back to article Probably for the best: Apple makes sure eSIMs won't nuke the operators

The great techno-utopian fantasy for years has been that eSIMs will destroy mobile networks' lock on customers – allowing real-time switching. The phone would tune into the best signal. This notion was touted by the same sort of people who 15 years ago thought Wi-Fi would kill off mobile networks – Clay Shirky, WiReD magazine …

  1. Waseem Alkurdi

    Yay!

    The first El Reg article on the new iPhones ... and thankfully, unlike everybody else's, doesn't worship at Apple's altar, praising "new" "features" et al.

    Thanks El Reg!

  2. Excellentsword
  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Re: Yay!

    It's the first Reg article to report the new SIM / eSIM configurations correctly, though.

  4. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

    Re: Yay!

    According to The Times this morning, some daft bint thinks the new iPhones are sexist.

  5. Waseem Alkurdi

    Re: Yay!

    Cool. That means that iPhones should be eliminated from a progressive, thinking society. Case closed! xD

  6. Havin_it
    Joke

    Re: Yay!

    Welp, at least they can't claim you're holding it wrong if you can't hold the bloody thing.

    Hm, guess Trump won't be a fan either.

  7. DougS Silver badge

    Sexist?

    Having a hard time seeing the logic in that, is it because 'Max' is (usually) a male name?

    Or is it because of size, since the XS is very slightly larger than the 8? I guess that the XS Max is very slightly smaller than the 8 plus doesn't count for anything? Or is it because they dropped the SE?

  8. Waseem Alkurdi
    Thumb Up

    Re: Sexist?

    , is it because 'Max' is (usually) a male name?

    Correct me if I'm wrong (Mon français n'est pas parfait), but if there's a name Maxmillien, there's a Maxmillienne as well, so that doesn't count for them.

  9. Adam Jarvis

    Re: The Chinese version of the iPhone XS is a physical two nano sim device with no eSim capability

    The idea there isn't space isn't the reason Apple have taken this path, the Chinese version of the iPhone XS will ship with a sim tray that takes two physical nano sims on each side of the tray i.e. a real dual sim iPhone, with no eSim capability.

    If this was available in the UK, it would be the version I'd buy, as I'm sure most would too. Let's face it, being able to swap out dual sims as you please is a lot more flexible than an eSim controlled by Apple.

  10. Phil Kingston Silver badge

    Re: Sexist?

    I probably know more Maxines than Maximillians.

  11. P. Lee Silver badge
    Windows

    Re: Sexist?

    >Having a hard time seeing the logic in that, is it because 'Max' is (usually) a male name?

    Maybe Max doesn't self identify with the gender binary.

    Please report to your nearest gulag reprogramming centre.

  12. Ragarath

    That's because it destroys the business case for spending even a penny on new network capacity

    Which is the reason the network should not be owned by the operators. We should have a compatible network infrastructure that space is rented/leased. I assume how MVNO's work now renting from an incumbent.

  13. Waseem Alkurdi

    Rented from whom, and leased by whom?

    The owner of the network would act like the current "incumbent" operators act.

  14. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    @ Waseem Alkurdi

    I guess he means summat a bit like Crown House (and one other I cant recall) who run TV transmitters, carring content from the Beeb, ITV, Channels 4 and 5 and th edross broadcasters

  15. LDS Silver badge

    "The owner of the network would act like the current incumbent"

    Not if it is properly regulated - nor the owner needs to be fully private.

  16. Nick Kew Silver badge

    We should have a compatible network infrastructure that space is rented/leased.

    Like the railways?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Or we could also throw out the pointless middlemen who would only exist to leech money. MVNOs can only exist by eliminating their own profit margin and in turn treat turn their employees into minimum wage slaves in order to pay for it. How can an MVNO manage to carry out the billing admin cheaper than the network owner? They cannot. Not possible for an extended period of time.

  18. David Nash Silver badge

    "How can an MVNO manage to carry out the billing admin cheaper than the network owner?"

    My assumption was that they simply charge less margin than the owner, who is seen as worth paying a premium for by some customers.

  19. paulf Silver badge
    Alert

    Re: @ Waseem Alkurdi

    @ Inventor of the Marmite Laser, "I guess he means summat a bit like Crown House (and one other I cant recall) who run TV transmitters,". IIRC:

    BBC Transmission > CTXI > Crown Castle > National Grid Wireless > Arqiva

    IBA (Transmission bit in Winchester) > NTL > Arqiva.

    So Arqiva (owned by infrastructure funds like Macquarie) now owns pretty much all the broadcast infrastructure in the UK.

    Icon, Non-ionising radiation etc.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "How can an MVNO manage to carry out the billing admin cheaper than the network owner?"

    They can do it because they are somewhat less greedy about gouging their customers.

    I currently carry two personal phones, one with a large monopolistic carrier and one with a MVNO, and I have had a chance to watch both in action for many years....

  21. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    because that worked so well...

    I would have thought it'd be more like Openreach

  22. bazza Silver badge

    They can do it because they are somewhat less greedy about gouging their customers.

    An MVNO is a customer too.

    They exist because it's a cheap way for the network operators to sell more airtime without having to make their own brand more palatable to customers looking for a better deal.

    Possibly a bit like Lexus vs Toyota, except Lexus would be the original and they'd contracted out the Toyota brand but kept the factory that made them.

  23. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    I can see some of the US networks

    having a real hissy fit with Apple over this and demanding that the E-Sim is blocked on the phones they doll out in their contracts. For them it is all about lock-in. If you decry Apple for having a walled garden, the likes of AT&T have a far better one. Their bills are pieces of art with all sorts of extra charges and addons. Then AFAIK, one US network charges $80 to unlock the phone at the end of the contract.

    It seems that in Europe things are a bit different. Many of us are on Sim Only deals these days. With one-month rolling contracts or PAYG we have far more flexibility over who we use as our network provider.

    I can see business travellers using the E-SIm for their main network and buying a local PAYG when at your destinations. Granted, this is easier said than done in some places like India but it can even be done there.

    My old Samsung Galaxy that I bought in Dubai years ago always had a local and a UK Sim card in it. Sadly the version of Android it used plus the Samsung crud that was layered on top meant that using it was shit.

  24. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Re: I can see some of the US networks

    Apple has already battled with the US networks and won: it carries more weight with consumers who will leave a network if it doesn't support their shiny-shiny.

  25. Craig 2

    Re: I can see some of the US networks

    Yes, Apple may have won a power struggle with networks; now they can leverage that to get favourable terms (for themselves, not customers) when deciding which network(s) to support with new phones. The name has changed but the game is still to make as much money as possible by any means necessary...

  26. Waseem Alkurdi

    Re: I can see some of the US networks

    Then AFAIK, one US network charges $80 to unlock the phone at the end of the contract.

    That US network is called Sprint, and in addition to the charge, they have strict requirements (only the phone's original account holder can do it, must be fully paid, etc etc etc)

  27. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Re: I can see some of the US networks

    > That US network is called Sprint

    They're assholes. Which is why they're still the smallest network... out-dicking Verizon is quite the accomplishment.

  28. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Re: I can see some of the US networks

    "Then AFAIK, one US network charges $80 to unlock the phone at the end of the contract."

    So did several UK networks - until that was declared illegal by the regulator

    The difference being that the regulators actually have some cojones in Europe

  29. DropBear Silver badge

    As the Chinese two-socket version demonstrates, saving space is absolutely not the real issue - whatever Apple's actual plan is pushing the eSIM, it's definitely not about saving space.

  30. DougS Silver badge

    Their real plan is to build support for eSIM

    Hoping to eventually drop a physical SIM if/when most operators eventually support eSIM. I wonder if the Chinese version actually supports three SIMs, or if the eSIM is disabled in those models that have two physical SIMs?

    It is interesting that eSIM wasn't deemed good enough for the Chinese market. I wonder if that has something to do with China's unique mobile standards (TD-LTE etc.) or if Apple believes their operators will be particularly resistant to eSIM? Maybe the Chinese government won't allow eSIM for some reason?

  31. Tomato Krill

    No, to save the required space on the Chinese variant they simply removed the headphone port.

    Oh, wait...

  32. DrXym Silver badge

    eSIMs make so much sense

    With some provisos eSIMs some really interesting potential functionality falls out of being just software on a device.

    The phone could intelligently choose the best SIM out of my collection for the location I'm in. I could "pin" the main SIM for incoming calls, but set data and outgoing calls through my roaming SIM. I could buy SIMs and have them sent to my phone. Phone networks could even allow me to connect and purchase a SIM when I roam their network for the first time. SIMs could have properties like expiring after 30 days or after the credit is used up etc.

    The provisos I would see being necessary are the ability to transfer SIMs between devices, the ability to add any SIM, and limits on what operators can do to lock a phone to their network, restrict its functionality, or to prevent me removing their software SIM if I choose to switch.

  33. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Re: eSIMs make so much sense

    I'd like the ability to have several handsets and choose one for whatever I'm doing that day - whichever phone I'm carrying will have my number. This is currently possible but involves the faff (and physical wear and tear of mechanical components) of swapping a physical SIM. A good phone for a long train journey might not be the best phone for a long hike or a night on the town.

  34. gnasher729 Silver badge

    Re: eSIMs make so much sense

    "The phone could intelligently choose the best SIM out of my collection for the location I'm in. I could "pin" the main SIM for incoming calls, but set data and outgoing calls through my roaming SIM. I could buy SIMs and have them sent to my phone. Phone networks could even allow me to connect and purchase a SIM when I roam their network for the first time. SIMs could have properties like expiring after 30 days or after the credit is used up etc."

    That's not how it works. A SIM is associated with a phone number. Two SIMs, two phone numbers. Many people will use that to have a private phone and a works phone in the same case. If your wife calls your private number, the private phone SIM is used. If your boss calls you on the works number, the works phone SIM is used. And when you call your boss, you want to call him using your works phone number, so again the works phone Sim is used.

  35. ilmari

    Re: eSIMs make so much sense

    My operator used to have a service like this, for 3.90 Euro a month I got 5 extra SIM cards, all with the same phone number. All phones rang at the same time, but SMS only arrived on the main phone.

    Apparently this was too good of a serviy, because they only sold it for a few months. I used it for about 8 years before my level of geekiness dropped to having only one phone.

  36. DougS Silver badge

    I agree

    But there seem to be a lot of people who are quite resistant to the idea, believing it will somehow allow Apple to limit their carrier choices or is part of an evil Apple plan to cut the carriers out and operate their own mandatory MVNO.

    Obviously eSIM isn't all that great if only Apple uses it, because even if every carrier supported it, it wouldn't be portable to non-Apple phones the way current SIMs are. By finally putting the eSIM in a phone it will encourage carriers to support it, and if enough do then other phones will adopt eSIM as well. Before people worry about the mention of "Apple patents" around eSIM and think this is a money grab, they've offered a royalty free license to anyone who adopts the technology. They just want it used.

  37. Tomato Krill

    Re: eSIMs make so much sense

    But then none of what you list isn't (to some degree of practicality or another) already possible with multiple SIMs..

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: eSIMs make so much sense

    @gnasher729 "That's not how it works" ......

    It's largely how I use my 3 year old dual SIM phone. Incoming calls almost always use my main number as I never tell people my second number and "might" choose not to answer should they call it. I can and do use either of my phone numbers for outgoing calls and I can select one or the other (or none) for my data connection.

  39. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    Re: eSIMs make so much sense

    It's going to become more common again soon when BT removes geographic restrictions on phone numbers. Think having your mobile and landline ring for the same number.

  40. SImon Hobson Silver badge
    FAIL

    Re: I agree

    By finally putting the eSIM in a phone it will encourage carriers to support it, and if enough do then other phones will adopt eSIM as well.

    Indeed, and it's a terrible future to consider. Because once eSIM is widely adopted, manufacturers like Apple can start dropping the real SIM and produce eSIM only devices. That then gives them complete control over which networks you can use - should they so wish.

    They COULD make it so that any carrier can remotely provision the eSIM, or they COULD make it so that you have to use their cloud portal or similar to do it. The latter gives them 100% control over which networks you can choose - probably based on how much the network is prepared to give Apple.

  41. DougS Silver badge

    Re: I agree

    Wrong. 3GPP standards require that ANY operator be selectable. The operators basically own 3GPP, do you really think they'd approve a standard that would make them beholden to Apple and Google? Dream on.

  42. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Businesses?

    The article talks about punters, but what about business that need widespread reception? Do have any clout when negotiating with network operators?

    We had a technician come to our site the other day to inspect a gas tank, but he soon went away because apparently he needed some app for the task and his network is poor around here.

  43. Nick Kew Silver badge

    Re: Businesses?

    What you need there is a foreign SIM, with an operator that has agreements with all your local operators, so it can pick the best available signal.

    At least, within an area like the EU where roaming charges won't bugger up such arrangements.

  44. Andre Carneiro

    eSIM sucks

    If the experience on my iPad is anything to go by, I’d rather have the two physical SIMs any day.

    Also, am I the only one thinking that this puts WAY too much power on apple’s side?

    The handset should be utterly network agnostic and log into whichever network it has a SIM for.

    eSIM means networks will have to actually engage with Apple in order to allow their offers to show up on a selection menu.

    I suspect it may be free now but what’s to stop Apple charging networks for the privilege?

  45. Waseem Alkurdi

    Re: eSIM sucks

    Also, am I the only one thinking that this puts WAY too much power on apple’s side?

    With network-locked phones, Apple already has *all* the power. The phone won't (un)lock except if it phones home to mothership.

    Try (factory-)unlocking a network-locked iPhone. eBay is filled with iPhones that won't unlock.

  46. DougS Silver badge

    Re: eSIM sucks

    Networks don't have to engage with Apple, they might not be on a convenient list but there's a way to enter the information anyway. That's required by the 3GPP standard that was approved for eSIM - and is necessary for the main reason eSIM was eventually approved against some operator's wishes, IOT devices where even the size of a nanoSIM might be unwieldy.

    Some people always ascribe evil intent to everything Apple does. I remember the whining and moaning when Apple introduced nanoSIM and everyone was worried about the fact Apple had patents around it and thought their promises of a royalty free license would have a hidden gotcha they'd use against Android. Still waiting for that to happen.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: eSIM sucks

    With network-locked phones, Apple already has *all* the power. The phone won't (un)lock except if it phones home to mothership.

    -----------------------------------------------

    Thanks for the warning.

    I'll add it to my list of reasons to never buy an Apple device.

  48. Jan 0
    Holmes

    Re: eSIM sucks

    > eBay is filled with iPhones that won't unlock

    Are you sure it's not full of clueless owners who have no idea that that iPhones can be unlocked?

  49. gnasher729 Silver badge

    Re: eSIM sucks

    "Try (factory-)unlocking a network-locked iPhone. eBay is filled with iPhones that won't unlock."

    I think you are confusing two things - iPhones locked to a network, and iPhones locked with a passcode.

    If you use a passcode for your phone and it gets locked, you need the passcode to unlock it. If you are the rightful owner and forgot the passcode (your own fault), or you are a thief with a stolen phone, or you are the unfortunate heir of a deceased person with an iPhone and don't know the passcode, then there is just no f***ing way to unlock that phone. You can't do it, Apple can't do it. There are plenty of such phones on eBay, and they are worthless except to be used for parts. Most of them I expect to be stolen.

    If your phone is locked to a network, the network operator can unlock it. Many don't like to do it, and try to make it impossible for you to unlock. The easiest way around is to buy a phone from Apple directly, they are all unlocked and as far as I know, the network operator you pick can't lock them.

  50. Just Another SteveO

    Re: eSIM sucks

    Maybe I misunderstood you but I’m Not sure that’s true - recently returned from a few years in the States. Forgot to unlock the iPhone before returning, Apple would not and could not unlock the phone - the ability to do that is maintained by the network operator if it’s a network locked phone. 10 minute call to the States (T-Mobile) and the phone was unlocked. According to Apple, this is to ensure they didn’t help people break their commitment and contracts with the network operator.

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