Carrier-free SIM cards… I don’t get it.

Mini SIM

I’ve been sitting on a story from CNET for a couple of weeks now, resisting the urge to post in the hopes of better understanding it.

I finally did some digging over the weekend; the story—about carrier-free SIM cards now being legal in the Netherlands—is more of a non-story, at least for consumers. Yet tech pundits would have us believe that carrier-free SIMs are the future, for everyone.

Permit me to walk you through what I’ve learned and see if you agree…

Meant for Cars

Thanks to Gigaom I now understand that the legalization of carrier-free SIMs in this small European country applies specifically to machine-to-machine (m2m) communications—in this case, automobiles:

With a carrier agnostic-SIM, a carmaker could attach your car to whatever carrier to you happen to have relationship with and change your connection whenever you switched carriers. Or it could run a managed service with multiple carriers, connecting to whomever’s network had the best capacity or coverage wherever you happened to be driving…

A carrier-free SIM makes perfect sense where it’s likely inaccessible to the user—say, somewhere in between the radio and engine block of your car. Its application to mobile phones, however, is something I’m less clear on.


Imagine it: a world where a SIM card is fully integrated with your device; no need to swap it out when you change carriers or travel overseas […] This would also end carrier-locked devices, allowing customers true freedom of choice: Any device could be used with any carrier the user chooses.

This is the opening paragraph from the CNET story on carrier-free SIMs. I think the logic behind it is a little shaky. I can appreciate a future where changing carriers is done via software rather than SIM-swapping; as for the end of carrier-locked phones, until we North Americans collectively decide to give up our handset subsidies I just don’t think that’s going to happen.

The CNET writer goes on to talk about Apple’s failed attempt to bring a carrier-free SIM to market in 2010. Call me a cynic, but I’m betting that had more to do with cutting manufacturing costs than anything else. No SIM tray means less moving parts, right?

I will freely admit my healthy bias towards SIM cards; they can be fiddly and sometimes expensive, but they’ve served me and my unlocked devices very well over the years. And so long as my phone is unlocked I don’t really care if the SIM is or not.

Do you see a future for carrier-free SIMs?