In the near future, switching your phone plan between different wireless carriers could be a lot easier than it is today.
The GSMA, an industry association that represents mobile phone makers worldwide, is working on a standardised embeddable SIM card that would let you jump between carriers more easily.
Apple and Samsung, two of the world’s biggest phone makers, are said to be in “advanced talks” with the GSMA about the launch of these embeddable SIM cards, according to The Financial Times.
A SIM card is the tiny piece of plastic in your phone that stores your phone number and info about your and data plans, and identifies your phone to the carrier.
These cards are programmed to work with a specific carrier, which is why you typically need to buy phones specific to the carrier you’re using when shopping for a new device.
The SIM card in your phone is locked into that carrier, so if you have an AT&T phone but want to switch to Verizon, for instance, you’d have to buy a Verizon SIM card.
This new electronic SIM card would work differently. It doesn’t sound like it would be removable, but you would be able to switch between carriers on your device whenever you please.
AT&T will reportedly support this embeddable SIM as well as international carriers including Deutsche Telecom, Etisalat, Hutchison Whampoa, Orange, Telefónica, and Vodafone, according to The Financial Times.
It’s unclear how this would work, but it sounds similar to Apple SIM, which the company launched earlier this year.
Apple SIM is a SIM card made by the company that’s available as an option for the cellular version of the iPad Air 2. It works with multiple carriers instead of being locked into one, so you could choose your carrier when you set up the iPad and then switch whenever you want.
A standardised SIM card that lets you jump between carriers at will could have a significant impact on the industry because it could change the entire phone purchasing process.
You wouldn’t be locked into a two-year contract, because you could switch carriers at will. You’d still have to buy data plans from carriers, but if you’re dissatisfied with the service you could switch next month rather than having to wait out a contract.
Carriers have been shying away from the traditional two-year contract model in recent years. All of the major US carriers now offer plans that let you pay off your phone monthly and upgrade after one year or a year and half rather than two years.
But a move like this could give consumers less incentive to remain loyal to a carrier. If you’re willing to give up the price subsidy that comes with long term contracts, there’s nothing stopping you from switching carriers from month to month.
The GSMA’s deals with Apple and Samsung are contingent on finalising the technical specifications of the SIM card. Devices that support the technology aren’t expected to launch for another year, the report says.
We’ve reached out to the GSMA, Apple, Samsung, and AT&T for comment and will update this report when we hear back.