T-Mobile lays ground for embedded SIMs
Wanna change networks, sunshine? Not on my watch
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 of having to put a SIM into a device which might be anything from a rainfall sensor to an electricity meter.
T-Mobile's new embedded SIM is about the size of a pin head and much more durable than existing models, though it performs the same function in the same way as a traditional SIM.
Even traditional SIMs aren't as large as they appear; the electronics are glued to the back the visible metal contacts and hang in a void cut into the plastic, the components themselves being only a couple of millimetres square. The additional space is used to make the SIM fit human fingers, and is defined as part of GSM. Reducing the size of a SIM is technically easy - just remove the plastic - but doing so means the device no longer conforms to the GSM standard.
In Europe that's a significant problem, as mobile phone networks are required to conform to the GSM standard which includes a removable SIM. It's a requirement that operators have tried to work around many times, including one case where a drop of glue was applied to every SIM to prevent users switching them - conforming to the letter of the law rather than its spirit.
In the USA operators can deploy what they like - CDMA networks have a SIM equivalent, but no one uses it as no one wants customers to be able to switch networks by sliding in a different chip. But when it comes to non-telephony devices, a non-removable SIM might make more sense.
Take the example of the Kindle, which uses Sprint's CDMA network to a Qualcomm back end, with Amazon footing the bill. The Kindle would gain nothing by having a removable SIM - it couldn't be used on any other network, and Amazon would certainly balk at paying the bill, so such a thing would make the service much more difficult to manage. Given that users aren't paying the bill anyway, they shouldn't really care.
So as mobile phones become much more than devices on which to talk, it might be time to consider the embedded SIM, even if it means handing more power to the operators. ®
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).
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?
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?