T-Mobile's Embedded SIM Cards: Great For Connected Devices, Bad For Consumers?

from the what's-the-real-motivation? dept

T-Mobile got a lot of press last week when it announced a new, tiny embedded SIM card to be used in connected devices like “smart” electrical meters. The new SIM is much smaller than the traditional stamp-sized cards, and the company says it can withstand exposure to the elements, making it ideal for machine-to-machine communications with outdoor devices, or in connected consumer electronic devices. However, The Register has a slightly different take on the new SIM, wondering if it’s really driven by a desire to do away with removable SIM cards — meaning T-Mobile could sell devices that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to use on other operators. As the site notes, the electronics on SIM cards are actually minuscule, but they’re packaged in a bigger plastic housing to make them easier for people to handle. Theoretically, T-Mobile could use the new, smaller SIM in devices instead of today’s standard SIMs, and encourage manufacturers to build them in such a way so that the tiny SIM was essentially impossible to remove. This might not make a lot of sense for handsets, but for other connected electronic devices, it could prove very attractive to operators, particularly if they’re subsidizing those devices. It should be noted that this is purely speculation at this point, but given mobile operators’ undying love of trying to lock in their customers, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see it happen.

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Companies: t-mobile

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Comments on “T-Mobile's Embedded SIM Cards: Great For Connected Devices, Bad For Consumers?”

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Amy says:

It would indeed make T-Mobile=Verizon. I hope this change never happens, because one of the consumer-friendliest things about T-Mobile is the ability to swap out that SIM card into multiple devices, and currently at least, T-Mo has a hands-off attitude towards their customers who use multiple devices with one SIM card.

I called to ask if this was a problem before I tried out a Blackberry (turns out I hated it) with my T-Mobile SIM Card. ‘Just pay your bill every month. That’s all the company is concerned about.’ Said nicely, and the phone rep even offered to connect me to tech support if I had any questions about using the Blackberry that I hadn’t even bought from T-Mobile. That’s a world-class company. Don’t change anything. It’s not broken.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hark! Is that the 1980s calling?

Um, isn’t this part of the GSM design standard- keeping the Subscriber Identity Module separate from the Mobile Equipment/Terminal Interface? Wouldn’t such a design change make the devices inherently Non-GSM?

Why, yes, yes that’s right! If T-Mobile wants to fork the GSM specifications… Hell, why not. They should also hire some folks, gut their network, and “upgrade” to this new fancy IS-54 standard. While they’re working on that, I’ll “upgrade” my home computer network to Token-Ring!

W.A. ten Brink says:


It would be quite useful, though. I’m often away from home with a small netbook and a Web’n’Walk stick which gives me access to the Internet wherever I am. I don’t need it often but sometimes it’s really useful when I’m at a customer’s site and I need to “call home”. I can send and receive emails, use messenger to chat with collegues and even download new software from the home base if need be. (Or upload error reports from the customer’s site for future research.)
Now, the Web’n’Walk stick has a sim card and it makes the stick a bit big and ugly to see. The card needs to fit in the stick and so does the other hardware parts. But I wonder if it could have been more compact if they didn’t need that much room for the sim card…
Of course, it would be even more interesting if all I had to do was to insert a sim card in the netbook itself. Don’t even mind if I would have to open some compartment to access the inside of the netbook to add the sim card. And I don’t mind if the sim card would be a lot smaller. My HP iPaq 614c has a memorycard that needs to be inserted inside the device and it’s even a lot smaller than a sim card, and a bit harder to handle. But with these devices, it’s not likely that users would change these cards very often.

With phones, things tend to be different, especially thanks to all the cheap prepaid cards. Some people just get a new card (and number) every time when their card runs out of cash.

I think it would be a good thing if there was a new sim card standard, where the card would be a lot smaller than it is today. But it should be a generic standard and it’s replacability should depend on the type of device that it’s used for.

james leyerle says:

Standard SIM cards inherently inappropriate for these devices

Unfortunately M2M communications don’t occur in conditions comfortable for humans and standard devices/SIM cards…you need a more robust interface than you have presently for, for instance, a vehicular application which needs to perform flawlessly and predictably from 160 degrees f to -45 degrees f (imagine an embedded device in the trunk or engine compartment of a black car in Saskatoon, SK over a year’s time). At least for the North American marketplace, this puts T-Mo in the M2M market

cjmpe (profile) says:

I don't know if this one will fly...

There are an awful lot of places in the world where phones are not subsidised (hence not locked) and users regularly swap SIMs when travelling between countries. At the Bahrain airport duty free, I saw a couple of phones with multiple SIM slots to make life easier. I suspect that while T-Mob might convince their main handset manufacturer to create a special for them, most others will simply come up with a cradle for the tiny SIM that has the footprint of the standard SIM. You get the cheapest T-mob handset, smash it open and put the SIM in the handset of your choice, purchased from Tiger Direct or some such vendor.

hegemon13 says:


“…meaning T-Mobile could sell devices that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to use on other operators.”

What, like Sprint and Verizon, or other non-GSM carriers? T-mobile already locks their phones. The SIM cards do not make portability between carriers any easier. The phone still has to be unlocked. The SIM cards just allow easy portability of information between devices within the same carrier. Plus, upgrading your phone does not incur a nasty “activation fee,” as it does with carriers that do not use a SIM card. The SIM card is a feature of service that makes GSM carriers’ product more valuable. Building the SIM in would just mean their phones acted like CDMA phones. They could do that, but why would they want to? Right now, the ease of a phone upgrade just makes customers more likely to upgrade their handset. Why would T-mobile cripple their handsets in a way that hurts themselves?

I suppose you can speculate anything (and publish it with a headline that makes it sound factual and inevitable, eh, Techdirt?), but this seems like speculation without any forethought. There would be no good reason for T-mobile to do this.

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