Justice Ends GSMA eSIM Standards Investigation

The Department of Justice is ending a two-year investigation into the standard-setting process for mobile device eSIMS, imbedable SIM cards that can be reprogrammed remotely and that its backers say are a key to the growth of the internet of things (IoT). 

The mobile industry is moving away from those tiny plastic removeable sim cards to move between networks. 

DOJ signaled its decision in a letter to GSM Association, the global mobile operator trade association whose members include a laundry list of tech companies here and abroad. 

DOJ said it would not be taking any enforcement action against GSMA after the association agreed to change the standards-setting process so that it will include more imput from non-operator members and produce standards that supercede their problematic predecessor. 

DOJ launched the investigation out of concern, which bore out, that GSMA "used its industry influence to steer the design of eSIMs technology in mobile devices," concerns it said appeared to be allayed by GSMA's changes.  

"The new standard-setting process will have a greater likelihood of creating procompetitive benefits for consumers of mobile devices; it will also curb the ability of mobile network operators to use the GSMA standard as a way to avoid new forms of disruptive competition that the embedded SIMs (eSIMs) technology may unleash," said Justice. "In light of these planned changes, the Antitrust Division has no present intention to bring an enforcement action against the GSMA or its mobile network operator members." 

Makan Delrahim

Makan Delrahim

Antitrust chief Makan Delrahim said he was looking for GSMA to deliver on a more "consumer friendly" eSIM standard. “The GSMA’s old procedures resulted in certain eSIMs rules that benefited only its incumbent mobile network operators at the risk of innovation and American consumers," he said. "The new procedures proposed going forward significantly reduce that risk and should result in new innovative offerings for consumers.”  

But GSMA is not out of the woods entirely. 

DOJ was responding to a GSMA proffering of the new standards process. Justice said it would not challenge it, but said it remains to be seen if the standard does insure meaningful participation by nonoperators and added that it still has issues with standards set within a trade association controlled by a "single constituency of competitors"--operators. 

As a result, Justice said it would be monitoring the standard "closely." 

GSMA was interpreting the Justice letter as vindication and victory. 

“The Justice Department reviewed millions of documents covering a multi-year and complex process to establish common standards for eSIM technologies," said GSMA. "Its Business Review Letter is conclusive that the agency found no violation of antitrust laws. eSIM is a global specification by the GSMA which enables remote SIM provisioning of any mobile device. Its universal approach will grow the Internet of Things by allowing manufacturers to build a new range of products for global deployment based on a common embedded SIM architecture. With eSIM it will become easier to extend mobile connectivity to devices such as tablets, smart watches, fitness bands, portable health systems and various other devices." 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.