Apple patents the idea of a virtual SIM card, operators around the world freak out

When it comes to business, relationships matter. Companies like to own you, the consumer, and they’ll figure out ways on how to make sure that the bonds they make are as difficult to break as the law allows. Why do you think the smartphones operators sell are locked to their network? Should you want to sell your handset, the operator will still get money from the person who opens an account with said operator to use said device. In some markets things are a bit different, operators sell unlocked devices and they don’t even bother tweaking the software on the device, but they still got you by the balls because you pay them to use their SIM card to access their services. Calls to other people who happen to be on the same network are cheaper for a reason. Apple, looking to control the complete user experience of their products, filed a patent for what’s known as a “virtual SIM card”.

The permise is simple. You go to a store, buy an iPhone, iPad, or whatever future device Apple intends to sell with embedded cellular connectivity, you take it home, and then when you first power it on it asks you to select which operator you’d like to use as your service provider. There’s also a second benefit to opting to go virtual instead of physical for the SIM card, the ability to make devices that are even thinner and smaller. Apple insisted on going with microSIM cards starting with the iPhone 4 and with the iPads to make them as small as they are today. Take the SIM card out completely and you can only imagine what Jonny Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple, can come up with in terms of future products.

If you’re an operator, chances are you’re freaking out right about now since Apple is basically saying they don’t want to deal with you anymore, that they just want you to be a silly little pipe. As with any Apple patent story we cover, realize that just because Apple patented an idea, doesn’t mean it’ll come to market. And if it does, there’s no word as to when.

  • Andrej Turcan

    Dear Stefan,

    I have one comment. You pointed it right in the beginning “Companies like to own you,…” now it will be uncle Apple who will be owning you… or who do you think will handle the business of “service subscription selection” in the “virtual SIM” scenario?andrej turcan

    • Anonymous

      Disagree. In this case, apple is paving the way for you to buy the product and choose your network. They are freeing you from the carrier. It would become much like someone buying a computer and then choosing their internet provider. Apples ecosystem of iTunes, computers, tablets and phones might own you, but that is only because of your choice based on how great their product is (or isn’t based on your opinion).

      • They don’t free you from the operator.  It’s easy to move a SIM card, and it’s easy to understand.  And it’s easier to  get your certificate stolen if it’s stored in the phone and not the SIM card.

        And it is plain bull to argue the need to have smaler SIM cards to make the phones smaller.  There are lots of phones that are a lot smaller than iPhone which still uses ordinary sized SIM cards.  There are lot of free space in a phone.

  • Ivan

    Why would operators freak out ? It would be a different business, but you still need to pay for voice calls to the operator and you still need to pay for data. Money does not disappear. Maybe finally operators would care to keep people in their network (better coverage, higher speed, lower price, etc.)

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