might keep network operators happy. We shall see...

    2. John 110

      Re: Can you change it? And does it really matter?

      "I couldn't see from the Apple documentation (or from El Reg's info either) whether you can actually swap the software configurable SIM card for an ordinary one."

      Surely there won't be a physical SIM therefore no slot to stick an ordinary one in.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    FFS, the physical SIM port is still there...

    the nano sim port is still there - and will always be there.

    No manufacturer wants to actively exclude a massive market because you can't insert your own sim.

    The soft sim is for TEMPORARILY switching providers - yes, that list is controlled by apple/google but i bet very quickly you're going to get a large number of operators, both real and virtual.

    It's in apple/google's interest to make list as large as possible to give users choice when travelling


    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: FFS, the physical SIM port is still there...

      If it is still there it won't be on a later model if this works for Apple. They said ages ago they wanted to abolish physical SIM to save space. But it's really about more Apple control

      1. ragge

        Re: FFS, the physical SIM port is still there...

        No, it isn't. But it certainly is about less service provider control.

        If you had any idea of what you were talking about, you would know that the soft SIM is only one option. You can perfectly well swap in any SIM you like.

        This gives more control to the customer, less control to the service provider.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A good enough analysis

    Though it seems to assume the networks would be to weak to do anything in the event that Apple or Google become hostile. Also, it's an (almost) free market; one device maker's refusal to work with a network operator, is an opportunity for another (albeit perhaps with a fork of Android).

    Besides, I would hope the regulators would have something to say. From a consumer perspective, the physical SIM card is a great idea.

  20. Stretch

    I don't care which particular evil, greedy bunch of lying, cheating scheming cunts gets the profits as they are all the same and as bad as each other. I would burn them all alive.

    But it would be great if just ONE of them was made to pay some tax.

  21. James 51

    "the transition of the mobile industry will be complete"

    Anyone else hear the Emperor when reading that?

  22. xyz Silver badge


    How onerous and time consuming all that SIM maintenance is for the average consumer I'm surprised this hasn't been thought about before. And don't forget about all that extra weight it adds to a phone.

    I'm taking the piss here. First rule of the School of Snake Oil, make up a problem and then provide a solution to that problem.

    Must admit to feeling a bit of a rebel owning a WinPhone now

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: considering...

      That's the first rule of most businesses these days. Create the problem, even if you have to buy politicians to do it and then sell the solution.

      And by create, I mean literally. Most of life's little problems were solved in the last century but most the solutions were manufactured as cheap as possible by planned obsolescence.

  23. James 51

    Now, if only there was some way we could take some of the money (on the turn over, not net profits) from the companies if they failed to invest in infrastructure and create it for ourselves. The whole endeavour could be overseen but some telecommunication company located presumably, in Britain.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Inevitable Convergence

    The news has, in the last few days, mentioned a SIM card you can't swap out and a phone that listens for 'Ok Google Now' even when 'turned off'.

    Nothing much better for a surveillance-obsessed world system than people carrying phones that are always connected, always listening and can't be turned off.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Inevitable Convergence

      I'll be worried when these phones start penetrating Faraday cages. If people are paranoid about always-listening phones, they'll throw them into Faraday bags at night.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back to the eighties you go!

    Folks too young or with short memories might not remember that we've been here before. Analogue mobile phones of the eighties/nineties were 'paired' with your initial network of choice without the need for a SIM. So far so good...

    A couple of months/years into your service, and you wish to leave. You've either fallen out with your current provider over a billing/service issue, or you just spot a better deal elsewhere. And, now you've a problem... You're reliant on your existing service provider to de-pair the device. If they don't want you to leave, or are just cr@p at handling such requests, you're trapped.

    The solution? Separate the service provider and the device, and allow them to 'talk' to each other via a universal piece of kit. The SIM card was born. Bliss.

    Uh-oh. Where did I park my DeLorean?

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Back to the eighties you go!

      >Uh-oh. Where did I park my DeLorean?

      1991, Munich in the visitors car park of Giesecke & Devrient ?

      What do you mean your one wasn't fitted with the flux capacitor?

    2. Daniel B.

      Re: Back to the eighties you go!

      Indeed. For us, this was still true even way into the 2000's, as GSM was introduced somewhere around 2002 or 2003. This is also why I refuse to do business with any carrier that still uses the awful SIM-less CDMA.

      I've always seen the use of a physical SIM card as giving the user total liberty in choosing both which handset you want to use, and which carrier you'll get. Over here in Mexico, Virgin Mobile has entered the market as an MVNO and the smartphones they're pushing over have dual-SIM capability. Which means you gain the ability to keep your older SIM and phone number while beta testing the new mobile operator. It's also very useful for those who wish to have a backup line in case your main carrier goes down.

      Software SIM would be a giant step backwards in consumer liberties. It's VERY BAD and telecom regulators everywhere should make this outright illegal for anything that isn't legacy (CDMA, AMPS, the legacy SIMless stuff obviously doesn't support SIM cards).

  26. Anomalous Cowshed

    So this is what they meant when they said...

    ...that the next world war would be fought with nanotechnology...

    I note that the combatants have been preparing for years with their nano-SIMS...

  27. George 8

    Newsnight Andrew?

    Any chance you can get back on Newsnight and mention this Andrew? Its important.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Newsnight Andrew?

      I don't have a hot line but David Grossman is excellent, will flag it.

  28. david willis

    The market changes - but what happens to the service

    Ok, BT & AT&T didn't create the phone networks for the betterment of society. They did it to make money.

    The internet doesn't magically occur. In most cases the internet is BT or AT&T renting some of the space on their comms network.

    This network is the meat and veg of any meal

    When BT or AT&T were forcing you to buy their overpriced access equipment it was to them just gravy.

    Now the Gravy is a the main part of the meal, how will we fund the meat and veg?

    As far as the networks go nearly everyone will go to the cheapest provider (daft not to - but never underestimate people), unless they are in an area of dodgy comms where they will go for the only provider (daft not to).

    So everyone will want cheap meat n veg. Now cost of supply means cheap eventually becomes none as it is too expensive to provide service

    Then what becomes of the gravy, what point is there in an information consumption and presentation device made by any manufacture when there is no information to consume or present?

    Maybe its just a move by the dessert (Apple) to monopolise the entire meal?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    is this new

    I have a Kindle 3G which has no accessible SIM in it, no idea what provider it uses, nor do I care.

    It seems to work in every country I have taken it to. How is that different?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How is that different?

      Because it's not (directly) billing you for airtime? You might very well care if it did.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re: is this new

      a) If you are sensible you are never ever charged for Kindle 3G

      b) you can change the SIM. But why would you when Amazon, Wikipedia, books you buy are no 3G charge and currently 60Mbyte other browsing is free?

      c) You can setup kindle so you are never charged, transfer your own content or free eBooks via USB.

  30. Andrew Jones 2

    I'm not sure how this articles went from being about Apple to being about Google, especially since I've never seen Google advocating a software SIM for anything - nor can I understand why they would want to. Google's mission is simple - Google services everywhere, for everyone - being able to reject certain networks from the device makes absolutely no sense, from a user standpoint nor from a data collection standpoint on the Google end.

  31. 45RPM

    Odd that in an announcement awash with 'meh', the super-sim didn't get mentioned. This is the one genuinely interesting release. It could be amazing but, as others have pointed out, it will need policing in order to ensure that smaller carriers get a fair bite of the cherry.

    It seems very odd to me that I can go online and order a new computer, or download software, but to change service provider I need to toddle off to a shop to purchase a tiny sliver of plastic that then needs to be inserted into my device. Since the vital bit of the sim is just software, surely it makes more sense that I should be able to just click and change without leaving my chair?

    I'm amazed that no one did this sooner.

  32. Joe 48

    Never seen the point in mobile enabled tablets

    I don't get it. I still fail to see why anyone would buy a tablet with a mobile connection. Thats what my phone and tethering is for.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Never seen the point in mobile enabled tablets

      Tried looking at schematics, blueprints and spreadsheets on a phone every day? A phone will do in a pinch, but is unacceptable for every day mission critical situations.

      I know for a fact that tablets are now the preferred choice for field techs of most of the largest companies in the world. Field tech who go places where ONLY a phone signal is available and 3G is luxury.

  33. BleedinObvious

    Risky to go more lock-in and anti-consumer with SE Asia brands on the rise

    Bit late I'd say, Apple should've done this while it had more control of the market, then relinquished after strong Chinese more consumer-friendly arose, this just smacks of desperation.

    Google doesn't need lock-in, as people are flocking their way, and they can use Apple's new handcuffs as an additional selling point.

  34. Velv

    Since the SIM forms part of the GSM standard it's not going away in the immediate future, and the carriers are better represented on the board than Apple or Google

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      All true, but who sets "the standard" when 90 per cent of phones will have a soft SIM?

      Doesn't matter who's on the GSMA board then. And it doesn't matter what they want Apple/Android to do.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      SIM forms part of the GSM

      The Operator & Network still sees a SIM. But it's simulated in software.

      1. newcastlebrown

        Re: SIM forms part of the GSM

        At the minute (I think) the GSM standard mandates a removable SIM, and meeting this is a requirement to sell in the EU, so we're safe (for now)

  35. JDX Gold badge

    "It isn’t hard to imagine a network failing Google’s beauty contest"

    If only the governments of nations were able to force their hands on such matters. Wait, they can - they can force Google over "right to forget", etc, etc.

  36. BleedinObvious

    Changed my mind, could be lovely

    After AC mentioned Kindle's Whispernet, the Apple soft-sim thing does sound like a potential for consumer-friendlyness.

    Whispernet-style global roaming access to say iTunes, iCloud services and a handful of whitelisted email and social media, perhaps included in the cost of an iTunes/iCloud subscription, could make the iPad an ideal traveller's companion.

    Probably also be easier for Apple to deactivate stolen devices anywhere in the world.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Changed my mind, could be lovely

      Unicorns are this way, sir.

  37. DBJDBJ

    Apple is not a key player

    There are three key players:

    Amazon, Google, Microsoft

    Everything else is conjecture.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SIM only

    A carrier free device is the only way to fly, as far as I am concerned.

    True, you pay the whole hog for the device up front, but I think in many cases it works out cheaper.

    At least (most) carriers offer a SIM only option to connect to their network.

    The turn of events relating to this article is truly dredd.

  39. Waspy

    Leave the abusive partners?

    Probably get a few downvotes for posing the question but if Microsoft or BlackBerry do not go down this route, does this mean carriers will just start pushing them hard instead?

    carphone warehouse and the carrier shops have a lot of power in swaying consumers...and the large posters and exclusive areas for Apple and Samsung on the shop floors lend credence to the popular (but not necessarily true) opinion that these manufacturers make the best handsets. With Microsoft giving away winpho and blackberry maybe coming back to thier own niche for business, could the networks have a possible way out of the abusive yet addictive Apple/Google relationships they are currently in?

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Frankly, I am getting sick of this Crapple bullshit. Every time Apple releases a new model of its Ithingy, the press lights up with numerous articles on how this new Ithingy will revolutionize the world. There are even three articles in the Reg saying that the new Ithingy will change the world into a paradise. When the smoke clears, it usually turns out it isn't a revolutionary update, but just a newer model of what was with a few new features. For instance, the Iphone 6 is supposed to be a total upgrade in technology, but from my point of view, it is an uninteresting upgrade of the Iphone 5. For instance, Android has had tap-to-pay (NFC) for years. My debit card has NFC capability and I didn't have to pay $$$$ to get it. I am willing to bet if Apple reads this, this comment will get the DMCA treatment

  41. ideapete

    Then they buy Level 3

    And the Jobsian data world really connects ( pun )

  42. ecofeco Silver badge

    Trying hard to feel sympathy for mobile operators

    Nope. Nothing. Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.

    But will the new boss be the same as the old boss?

  43. rjf

    Won't happen - imagine no subsidy for your iphone

    It won't happen for phones.. the deal that operators have at the moment is that they are allowed "reasonable" lockin periods and in return they offer subsidies for the phones. So if they are not allowed to have lockin periods and people can jump as they wish, then they can't offer subsidies.

    I buy my iPhone from Vodafone, and get a 400€ subsidy... next day I switch to using a different operator who can offer a cheaper usage package as they didn't offer any subsidy.

    So summary.. will people buy iphones when they have to visibly and upfront pay the apple premium?

    PS: ipads are sold unlocked without subsidies so this works for them.

    PS: might be the best thing that could happen for an operator if they got out of this stupid subsidy wars... that's what gives all the money to Apple

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Won't happen - imagine no subsidy for your iphone

      Yes, because you would never have to pay off your contract, or keep paying for the duration of the contract to pay back that €400 "subsidy" + a penalty charge would you. The phone is (most likely) not subsidised in the first place, it is more like hire purchase. There are some O2 contracts whereby you are paying £100 more for the device than Apple sell it for, on top of the phone contract.

      No one would buy iPhones paying the full price up front? Funny, they seem to manage to sell quite a few from their own stores / website without any tie to a carrier.

  44. PaulR79

    Oh please

    "It isn’t hard to imagine a network failing Google’s beauty contest – on some arbitrary Google-devised rule."

    Google, famous for throwing their weight around and trying to prevent others from doing things. Apple, the innocent and friendly to all consumers and competitors company. Oh wait..

    Might it change? Of course. Looking back on past histories of the two companies though I can only see one of them trying to dictate where you can and can't use your new phone and it isn't Google.

  45. sleepy

    Apple (and every other manufacturer) can already carrier lock a phone. They already had technology to take away consumer choice. So the idea that a soft SIM will take away consumer choice because it can is not particularly useful. It's far more likely that carriers will be able to offer soft SIMs in exactly the same way they offer hard sims, and you can pick whichever you want.

    The real significance of this is that Apple are now nearly in a position to buy airtime wholesale, in real time, potentially creating a monopsony with the power to end the carrier-consumer relationship. It's not that carriers couldn't continue to offer service, it's that they couldn't compete On price or coverage with an Apple multi carrier MVNO. How barren would our high streets be then?

    But Apple are cleverer than that. They already only have to glance towards the cash pile as they say to a new industry "we'd like to work with you". So the soft SIM may well appear to make little difference to the consumer. But it does substantially alter the balance of power between Apple and carriers. It's not clear how Google could follow without becoming a manufacturer. It's already miserable enough being an Android licensee, and soft sims under Google control would just make it more miserable.

    1. Daniel B.

      You got it wrong

      Apple (and every other manufacturer) can already carrier lock a phone.

      But carriers are the ones that actually carrier lock phones, not manufacturers. You're also seeing the problem backwards: the real issue is that you can't swap out your SIM and use a different device if you want/need to. And a soft SIM will be locked permanently as well, so it's just going back to the dark ages of CDMA which I won't ever go back. The SIM card is an issue of consumer freedom and should not be allowed to be turned into yet another lockdown method.

      As it is, phones can be SIM unlocked in most civilized countries for free, for a fee, or by some h4xx0r dude.

  46. Fihart

    Do some phones and tablets lock to first provider ?

    My impression from complaints about Samsung Note (?) was that it and iPhones could lock to the first provider whose SIM was inserted. This applies to other devices advertised as SIM-free rather than unlocked.

    In effect, does the Apple virtual SIM slightly undo that problem ?

    1. ragge

      Re: Do some phones and tablets lock to first provider ?

      The only devices that are locked are those that are sold subsidizes from the service providers. They are often locked to that service provider so that you can't take the money and use it with another service provider.

      Device manufacturers almost always want to have their devices usable with as many networks as possible so that they can sell as many as possible.

      You can often unlock the device when the contract with the initial service provider has expired, for example after two years.

      This has been how it has worked since almost the beginning of the GSM era, at least 1994 or so.

  47. HKmk23

    You can fool some of the people some of the time....but not all the people all the time!

    I have Apple shares, an Ipad2 an Iphone4 and several "retired" Iphone3's, a mini Mac.

    So I am not anti Apple, but I have been using a Samsung S3mini and recently a Duo and I will not go back to using an Iphone again unless they do a deal with Google to offer an android build.....

    1. ragge

      Re: You can fool some of the people some of the time....but not all the people all the time!

      The only one that are fooled in this case is the article writer, who hasn't understood what this is and how it works, and the whiners in this thread who believed the article whiteout checking what it is actually about.

      This isn't giving more control to apple, this is giving more control to the customer and less to the service providers.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The US never liked the communist European idea of the SIM

    Even though (in most of the world) it fired a massive market in mobile phone upgrading by users.

    This is just a manifestation of that dislike.

  49. ragge

    Except that the article has got it entirely wrong

    The article has got it exactly wrong.

    You can put any SIM you want in it.

    But it, currently in the US and the UK, ships with an Apple SIM, which lets you choose between the real networks and roam between them.

    So it doesn't put any more power at the device manufacturer, it only makes the customer have more choice.

    So all of you whiners here - can you pleases stop now?

    1. Phil Kingston

      Re: Except that the article has got it entirely wrong

      But the groundwork's there for the next version to forego a physically changeable SIM.

    2. Charles 9

      Re: Except that the article has got it entirely wrong

      I would be more inclined to accept a SIM-less device if the switching mechanism was outside the control of the manufacturer. If what you say is true and the "soft SIM" is really a programmable SIM, then this might inspire third parties if they can ink MVNO deals with the primary carriers and so on.

  50. Omgwtfbbqtime

    Spin off from credit card number sales?

    Sites selling the access codes to use someone else's account?

    This will end in tears.

  51. Phil Kingston

    Not everyone is forced to have a Google or Apple device.

    Some folk take it upon themselves to make their own handset choices.

  52. Werner Heisenberg

    No biggie

    There's already a couple of things that instantly rule out a phone for me:

    1. Non-removable battery

    2. No memory card slot

    For me, lack of a physical SIM slot would simply become the next on this list. I suspect many others would have the same view if it turns out to be an anti-consumer power grab. For anyone not locked into iStuff, the market will sort it out.

  53. dave 93

    Er, there isn't a soft-SIM. It is a removable SIM

    From the Apple website - "One SIM. Many options.

    The new Apple SIM is preinstalled on iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi + Cellular models. The Apple SIM gives you the flexibility to choose from a variety of short-term plans from select carriers in the U.S. and UK right on your iPad."

    OK, so the SIM isn't dead, there is no 'software SIM'. Apple make their own SIM, which is pre-installed, but you can take it out if you want to. Apple have indeed struck deals with many carriers to make it more convenient to switch between operators they support, but you aren't locked in to Apple.

    An alternative description is that Apple have become a data-only, global Virtual Network Operator, piggy-backing on partner networks, and they give the SIM away for free because they already have your payment details to charge you for any use. A smart move, but a long way from a monopoly.

    Data networks will eventually replace PSTN, because they are actually the same thing with different protocols, but data networks are ultimately more capable and one set of protocols is easier to manage. This is the real story, and a very disruptive one, but a bit less shouty than 'Apple and Google ate my Hampster! by Andrew Orlovski'

  54. dave 93

    It's all about the UX

    Apple care about making it 'just work' and this is a good example. Now they are effectively a MVNO I predict they will soon (but not too soon) offer a complete global phone and data service with guaranteed QoS so their devices function smoothly wherever, whenever. Saying goodbye to shady free-wifi is another plus

  55. Derek Kingscote

    Most of us live in the real world.

    I have a lot of problems with this. All the talk is about SIMcards.

    The fundamental item that is not being discussed is the numbering. Who owns the telephone number? I go into an Apple store to buy a new phone; where do they get their number from? That has to be tied to a SIM. Any normal SIM has a number on it, so the software SIM has to have a number; who controls that? The SIM is usually specific to the network.

    So the telephone number is tied to the SIM; the SIM/Phone combo has to register on the network; the network database registers where you are all the time. Call and data traffic has to be billed for against your number.

    Apple or anyone else has to manage all that; phone faulty under warranty? Number/SIM/Network has to be managed. Changing Service provider you need a PAC code – they need to manage you leaving or you joining.

    Will they really want the overhead when in reality it'll be hassle all the way- hassle for you, hassle for them.

    Anyphone: Already got a SIM? Push it in, turn phone on. Go.

    If all your numbers are on the SIM it's pain free.

    Apple: Already got a SIM? We'll need to migrate your number off that SIM onto our soft SIM and register that soft SIM with your network provider.

    If all your numbers are on the SIM we'll need to manage that.

    [or more likely: sorry, you'll have to re-enter them all yourself]

    With softSIM any chance of that going wrong? Phone screws up or is hacked?

    Hopping networks won't work – billing/inter-network charging; where is the phone registration database. E.g you're with O2, and you're running on EE rails, can't do that without registering your phone on EE. How will an incoming O2 call find you on the EE network?

    Most of us live in the real world.

  56. Paw Bokenfohr

    I don't see what the difference is?

    ..."when customers can switch operators and technologies in real-time the investment may dry up."


    Why is this any different, really, to now?

    I'm sure you'll still be able to buy carrier-locked phones and so on for the forseeable.

    However, right now, if I buy an unlocked iPad or Nexus tablet, I can buy a SIM from any carrier I like in my home country, get a SIM-only deal and roll month to month, or indeed have two or more on the go and swap between them if there is poor service at home for example, and when I go on holiday I can get one from a local provider if I like (and I do - I have a Fido SIM from Canada and an AT&T one from the US)

    Why does doing it in software make a difference?

    Just because you can switch "SIM"s in software rather than physically doesn't mean you won't have to pay month to month or pay any less to the carriers you're choosing.

    In fact, it might increase their profits. Off the bat I can think of a couple of ways - they no longer have the expense of manufacturing and distributing all those SIMs, and if you go somewhere on a long weekend, perhaps you can't be bothered to get a local SIM, but if it's just there in software and the offer of a 1-week or fixed-data plan is right there to buy, you may well go for it.

    Change ≠ death-of-all-we-have-come-to-know.......

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Next Freetard @ El Reg speaks

    In one breathe mentions Google Fiber and that El Goog is in the network game. Then spends an entire page decrying that Google and Apple have no skin (money) in the networking game.

    Make up your mind.

  58. David Roberts

    This could be very good if..........

    Some markets demand dual SIM phones.

    These are not very common in the UK on the leading hand sets.

    If there is a market for dual SIM phones, then how about treble SIM phones.....

    So one way that this could be very good is if you could have your usual two year subsidised purchase with your chosen carrier, but could also register one or more 'soft' SIMs with alternative PAYG carriers to cover the times when your phone tells you "emergency calls only".

    You are still committed to the two year contract (so the subsidised model still works) but you can use other carriers when you need to.

    If you travel abroad you can add other contracts without all the messing about with levering SIMs in and out and trying not to lose your spare SIM(s).

    You can also use one handset for 'work' and 'personal' phone numbers.

    One thing that would be good would be an agreement between carriers that they don't need to reprogram your phone when you inset a new SIM to add their own version of service numbers such as voice mail and customer service.


    Just notice this in preview so it is late to the party.

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