Apple's (as yet unconfirmed) plans to make an iPhone with a built-in, programmable SIM chip is getting a strong push-back from European carriers who would have the most to lose from the shift away from physical SIMs. The Financial Times
of London reports that carriers are saying Apple may provoke a "war"
if they pursue this technology, and that they may decide to just stop offering iPhone subsidies in protest. Meanwhile, the industry group representing carriers is working on its own embedded SIM.
As we reported a few weeks ago
, Apple is said to be working with SIM-card manufacturer Gemalto to make a programmable SIM-on-a-chip that would let consumers buy a phone directly from Apple and activate it with the carrier of their choice via iTunes. This worries European carriers, who recognize all too clearly that this built-in SIM would make them no more than service providers, and potentially ending the lucrative multi-year contracts that have been most iPhone carriers' bread and butter. The FT story quotes a senior executive
at an unnamed European telecom as saying this could lead to a "war" between operators and Apple, and that Vodafone in the UK, France Telecom and Telefónica in Spain are "privately saying" they may refuse to subsidize the iPhone if it uses the built-in SIM. Given that the unsubsidized iPhone 4 16GB costs $599, and the unsubsidized 32GB costs $699, sales would plummet. Robin Bienenstock, an analyst at Bernstein, told the FT that iPhone sales worldwide could fall by "up to 12 per cent" if carriers cut subsidies.
Nevertheless, embedded SIMs are looking more and more like the wave of the future for mobile devices. The GSM Association - the largest trade organization for carriers and phone manufacturers - announced on Thursday
that they're developing their own standard for an embedded SIM. A task force of technical experts from AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom Orange, KT, NTT DOCOMO, SK Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone will work with SIM manufacturers on the technology, which they claim will be ready to ship by 2012. In addition to providing "e-wallet" and other Near Field Communications (NFC) capabilities to mobile phones, the embedded SIM would also allow devices like cameras and GPS navigators to get online.