The merger between T-Mobile and Sprint can mean the end of the physical SIM card

The Department of Justice may have just done more to eliminate those small plastic SIM cards that you must use to operate your phone on a wireless network provider than all of Big Tech's efforts over the past four years. That is because it is so require both Dish and T-Mobile in support of eSIM technology as a condition for approval of the merger.


What looks like a complicated detail in an announcement from a blockbuster, just an additional technical requirement, can ultimately not only change how your phone comes online, but also (ultimately) the way in which phones are built. It will not happen overnight – the process is likely to take years – but this small reservation in the approval of the merger can have far more consequences than anyone who can sell wireless services in America.

Electronic SIM is the technology with which wireless devices can be activated purely via software on a network. In theory, it makes it much easier for consumers to change networks because they don't have to buy a physical thing (the SIM card) from the network they want to switch to. They can simply tap a few buttons in an app. In practice it was not that simple – American airlines have dragged their feet in rolling out full support for eSIM.

The big thing the Justice Department needs is that "The New T-Mobile" sells a lot of assets to Dish, so it has the tools it needs to become a fourth wireless provider. But in a press conference announcing approval, the US government also requires both The New T-Mobile and Dish to support eSIM technology, allowing your phone to register itself with the courier with only its own internal chips, not a small plastic disk you must put it in your phone. This is how the DOJ formulated it:

The remedy also facilitates the ability of consumers to easily switch between wireless providers by requiring the new T-Mobile and the new Dish service to support eSIM, electronic SIM, technology. This requirement will make it easier for Dish to attract new subscribers, help expand competition in this market and provide a platform for new innovative options.

Unfortunately, eSIM is not widely used in the United States in mobile wireless such as in Europe and other countries. And that is a separate area of ​​this merger that we have looked at. This will revolutionize the use of eSIM's in hopefully all providers, because once consumers have it, they will benefit from it.

This seems like a small deal, especially since the major US airlines finally started officially supporting eSIM technology on new iPhones last year (here's how you can activate your eSIM if you are interested). But the most important thing to note is that the support is obligated.

In theory, this could mean that both networks ultimately require telephones on their networks to support eSIM to continue to comply with the merger agreement. That would mean that everyone who wants to get their phone on those networks – and that is almost everyone – must build in support for eSIM.

If eSIM becomes the standard on T-Mobile and Dish, the DOJ hopes that the pressure from consumers will bring this to all providers and also make it easier to switch between them easily.


In the previous sections you may have a lot of & # 39; in theory & # 39; and & # 39; ifs & # 39; noted – that is because we do not yet know the full scope of DOJ's eSIM requirement. It is probably unlikely that it will force these new wireless providers to only offer phones that support eSIM. It is more likely that it requires that if a phone has it, these companies must support it.

But even if we look at that somewhat weaker requirement, it is still very important. That's because many phone makers are Very enthousiastic to lose the physical SIM card. It is one of the most annoying aspects of designing a phone: they must have some sort of slot or drawer to insert the SIM card, which takes up space and is also an entrance for water or dirt. By getting rid of the physical SIM, companies can design smaller, thinner and more durable phones.

Again, don't hope this will happen immediately. The Ministry of Justice hopes that market dynamics will put some pressure on these telephone providers to take over eSIM and that market dynamics will take a very long time. And even if it happens, there is no guarantee that switching to your eSIM compatible phone will be easy. The DOJ already has an open investigation into how American airlines are trying to undermine eSIM technology by adding locks and barriers to its use, so the path for eSIM acceptance is still long and bumpy. But today's news at least gives us a map.

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