Feature Article

October 20, 2014

Long-Term Implications of Universal SIM for iPad Air 2 are Unclear

The long term implications of the new universal subscriber information module in the new Apple iPad Air 2 are not clear - an unusual development, for a new development, by a key partner, in the mobile ecosystem.

In the United States and United Kingdom, users will have a bit of choice when it comes to short-term offers potentially made available by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile US, or EE in the United Kingdom.

That is made possible because Apple embedded, and the carriers chose to support, a programmable SIM that could benefit iPad Air 2 users who do not want to enroll the device in any carrier’s shared data plan - and possibly some who are traveling outside their home market.

The owner can use a menu to select which service provider supplies the mobile connectivity.

That is something new, essentially a “connect on demand” feature best used by device owners who only sometimes need mobile access - as it seems designed to offer most value for users who need temporary access to mobile connectivity.

The new SIM is essentially a “software-based” technology, eliminating the need for manually inserting a physical SIM to activate service from a particular carrier.

The new SIM sits in the same slot as a regular nano-sim and can be swapped out. That means a traveling user will be easily able to buy temporary or short-term access from a local mobile phone network without having to pre-order a new SIM or purchase one in a shop on arrival.

That will mean users will not have to know whether their devices are unlocked, for example.

For the moment, at least some major mobile service providers think the risk to their business models is justified, as the new feature likely will grow sales of short-term service plans by roaming iPad owners.

The bigger issue is how service providers might react if Apple proposed adding a software-based SIM to its iPhones.

That might pose bigger issues. Much depends on how Apple would position the feature, and how mobile partners assess the danger of cannibalization and the opportunity of boosting roaming or short-term access revenue.

Also, much would depend on the actual retail tariffs most mobile service providers offer. Generally speaking, a long-term plan is better for most consumers.

Neither Apple nor the tier-one service providers are dumb. Each will have thought about balancing potential gain and potential pushback.

For the moment, no matter the service provider, it still will make most sense for an iPad Air 2 owner to buy a long-term plan for mobile Internet access, if that is something routinely required.

The obvious value is when users are roaming, or need mobile access for a short time.

Mobile service providers not only hope the ease of activation will encourage more sampling of mobile connectivity for the iPad Air 2, which could lead to a long-term subscription, but also hope to see an increase in sales of roaming service. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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