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Justice Department investigating collusion among United States wireless carriers

22 April 2018

The U.S. has opened a probe into alleged coordination by AT&T Inc (T.N), Verizon Communications (VZ.N) and a telecommunications standards organization to hinder consumers from easily switching wireless carriers, a person briefed on the matter said on Friday.

The report notes that the two carriers handle about 70% of U.S. wireless customers, and that the eSIM tech makes it easier to switch carriers.

That would have been accomplished by thwarting "eSIM" technology, which lets people remotely switch providers without inserting a new SIM card into their device.

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Verizon and AT&T organized a meeting with the G.S.M.A earlier this year, with the goal of gaining the ability to lock phones to their networks, regardless of eSIM.

Most phones now require a SIM card to work with a particular carrier, but eSIM, the report noted, would make it possible for people to switch carriers without buying a new SIM card.

A Verizon spokesman told the outlet that the inquiry was "much ado about nothing", and that the company had been cooperating with the Justice Department because of "a difference of opinion with a couple of phone equipment manufacturers regarding the development of eSIM standards". AT&T and Time Warner have strongly disputed the claims in a federal trial that is expected to end this month. The development of such a standard would be antithetical to the benefits of an embedded SIM, and if passed, would effectively sabotage the technology which is poised to be the successor to the SIM card.

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In December Patently Apple posted a granted patent report that covered Apple's eSIM card technology. Some of Apple's iPads already contain eSIM technology, according to industry sources. It's something supported by companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft, and has already been integrated to some degree in some smart watches. It would also make it easier for people to use their devices while traveling for business.

The antitrust division is looking into whether or not carriers colluded in stifling technology that allows customers to switch providers without having to change out their SIM card. Verizon had previously stated that it needed to be able lock down phones as a way to prevent fraud and theft.

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Justice Department investigating collusion among United States wireless carriers