Carrier Organization Changes Rules to Allow the “Apple SIM”

The GSMA, the organization representing most of the world’s mobile operators, today changed its rules to allow for a programmable SIM card much like we described Apple (s aapl) building with Gemalto a few weeks back. It also set up a task force to create rules around how carriers will provision the remote-activated SIM cards with the goal of completing such rules by Jan. 2011. In a release, it said it expected devices with such remote-activated SIMs to be in devices by 2012.

A few weeks back, I reported on rumors I’d heard from European carriers that said Apple was working with Gemalto to create a SIM card  embedded in the iPhone and could be remotely activated for a carrier network via the iTunes Store or activated by Apple at the point of purchase. Such a move would cut the carriers out of the retail market, and in the past, the GSMA had rules preventing such SIM cards. So what has changed? The GSMA says in its release that :

The GSMA today announced the formation of a task force of mobile operators to explore the development of an embedded SIM that can be remotely activated. The move is expected to enable the design of exciting new form factors for mobile communications. It will also speed the development of M2M services by making it easier to bring mobile broadband to non-traditional devices such as cameras, MP3 players, navigation devices and e-Readers, as well as smart meters.

Did the carrier organization realize that an influx of connected devices requiring activation by an operator is difficult, and in the cases of things like smart meters, downright impossible? After all, what utility wants to replace the SIM cards in a few hundred thousand smart meters if it wants to change contracts with its network provider? Such amove would be theoretically possible if the GSMA allows the International Mobile Subscriber Identity number, the IMSI to be changed after the initial activation, but so far there’s no word if the GSMA is considering that. If the IMSI is changeable, it would be possible to switch 100.000 devices from one operator to another in a matter of days instead of years, at a fraction of the cost according to Rudolf van der Berg, a telephony consultant in the Netherlands.

Remotely-activated SIMs would be a huge win for connected devices outside of Apple and also eliminates a means by which the carriers locked folks into their networks. I can’t see the operators coming up with this change without pressure from their end customers. According to van der Berg the move is a “complete reversal from the GSMA’s position from the past.” For more on what such integrated and remote-activated SIMS could mean, check out our story on the topic.

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