Justice Department Probes US Wireless Carriers' Work on SIM Card Alternative

21 April, 2018, 13:53 | Author: Bertha Harmon
  • US Said to Investigate AT&T and Verizon Over Wireless Collusion Claim

The Times is reporting that the agency's antitrust division has contacted the groups about whether the wireless carriers tried to deter a new technology known as eSIM, which would allow consumers to switch providers without using a SIM card.

The technology is supposed to allow customers to switch wireless carriers without having to change out their hardware SIM cards. "Nothing more." GSMA declined to comment.

According to the report, which cited unnamed sources familiar with the situation, the DoJ started its investigation into the topic in February after receiving complaints on the topic from at least one device maker and one wireless operator.

"In the context of antitrust and IP, we will be inclined to investigate and enforce when we see evidence of collusive conduct undertaken for the objective of fixing prices, or excluding particular competitors or products", Delrahim said in a speech this month at a conference in Washington, D.C. He previously warned of the potential for "cartellike behavior" by competitors that got together with standards-setting organizations.

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GSMA had no comment on the investigation. The company said it "will continue to work proactively within GSMA, including with those who might disagree with the proposed standards, to move this issue forward".

AT&T and Verizon together control about 70 percent of all wireless subscriptions in the United States.

The newspaper also reported that the Justice Department has demanded information from GSMA, a mobile communications industry group.

News of the probe comes at a critical time for AT&T which is being sued by the Justice Department to stop its deal to buy the media company, Time Warner.

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More recently, the IoT industry has been pushing for eSIM services with the argument that IoT devices can potentially be deployed anywhere in the world, and so therefore need to be able to remotely switch among providers - like when a connected auto drives across country lines.

The eSIM technology, which was introduced in early 2016, is embedded in mobile phones and other devices so people do not need SIM cards anymore. Collusion to maintain their dominant positions in the market, assuming it happened, would be problematic and is the source of the DOJ's alleged investigation.

AT&T sent us a statement, too.

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Observers of the trial say AT&T appears to have an advantage after exposing weaknesses in the government's pricing power claims.

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